Fifty years ago, Palm Beach Gardens was a rather barren extent of swampland and pine forest that supported nothing more than a number of cattle ranches. Developer John D. MacArthur stepped in at the end of the 1950s and began the process of transforming the empty acres of grazing terrain into the upmarket residential area that it is today – one that supports no fewer than a dozen golf courses within its 55 square miles boundary.
MacArthur engaged the much under rated architect Dick Wilson to build three 18-hole courses then he teamed up with the PGA to establish new headquarters here in 1965. All was well for a few years and several top-flight competitions were held at Palm Beach Gardens including, in 1971, the World Cup (won by the 2-man USA team of Nicklaus and Trevino) and the PGA Championship (when Jack Nicklaus won again).
Unfortunately, MacArthur’s relationship with the PGA ended soon after when the governing body moved first to Lake Park then back to its present home in 1981 at the PGA National Resort & Spa, a mile to the west on the other side of Florida’s Turnpike. After the split from the PGA in 1973, the property here became known as the JDM Country Club, which in turn became the BallenIsles Country Club.
Extending to over 1,300 acres, the beautifully landscaped BallenIsles housing complex – comprising a magnificent clubhouse, state-of-the-art tennis and fitness centre, spa and swimming pool – is laid out around the three top drawer golf courses named North, South and East.
Ballen Isles was the original PGA National Golf Club (1964-1973). After a fallout the founder and the PGA went separate ways in the early 1970s. The original East course was built in 1963 and hosted the 1971 PGA Championship, won by Jack Nicklaus. The first hole isn’t exactly welcoming, a slight dogleg right with bunkers on the inner and exterior elbow. The long par four 2nd is challenging. With a right to left bending fairway around the water hazard a crisp approach shot is a must. The par 5 3rd has some challenges and obstacles, like a water hazard, but now ay should this hole be the number one handicap hole. The par 3 4th is your typical Florida par 3 carry over water and the fifth is wide open and what you see is what you get. The long par 3 6th has a hellacious waste BAB. Take an extra club. The 7th is a good par 5. Carry water off the tee and favor the left side. This will give you a larger landing area on your second shot as you pick your yardage to the green. The par 4 9th is a solid golf hour. Bunkers on both sides of the fairway in the landing area and then an approach shot over the water hazard.
The back starts a little slow but 12 is a super par 5. Reachable, but certainly a risk reward play. The fairway is essentially and island. You really need to know your yardages I would advocate play for par. The 13th is a fun respite, a dogleg right with water on the right. The 14th is a long par four with everything right in front of you. The slight dogleg left par 4 15th is a good birdie oppty. The 16th is the 3rd 200+ yard par 3. The par 5 17th has water down the left side. Keep your drive right and your second shot the further left you are the better angle to the green and it will hold better as well. Well protected with a significant right to left tilt. The 18th, I do not know where to start. Saying it is tough is like saying I don’t like to pay taxes. Water left with a narrow landing area. Your second shot on this long par 4 must carry the water hazard. There is a small landing area right or you could lay up and play it as a 3 shot hole. I do not understand how this is the 6th handicap hole.
I won’t be going back
Actually, the first PGA National was located in Dunedin, FL, near Tampa on a Donald Ross-designed course that is now called Dunedin Golf Club.
Thx Jeff, i was unaware of that. Dunedin GC certainly has an interesting history