PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA Asked to explain The Yards, a 12-hole course that can also be a nine-hole or 15-hole course and sits barely a mile away from the first tee at the TPC Stadium Course, owner/developer David Miller pauses.
“If the TPC Stadium Course and Topgolf had a love child, it would be The Yards,” Miller says, laughing at his own description.
He’s not wrong – and that’s a good thing.
That’s the goal of The Yards, to reconfigure the notion of a conventional golf course with clever design, exceptional conditioning and an emphasis – a heavy one – on fun. It’s golf as we know it but not necessarily as we’ve seen it presented.
If you’ve been to Pinehurst and played the Cradle or if you’ve been to Bandon Dunes and played the Preserve (the short courses at the respective resorts), it’s easy to understand the allure of something smaller, like an aperitif to a full day of golf.
The Yards can be that for golfers, many of whom have made the trip to play the TPC Stadium Course or its sibling, the Valley Course at Sawgrass. It’s within the gates of the Sawgrass development but it’s not technically part of the TPC network.
It’s a place to go play a standalone round of golf or to play more golf, if the Stadium Course didn’t break your spirit.
What is called the Front Yard is a nine-hole, par-35 layout that looks and feels like a full-sized golf course. The Back Yard is made up of six par-3 holes, which can be broken into three-hole increments including one nicknamed ‘the beer loop’ if 12 holes (that’s how many were part of the original course) weren’t quite enough.
Even if you’re playing poorly.
And 12 holes?
There’s a story behind it.
The Yards sits on what was once the Oak Bridge Club, a golf course that was originally designed by Arnold Palmer in the early 1970s (and called Thousand Oaks at the time). It eventually went under and a vacant golf course sat there, practically adjacent to where the PGA Tour hosts its biggest tournament.
When Miller purchased the property, he hoped another group might buy the course from him and reimagine it. When no one did, he found himself with a dead golf course (though a portion of the property has been leased for a long-term senior living development).
“We didn’t set out to build a 12-hole golf course,” Miller said. “We concocted the only way out of this coal mine was to carve off six holes.”
Golf is slowly embracing different these days. Look at Topgolf. Listen to the music being played during friendly rounds. Notice the short courses popping up at resorts hoping to do what Pinehurst and Bandon Dunes have done.
“… I was trying to get my 13-year-old daughter in the game and I was trying to keep my 85-year old father in the game and neither one of them had 18 holes in the tank.” – David Miller, The Yards owner/developer
Miller’s innovative concept was driven, in part, by two family members.
“My fight song used to be that I was trying to get my 13-year-old daughter in the game and I was trying to keep my 85-year old father in the game and neither one of them had 18 holes in the tank,” Miller said.
When he was considering the 12-hole plan, Miller was talking with Jay Monahan (who had not yet become the PGA Tour commissioner). Miller was searching for validation and Monahan suggested he ask Palmer to endorse his idea. Monahan was going to see Palmer and offered to take a letter to him.
“If he responds, you’ll have the blessing of the King,” Miller remembers Monahan telling him. “I typed out a nice letter and gave it to Jay who said, ‘You don’t type a letter to Mr. Palmer, you write a letter to him.’
“So, I sent the letter looking like it had been written by a fourth grader with a crayon. He responded and said he wished he’d had an abbreviated golf experience in his life. Once we had that validation, the tide began to turn.”
At 12 holes (from the original), the Yards takes a little over two hours to play, though players can play 18 holes by going around the first nine twice. Conditioning is a priority, and the greens tend to be firm, fast and fun. In breaking the mold, the decision was made to add a little extra slope in spots on the greens, creating some provocative putts for players who wind up in the wrong spots.
The most distinctive feature may be the “black hole” in the middle of the par-3 fifth green. Similar to the famous bunker in the sixth green at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, the black sand bunker forces players to find the right quadrant of the green on their tee shot or rely on an imaginative short game.
The entire place has an energy about it. There’s a big practice facility, there are tennis courts with pickleball courts coming and there’s a popular restaurant, 3 Palms, on site. During the Players Championship, an outdoor viewing party was organized. And the tee sheet was slammed.
The Yards is closing in on 100 members with the rest of its play coming from locals or guests making the excursion to TPC Sawgrass. It was the first course of its kind when it opened last November.
“Once people see it and understand the concept,” general manager Mike Miles said, “we haven’t heard any negatives.”
All photos courtesy The Yards
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