Friday skins games at the 15-hole course just down the road from the TPC Sawgrass' Stadium Course are no less pressure packed than at this week's Players Championship
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — One can only imagine the pressure staring at the island green with a one-shot lead in the final round of the Players Championship. Contrast that with the nerves an amateur feels right down the road with a $3,000 skin on the line.
One of golf’s upstart alternative experiences is virtually in the shadows of the famed Stadium Course championship venue, where the self-proclaimed "largest skins game in the world" takes place every Friday, with as many as 120 golfers from the region gathering for some dynamic par-3 fun at a place simply called The Yards.
Golfers travel up to 50 miles across the Jacksonville area to try their luck at golf’s biggest lottery. The Yards' largest skins payout has been $3,200 in the game’s brief history, and most of the time there is a waiting list now to participate.
"And we don’t issue 1099s, and we don't tell their wives either," joked David Miller, The Yards owner.
Heck, LIV Tour golfer Harold Varner III even came over one year after missing the cut at the Players Championship to enjoy himself. This week, Callaway is shooting a series of commercials at The Yards and renting out the entire alternative golf vibe for three days of fun and sun with clients, according to general manager Mike Miles. Also, The Yards officials confirmed that 2022 Players Championship winner Cam Smith stopped by to play a bit of golf on Thursday.
The Yards, opened in 2020, is home to the only 15-hole round in Northeast Florida and even features a par-3 "Beer Loop." The Front Yard is a risk-and-reward nine-hole layout that plays to 3,190 yards from the tips.
Across the parking lot is The Backyard, which consists of a six-hole par-3 walking course of 802 total yards and is the site for the weekly skins game. Within that layout is the 3-hole Beer Loop, where golfers can pay $15 to try to avoid a watery grave on the first, second and sixth hole configuration as patrons congregating at the open-air food and beverage patio nearby root them on.
"It’s free beer and there's live music and it really becomes kind of a carnival atmosphere," Miller says. "It’s a good offset to the five-star experience that exists on the other side of the street and the pedigree and the history that exists over there. Here we got like a year-and-a-half of history so there is a bunch of hoot-n-hollering that goes on here."
Miller, who lives nearby, buys distressed notes, and in 2016 he purchased a golf course called The Oak Bridge Club, an Arnold Palmer design that had fallen on hard times within the 1,800-hole TPC Sawgrass neighborhood.
Listed at $3 million, Miller purchased the note for what he believed to be a bargain price of $2 million.
"I thought a big golf group like ClubCorp or somebody would come along and rehab the course since it was across the street from the PGA Tour and the Stadium Course was right down the street," Miller says. “Long story short, golf was really in a nose dive at the time so nobody came around. I quickly realized that I was in the golf business and I didn't know what the heck to do."
Not wanting to invest millions to revamp the 18-hole course that was struggling, Miller began kicking around alternative golf ideas with his good buddy Jay Monahan, who had yet to become the PGA Tour commissioner. He asked Monahan to weigh in on the short course idea and Miller received positive feedback with one stipulation. Monahan believed the only way the TPC Sawgrass homeowners association would even consider such an idea was with the blessing of Palmer, who at the time was still alive.
"Every time I would bring it up to the HOA they thought I was eccentric because nobody had ever heard of a 12-hole course," Miller says. “At that time, they really weren't out there. We were really the canary in the coal mine."
Out of options, Miller sat down to write Palmer a letter, asking for his blessing to dig up one of his previous course designs. And the former Oak Bridge Club wasn’t just another Palmer course. The King’s office had been within a 9-iron of the location at one point.
"So the story was that Palmer really kicked dirt here," Miller says. "He just didn't fly over on in his jet and collect a million dollar check. He was integral in the design."
Miller typed out the letter and handed it to Monahan to read prior to submitting to the aging Palmer.
"I give Jay the letter and he goes, ‘Are you dumb?'" Miller recalls. "‘You don't type Mr. Palmer a letter, you write Mr. Palmer letter.’ I said, ‘You mean hand written? I haven’t done that since fourth grade.’ So, yeah I wrote it out and it looked like a 5-year-old writing in crayon. And oh God, it was 10 iterations too, because you know, you're submitting something to The King, you want it to be spot on."
Monahan delivered the letter, Palmer quickly gave his blessing, and the HOA was soon on board.
"One man's garbage is another man's gold, right?” Miller says. "It just all came together and the community embraced it, not because we were trying to keep the old course alive but because we created something fun. We sometimes forget not everybody has the wherewithal or the ability to play the big course. And now I’m seeing all these so-called abbreviated golf experiences popping up all over the place."
The Friday skins game, with each golfer throwing in to the pot $12 or what amounts to $2 per hole, sort of evolved organically from eight players to its current state of golf euphoria.
It takes 80-120 players — with as many as 20 players on a hole at once — about an hour-and-a-half to complete the skins competition, or before the beer gets warm or burgers get cold.
“You’re not allowed to throw up grass to see which way the winding is blowing, or you're not allowed to take a whole lot of practice swings,” Miles says. "It’s either a birdie or pick it up. If you hit it in the water you’re out of the hole."
“It's really, really cool. I encourage all my people to think out of the box. And the people who play here can let their hair down a little bit, too."
And one more important factor plays into the success of The Yards and its self-proclaimed “Largest Skins Game in the World.”
“We pay in cool, hard cash,” Miller said. “And you know then they go in the bar and the money's gone in about 12 minutes."