BallenIsles (East) - Florida - USA

BallenIsles Country Club,
100 Ballen Isles Circle,
Palm Beach Gardens,
Florida (FL) 33418,

  • +1 561 622 0220

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.

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Reviews for BallenIsles (East)

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Description: Extending to over 1,300 acres, the beautifully landscaped BallenIsles housing complex is laid out around the three top drawer golf courses named North, South and East. Rating: 4.5 out of 10 Reviews: 2
Mark White

Ballenisles East is a very playable course with no distinctive architectural features. Located in Palm Beach Garden, it sits on essentially flat land. The East course originally opened in 1964 and was designed by Joe Lee and Dick Wilson. It hosted the PGA Championship in 1971, won by Jack Nicklaus.

In 2008, renovation work was completed on greens and bunkers by Keith Foster and Kevin Hargrave, as well as the planting of 2,600 trees and 20,000 plants and shrubs. It can feel like a horticultural garden at times such is the beauty of the landscaping.

To offset the flatness of the land there are several raised greens, although none are overly dramatic. A few of the fairways have slight rolls in them but one will never have an awkward stance.

The bunkering is about what one would expect. There are no irregular shaped bunkers. There are several longer waste-area like bunkers. The fairway bunkers offer a chance for a decent length recovery. The green side bunkers are better particularly where there is a raised green. But at no time did any of the bunkers make our group think we could not get out for a reasonable chance to make an up and down recovery.

The Jack Nicklaus design team will be coming in for another renovation. As I looked at the course I wondered what they might do given the demographics of the membership. The East course emphasizes playability which is a commendable feature. While it has adequate length for the younger, better players at 7189 yards from the championship tees, the fairways are generous. It was only on the sharp dogleg short par 4 thirteenth hole where I felt a tee shot required more precision due to bunkers down the left and a large pond on the inner right and turn of the dogleg. However, bigger hitters can likely hit beyond the bunkers or lay up and have a short iron into the green. Mr. Nicklaus famously drove this green during the 1971 PGA as he cut the dogleg. I do not know if it is possible today as the trees down the right side are likely much taller resulting in a total blind shot of one were to try. Other than the thirteenth, I felt one could swing away relatively freely from the tee.

As for what the Nicklaus design team might do, I felt the front nine green surfaces to be uninteresting with no inner contouring, relying more on gradual slopes. The back nine greens were slightly more undulating. The green surrounds excluding the bunkering did not feature many falloffs or micro-contouring. I suspect the members like it this way as it results in stress free recovery shots.

There is a good incorporation of water on the course, but I felt it only presented a real danger on three holes: the ninth, thirteenth, and eighteenth.

This is a course one could play multiple times and enjoy it. Your game might not likely improve and one’s handicap would not travel well, but there are holes here that have adequate interest.

The highlights I saw were as follows. The first green complex is a raised green with good green side bunkering, maybe the deepest on the course. The sixth is the longest par 3 with well done bunkering off the front right. The ninth’s green is set hard against the pond on its right side while the tee shot requires a layup for the longer hitters on this short par 4. The sixteenth has the best green of the par 3’s. The eighteenth has probably the best green on the course, placed on a manufactured rise with a lot of internal movement.

There are several shortcomings, particularly the very weak short par 5 seventeenth, the green surfaces on the front nine, the generous fairways, and the short par 5 twelfth and par 4 fifteenth. Perhaps the Nicklaus team will find a way to make these holes and others more interesting yet not sacrifice the playability of the course.

February 15, 2022
5 / 10
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Colin Braithwaite

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

January 14, 2019
4 / 10
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Jeff Kissel
January 15, 2019

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.

Colin Braithwaite
January 15, 2019

Thx Jeff, i was unaware of that. Dunedin GC certainly has an interesting history