This week's Players' Championship at Pete Dye's inimitable Sawgrass is unofficially known on the PGA Tour as "the fifth major." But for some tour players the event has become known for something else: as a place where they can score a trophy bass.
A few years ago, as he approached the Par 5, 16th hole at Sawgrass during the tournament's first practice day, Briny Baird gazed at the three-acre pond that runs down its right-hand side. The sight proved irresistible. As other tour players worked out the kinks in their swings, Baird decided to take a few casts into the pond with a rod he stowed away in his bag for that purpose.
"I moved off the green because I saw a golfer coming," says the 11-year tour veteran.
But Baird couldn't resist a cast. And he happened to hook a big fish. The golfer behind him, Tim Petrovic, arrived at the green just in time to help Baird haul in a seven-pound largemouth bass.
Baird has also fished from the green on the 17th at Sawgrass, the island Par 3 that's arguably the most famous hole in golf. "Fishing is a little harder to pull off there," he says, "because you always have golfers waiting on the tee."
To get around that Baird says he usually returns to the hole in the late afternoon, when most golfers have left the course. He slings casts right from the green. "There are some huge bass in that pond," he says. And there's plenty of room for your backcast.
Baird is part of an unofficial PGA Tour fishing club, a group of players that brings along both rods and clubs to tournaments. The water hazards they avoid during competitive rounds? With rod in hand, those ponds and creeks transform into fishing sweet spots. Many courses in the country frown upon fishing the hazards, but look the other way when it comes to Tour pros. At Sawgrass, only Tour players are allowed to fish.
"If the water is good on a course, I'll usually fish from Monday until Wednesday before the tournament starts," says Heath Slocum, the 77th-ranked golfer in the world. "Sometimes I'll fish all week if it's good. It's a great way to get your mind off of golf."
Says Bo Van Pelt, a fishing golfer who finished fifth in last week's Quail Hollow Championship, "We have a lot of free time on tour."
Van Pelt, Slocum and Baird are just a few of the PGA Tour's passionate anglers. We asked them, and David Toms, a major winner and another avid angler, to help us compile a list of nine of the best fishing "holes" on courses where PGA Tour events are held--places where, for these golfers, a hook is actually a good thing.
Several mentioned the 17th hole at the Magnolia Golf Club in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where the mid-November Children's Miracle Network Classic is held. The Disney course is rumored to harbor largemouth bass weighing up to 15 pounds. The 485-yard, Par 4 hole is a favorite of Toms, who keeps a bait-casting rod in his cart during practice rounds.
Four years ago Slocum's father, a golf instructor, came along with him for a practice round at Magnolia. Slocum's brother-in-law was his caddy that week. The trio broke out their rods on the 17th.
"My brother-in-law caught back-to-back nine-pounders and my dad had a bigger one on that broke his line," says Slocum. "It was incredible. Three huge fish in less than an hour. Unfortunately none were mine."
Van Pelt is a fan of the 15th hole at PGA National Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where the Honda Classic is played. Here a lake surrounds the green on three sides.
"I like to bring my kids out after a round and take a few casts," he says of the 170-yard Par 3. "We have a blast."
When he's not fishing at Sawgrass, Baird likes the 17th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., home of the Verizon Heritage tournament. The 185-yard Par 3 is bordered by a forbidding lagoon.
"I've fished for redfish there," he says. "I've caught six of them while standing right there in the bunker."
Baird says the redfish sneak in through a little creek connected to the lagoon at high tide. "You can see them when you're playing the hole in the tournament," he says. "It's unbelievably distracting."
And then of course, there's Augusta National, one of the most hallowed courses in the game. None of the players would admit they had fished at the home of the Masters (they probably didn't want to incur the wrath of Augusta chairman Billy Payne and the rest of the staid greencoats).
Some caddies were more forthcoming. Tripp Bowden, a former caddy at Augusta and the author of Freddie and Me, a memoir of his time spent apprenticing under a legendary August caddy master, says the course is full of fish. Dwight Eisenhower used to fish for bass and bream in the ponds on Augusta's Par 3 course (one of the ponds is named "Ike's Pond"). But Bowden says some of the best fishing can be found on the mother course, which, though it was not nominated by the pros, made the list.
The shortest hole at Augusta--the Par 3, 150-yard 12th--is widely considered one of the most treacherous, mainly because of Rae's Creek, which flows in front of the green. It also happens to be full of bream. "The caddies loved to fish there," says Bowden.
And the 16th hole--the 170-yard Par 3 that's perhaps most famous for Tiger Woods' dramatic 2006 final-round chip-in--has a pond in front of it brimming with bass.
Just don't tell Payne.