The Stadium Course at Sawgrass has always attracted comment. And some of it has been more withering than a round of machine-gun fire.

J C Snead, the nephew of the great Sam, once grumbled that Pete Dye’s devilish, idiosyncratic creation was “90 per cent horse manure and 10 per cent luck”.

In 1982, when the layout held The Players’ Championship for the first time, the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Miller, Wadkins and Sutton – a posse with 35 Majors among them – all missed the cut.

“I’ve never been very good at stopping a 5-iron on the hood of a car,” groaned Nicklaus at the severity of the heavily- contoured greens that just about required an Ordnance Survey Map to fathom out.


Over time, the various quirks and absurdities of the Stadium course were throttled back but the track has continued to polarise opinion.

In 2010, Rory McIlroy missed the cut for the third successive time. The reason?

“I don’t like the golf course for a start,” he whined after a sixth over-par round in three outings. Last year, though, he won The Players’ Championship.

Can he successfully defend it this week? Well, the record books would suggest no. Not one player has managed to claim back-to-back titles while, since the permanent shift to the Stadium course in ’82, just five players have won twice.

Of that posse, only Australian Steve Elkington, the winner in 1991 and 1997, didn’t wait over a decade to secure a second title.


Infographic courtesy of

That success by McIlroy 12 months ago was just the second by a player from these islands since the inception of the championship in 1974.

The first one, of course, was scored by Scotland’s Sandy Lyle in 1987 during that barnstorming period of prosperous plunder in which he landed The Open in 1985 and The Masters in 1988.

“I often look at a poster that I still have on a wall at home with my winning score of 14 under par on it and wonder how the hell I got around that course in that score,” reflected Lyle of that trailblazing triumph.

“It is just relentless and by that I mean relentless trouble, with water everywhere.”

Despite the kind of watery expanses that would bring a lament from the ancient mariner – the island green 17th remains one of golf’s most ghoulish, captivating holes – Lyle got himself home and dry at the third hole of a play-off with Jeff Sluman.

In the fading light of a dank Florida afternoon, Sluman had the chance to win it when the duo played the 17th in the sudden-death shoot-out.


“But just as he was getting prepared to hit the putt, a local jumped in the water which created a bit of havoc,” said Lyle. “Sluman sort of withdrew from his putt and then went back down to it again and missed it.

“So we moved on to the 18th and I can remember trying to hit my second shot into virtual darkness. That was a horrendous feeling of doubt in my mind, not knowing where the ball’s going with a 5-iron in my hand.

“As it turned out, the ball ended up just off the back of the green and Sluman was there, too. I got up and down and he didn’t.

“People think that bunker shot at the 72nd hole at Augusta was my toughest moment. But the one that really gave me the heebie-jeebies was the third extra hole to win The Players.”