You likely know that TPC Sawgrass started the Tournament Players Club movement in the 1980s as the first PGA Tour-owned and operated club. But do you know the origin of the concept of stadium golf, and how the TPC golf courses network grew since Sawgrass’ debut 38 years ago? Much credit is due to Deane Beman, whose legendary commissionership included the immense expansion of the tour’s footprint, which included with a new network of courses. In 1988, the PGA Tour owned eight courses. Today, the TPC network includes 32 courses, both private and public-access, across three continents, with many other facilities either being sold or renamed since.
Is TPC Scottsdale and its raucous 16th hole the true origin of “stadium golf?” Or is it TPC Sawgrass? It’s neither in fact—the history of “stadium golf” may have started with a fan named Ford Hubbard who conceived of a “spectator golf course” all the way back in 1947, according to Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten. In 1953, Golf Digest ran a diagram of Hubbard’s design: a circular course routing, clubhouse in the center, with holes radiating like spokes in a wheel. Surrounding the clubhouse was a circular berm, which had bleacher-like tiers for “Possible Stadium Arrangement.”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Hubbard patented his “Sports Theatre for Golf” idea in 1951, but no one ever bought it. His concept was simply 20 years ahead of its time. In the 1970s, weekly Ryder Cup-type events were held among pro golfers under the International Professional Golf League, which was founded by American Basketball Association co-founder Constantine Seredin and architect William F. Mitchell. Interestingly, Beman, then a tour player, played in at least one of these events. Though he might’ve had the idea for stadium golf already, the idea pre-dated him in some ways. But the PGA Tour commissioner, who our Jerry Tarde calls the most important sports commissioner of all time for bringing the PGA Tour from a mom-and-pop organization to a global leader in pro sports, deserves the credit for having the vision for creating and running the TPC network.
Over a four-event span, the PGA Tour visits a TPC-branded course three times in the 2019-2020 season—TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.; TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn.; and TPC Deere Run in Silvies, Ill. for the John Deere Classic. And the tour returns to TPC Southwind for what will now be a WGC after the Open Championship. Here’s a look at the best TPC courses—ranked in the order our Golf Digest course-ranking panelists scored them based on our most recent America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses ranking and Best in State rankings.
10 . TPC Scottsdale (Stadium): The famed home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open boasts probably the most well-known stadium hole in golf: the par-3 16th. Tiger Woods’ hole-in-one in 1997 put it on the map for casual fans, who now flock to Scottsdale during Super Bowl week to party in the desert. The layout has architectural merit, too, with its risk-and-reward-filled back nine with holes of varying length and design. Tom Weiskopf, who designed the course with Jay Morrish, has overseen renovations of the course in recent years—making tweaks to please the tour player and resort guest alike.
9 . TPC Harding Park, San Francisco: Right along Lake Merced, it’s tough to beat Harding Park for public golf in San Francisco. Massive cypress trees line most of the fairways of the layout by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, who also designed Olympic Club. TPC Harding Park, named after president Warren G. Harding and purchased by the TPC network of courses in 2010, has hosted the 1937 and 1956 U.S. Amateur Public Links, the 2009 Presidents Cup, annual Charles Schwab Cup events, and will host the 2020 PGA Championship.
8 . TPC Sawgrass (Dye’s Valley), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.: Dye’s Valley has moved up steadily in our rankings after significant renovation work over the past five years from former Pete Dye associate Bobby Weed, who assisted Dye in the original construction of the course. Dye’s Valley, which hosted the 2013 through 2015 Web.com Tour Championships, moved up to No. 21 in our 2017-2018 Best in Florida rankings, but dropped off the latest edition of our rankings.
7 . TPC Deere Run, Silvies, Ill.: The home of the John Deere Classic was ranked on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Public from 2003 through 2009 and ranked inside the Best in State in Illinois since 2001. But TPC Deere Run fell off our state rankings over our past two rankings.
6 . TPC Craig Ranch, McKinney, Texas: The Tom Weiskopf-designed course hosted the 2008 and 2012 Web.com Tour Championship. Previously ranked 18th in our 2017-2018 Best in Texas rankings, there are wide hole corridors, plus creeks, lakes, trees, bunkers, wind and gnarly rough that make TPC Craig Ranch a difficult test.
5 . TPC Southwind, Memphis: As part of the new PGA Tour schedule for 2018-’19, TPC Southwind will host to a World Golf Championships event. The private-club course, designed by Ron Prichard, is ranked sixth best in Tennessee by our Golf Digest panelists.
4 . TPC San Antonio (AT&T Oaks): The Greg Norman design (with consulting by Sergio Garcia) hosts the annual Valero Texas Open. One of the more distinctive features is the limestone rock that lines the vertical back edges of bunkers, created when builders blasted the traps out of the existing subsurface rock. The AT&T Oaks course at TPC San Antonio is currently ranked 90th on Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Public courses.
3 . TPC Boston, Norton, Mass.: Gil Hanse’s team completed renovation on the 12th and 13th holes at TPC Boston in 2017, completing a 10-plus-year project in which Hanse’s team attempted to reestablish a New England-type style to the course. The course, which sits about 45 minutes from downtown Boston, has hosted a PGA Tour event since 2003, with the playing of the Deutsche Bank and Dell Technologies Championships. With the FedEx Cup playoff events being reduced from four to three starting in 2019, TPC Boston will now host an event every other season. Our panelists rank TPC Boston as the 13th best course in Massachusetts.
2 . The Greenbrier (Old White TPC): Designed by C.B. Macdonald and opened in 1914, this is one of the architectural gems that the PGA Tour visits. Following devastating floods at the Greenbrier and surrounding areas in 2016, Keith Foster directed restoration efforts, earning Golf Digest honors for Best Restoration at a public course, an honor the course also won in 2007. Old White TPC sits at No. 34 on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Public ranking.
1 . TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.: The home of the Players Championship since 1982 has always been a bit controversial, with design zealot Ben Crenshaw even going as far as to call Pete Dye’s design “Star Wars golf by Darth Vader” long ago. Pete Dye’s “grenade attack architecture” has a way of making even the best players in the world uncomfortable, but there’s no question that the Players Stadium course stands as one of the best tests of championship golf in the United States. TPC Sawgrass has been ranked inside Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest since 1983, ranking as high as 25th in 1985, and currently sits at No. 49 on our most recent 100 Greatest.
Other notable TPC courses:
—TPC Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, S.C.: The course was consistently a Best in South Carolina and 100 Greatest Public course, ranking 23rd in state and 98th on Golf Digest’s 2013-’14 100 Greatest Public ranking. Though it ranked 28th in state in 2015-2016, TPC Myrtle Beach fell out of both our state and national rankings in 2017-2018.
—TPC Twin Cities, Blaine, Minn.: Host to the PGA Tour Champions’ 3M Championship, TPC Twin Cities was ranked 20th on our 2015-2016 Best in State, but did not make our most recent ranking.
—TPC Four Seasons – Las Colinas, Irving, Texas: Hosted the Byron Nelson Championship until the tournament moved to the newly opened Trinity Forest Golf Club in south Dallas this year. Las Colinas ranked near the top of most tour player polls of worst courses the tour played all year: “The worst we play all year,” one pro told Golf Digest in an anonymous survey in 2012.
—TPC Potomac (Avenel Farms), Potomac, Md.: Host of the 2017 and 2018 Quicken Loans Invitational, this Ed Ault, Tom Clark and Ed Sneed design, which has been renovated by the PGA Tour’s Steve Wenzloff, who oversees a lot of the TPC courses work, including the Players Stadium course, over the past decade, was ranked 10th in our 2015-’16 Best in Maryland rankings, but did not make our most recent ranking.
–Other notables: TPC Michigan, Dearborn, Mich.; TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Conn. — Home of the Travelers Championship; TPC Sugarloaf, Duluth, Ga. — Host of the PGA Tour Champions’ Mitsubishi Electric Classic; TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas — Home of the Shriner’s Hospital for Children’s Open; TPC Louisiana, Avondale, La. – The host of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans; and TPC Las Vegas.
—TPC San Antonio (AT&T Canyons): The sister course to the home of the Valero Texas Open also has some great views.
And the new TPC Colorado, which opened this year, and opens to the public later this year.