400 Avenue of the Champions,
Palm Beach Gardens,
Florida (FL) 33418
- +1 800 863 2819
10 miles NW of West Palm Beach
Welcome - contact in advance
With five 18-hole golf courses in its portfolio, the PGA National Resort & Spa at Palm Beach in Florida offers a true smorgasbord for hungry golfers. The star attraction on the PGA National menu is the Champion course, which was the battleground for the 1983 Ryder Cup – one of the closest contests in Ryder Cup history. The match was deadlocked at 8-8 after the first two day’s play and teams were still tied after the first 10 singles matches. Eventually Jack Nicklaus’s team edged out Tony Jacklin’s European side 14½ 13½, denying Europe their first Ryder Cup victory on US soil.
Tom and George Fazio originally designed the Champion course at PGA National in 1981 with major tournament play in mind. Not only did the Champion course prove to be a worthy Ryder Cup venue but also it was the course used for 1987 PGA Championship which Larry Nelson won after a playoff against Lanny Wadkins.
The Champion course received a major Jack Nicklaus redesign in 1990 and he returned to modify it again in 2002. Now it’s very much a Golden Bear creation and even has the tough-as-nails closing trio (15-17) labelled “The Bear Trap”. Measuring 7,158 yards with par set at a measly 70, the Champion really is a tough course, even for the pros who try to tame it during the annual “Classic”. Honda has sponsored the Classic since 1982 and the event has been contested on the Champion course since 2007 – the Classic was formerly hosted at Mirasol Country Club on their Sunrise course.
Jack Nicklaus – course architect writes: "We didn't just change the golf course, we basically designed a new one. For the most part, we kept the previous routing in tact because most of the original land usage including the changes in direction were fine and it also made good economic sense. The basic objective of the redesign was to try to make the Champion course a more playable golf course, or feel like it was a more playable golf course for all golfers concerned. To do this, wherever feasible, we eliminated the convex fairways. The original fairways were drained from the center out. This type of fairway has the tendency to make you feel uncomfortable. Balls hit and bounce off the fairways – giving you the feeling that the golf balls are collected into the fairway. We used the same basic philosophy with the green areas. The original greens were designed more as repelling greens. For strategic reasons, there are certain times when you design repelling situations, however for the most part, the fairways and greens now accept shots rather than repelling them."
Originally designed by George and Tom Fazio but re-designed and then updated by Jack Nicklaus, the Champion course at PGA National remains one of the best public golf courses in the southeastern part of Florida. The PGA National resort and spa has five different courses with the Champion being the class of these courses, having hosted a Ryder Cup in 1983, a PGA in 1987 won by Larry Nelson, 19 years of the Senior PGA Championship, and since 2007 the Honda Classic on the PGA tour.
Make no mistake, however, this remains a public resort golf course. As to be expected in this part of Florida, the course sits on flat ground. There are no interesting or unique architectural features. The “bear trap” of holes 15-17 include two par 3’s and a par 4, all involve carries over water hazards. Combined with the fifth hole, three of the four par 3’s all have carries over water with the difference being on which side the bailout is. Of the “bear trap” holes, only the sixteenth will remain in my memory.
Regarding the par 3’s, the three involving water are all between 180 and 170 yards from the back tees. It creates a sense of “sameness.” In addition, both sets of par 3’s are spaced within three holes. While the location of the ponds likely dictated this setting, one wonders why a more interesting routing was not developed that would have converted one of these par 3’s to a land-only hole of a different length. The fourth par 3 is a longer yardage of 226-186 with a decent green complex. It is a pity there is not another hole closer to this one as opposed to having three similar golf holes.
The par 5’s are relatively straightforward and for today’s game are all relatively short with the longest being 556 yards. Of these par 5’s the eighteenth is the only one that offers any decision-making.
Of the par 4’s, in addition to the sixteenth, I also liked the short fourth due to the green complex and the fourteenth due to the slight dogleg and its green complex.
Most of the holes are straight. There are more doglegs on the back nine which add more variety and strategy to the golf course. However, most of these are not severe, offering adequate room for a landing zone were the wrong side of the fairway does not necessarily penalize the player.
The greens have plateaus and slopes, but I could not locate any swales or humps that would make them more interesting. None of the plateaus are substantial in terms of having to guess at the required pace. Near the greens there are adequate, flat chipping areas offering a decent chance at recovery. I saw only a couple of bunkers that had any real depth to them. None of the bunkers had overly steep faces.
The bunkering is purely basic. At times I was surprised where there was an absence of a bunker on a hole. My mental checklist had me adding seven bunkers to various holes. All of the bunkers offer a good chance of escaping and getting a reasonable putt.
This does not mean this is an “easy” golf course. Due to the many ponds/lakes on the course, some wetland areas and the prevalence of high wind, the course has a deserved reputation of being difficult as indicated by its high slope rating. I played it on a relatively calm day, where a couple holes were a two club differential. On a less windy day, the course is very “playable.” However, due to the wind and playing for their livelihoods, I can see where the pros would struggle on the golf course. For me, hitting a 5 iron to a back pin on seventeen having to carry the water hazard and stay left of the water is very different to a PGA tour pro trying to do the same when hundreds of thousands of dollars and ranking points are at stake.
This course cannot compete with the many very good private courses in the area, but it is one that is worth playing, particularly if one is staying on property as part of a golf package. Another reason to play it is for the history of the professional events. Finally, in “low season” (anytime other than December – April), the green fees are more reasonable. I would highly doubt that I would go back to play it in high season unless I was on a package of golf/hotel/food given the opportunities to play other good public options, even Streamsong which is relatively close by (this statement is made by a person who considers a four hour drive to be reasonably short). I would choose to play any of the 25 or so better private courses in the area, many of which do offer something that is architecturally interesting or more appealing to the eye.
From the Black tees the course is 7048 yards, par 72 rated 75.2/148. Note the PGA tour plays a set of tees further back but only open for the tournament as well as a par 70. The Gold tees are 6727 yards, rated 73.4/145. We played the Blue tees at 6373 yards rated 71.8/138 given the course was still wet from the tropical storm that passed through the previous week for four days. We took a riding cart but were restricted to cart path only. There are three sets of tees at lesser yardages so it is very possible to choose the correct tees.
The turf is relatively spongy so even without the rain I do not know how much roll we would have gotten on our balls, but definitely more than one to –minus one yards. The rough is also gnarly where balls will often sit down and one must strike the ball firmly underneath it to get it out and advance it.
1. Par 4 – 365/360/345. The most interesting features of this hole are that it has one of the few elevated tees on the golf course and there is a wrap-around bunker on two sides. The hole has trees and a bunker down the right and then trees and water on the left more in play for the second shot. There is water off to the left but it should be out of play. This is one of the more gentle starting holes one will play.
2. Par 4 – 437/419/393. Other than length, this is a straight-forward hole with its biggest defense being the line of trees down the left side. The fairway bunker on the right is not deep enough to be a significant penalty. While there is a long bunker fronting the left of the green, this is a hole where additional bunkering would enhance the hole. I do like the angle of the green placed right to left.
3. Par 5 – 538/516/495. One of the easier par 5’s one will play even if you find the fairway bunkers, one on the left and two on the right. A tree line continues down the right side. The green is long and slightly raised and has bunkers to either side. The green is long but essentially flat.
4. Par 4 – 376/356/336. I like this hole because it plays as a slight dogleg off to the right and back a bit to the left. Bigger hitters will take the fairway bunkers out of play by either laying up short of them or carrying them depending on the wind. The green complex is a good one with an elevated, thin green with fall-offs to all sides and a fronting bunker. It is the first green surface that has real character.
5. Par 3 – 171/152/148. The first par 3 has a carry over water which continues down the left side. While this is a nice hole, it is “forgotten” after you play the two par 3’s as part of the Bear Trap. Any pin position on the front half of the green is accessible with only the back left pin position offering a more challenging shot for the better players due to the water and the large bunker behind the green. There is a lot of room to bail out to the right. The green has a small horizontal spine and a small bowl on the front right which tricked me on my first putt.
6. Par 5 – 488/479/468. The tee shot offers a forced carry over water and the bigger hitters will need to avoid the two bunkers placed on the side of a man-made short hill on the right side of the fairway. The water continues for the entirety of the left side. This is one of the better green complexes on the course as the front left greenside bunker is deep. For those trying to reach the green in two the water on the left should be taken out of play as there is room to miss long and only a single small bunker on the right of the green. The green has a fall-off to the back half of the green. For a short par 5, it is a decent hole. For the Honda Classic, this is a difficult par 4.
7. Par 3 – 226/206/186. The longest par 3 on the course with wetlands in the middle section of the hole, so they should not be in play. The green is raised, sloped back to front, with two flanking bunkers at the front and another one on the right middle. The green has an interior swale, not enough to classify it as a biarittz. If there were more interesting contouring to the greens, this would be a very good par 3.
8. Par 4 – 427/401/381. A pond brings the fairway to an end about 110 yards from the green. I found the rough to the right off the tee and splashed my approach shot into the water with my rental club. The green has flanking bunkers that go into the middle leaving the back of the green as a safer target. However, despite it looking as if there is no real back to front slope to the green, my putt from the back to a middle pin went sailing by as the green is deceptively speedy.
9. Par 4 – 404386/360. Water goes down most of the left side of this green. There is a fairway bunker right which serves as the point where the fairway narrows. There is a bunker placed 15 yards short of the green on the right which I did not understand its location. There are two bunkers left to a raised green. The green is angled right to left with a fall-off on the right middle. It is one of the better contoured greens on the course.
10. Par 5 – 545/525/508. This is one of the few true doglegs on the course, going to the right with an inner fairway bunker at the turn. There are scattered trees on both sides of the fairway. The green is well protected with four bunkers right beginning 50 yards short of the green and a large one on the left side. This green is plateaued to a higher back portion with a back left pin position almost being on its own island.
11. Par 4 – 450/425/395. Possibly the hardest hole on the golf course as the fairway is angled to the left and narrows. A pond on the right is in play for the longer hitters off the tee. This pond also fronts the green with little room between the green and water. Any lay-up shot must land in a narrower section of the fairway between a few trees and the pond. The back half of the green sits on a higher plateau. It is very difficult to get close to a front pin position.
12. Par 4 – 427/408/387. This is modeled after a cape hole as the longer hitters will need to carry two bunkers down the left side as the fairway turns left. There is a single small bunker placed on higher ground down the left side. A pond/wetlands goes down the right side and should be out of play except for when one tries to hit the same shot they tried on eight which ended up in the water: back in the water I went. There are two trees placed right short of the green that make it difficult to get the correct distance to the green. Between these trees and green there is a bunker. It is a decent par 4.
13. Par 4 – 388/370/335. A pond goes down the right side with a large bunker on left side and trees down the right once the pond ends. The green has three bunkers left and two right with a slightly higher back side. I did not find the hole to be memorable.
14. Par 4 – 465/442/420. I feel this is the second best hole on the golf course, combining length and a slight double dogleg. There are two fairway bunkers and scattered trees down the left side and a large fairway bunker on the right. The pond comes into play at the fairway bunker on the right although I did not notice it as much as I did on some other holes. The green has a center bunker about eight yards short and then flanking bunkers to a green angled to the right. This is one of the more interested shaped greens on the course with a narrow front.
15. Par 3 – 179/163/153. The beginning of The Bear Trap but for me this is a hole I feel I have played many times before. This time the water fronts the green and goes down the right side. There is a mound on the left side with a large bunker. There is adequate room to bailout to the left. I birdied the hole with my fifth one putt of the day and decided to take a picture of my rental Scotty Cameron putter to buy one later.
16. Par 4 – 434/412/391. The best hole on the golf course comes next. This is a dogleg right with flanking fairway bunkers. Water goes down the entire right side forming a larger pond that fronts the green. The fairway is narrow for the hole. I played it safe by going left off the green and my “reward” was a 215 yard shot over the water into the wind. I decided to lay up to the left in a narrow bit of rough leaving me 115 yards to the pin location. The green has a pot-like bunker left and a long bunker right between the green and water.
17. Par 3 – 172/161/155. The end of “The Bear Trap.” The green sits right against the water with a back bunker that has a short grass area to its left. The green is relatively flat. As I stood on the tee, I could imagine the concern in a pro’s mind when there are hundreds of thousands of dollars and ranking points on the line, but for an average player this hole does not strike one with excessive terror.
18. Par 5 – 556/546/527. This double dogleg hole has water playing down the entirely of the right side. The safe tee shot plays away from the two large bunkers and wetlands down the left and towards some scattered trees on the right. There is a slight rise in the fairway if one does not quite hit it far enough off the tee that one has to guess at the bend in the fairway in order to stay out of the water on the right and out of the rough on the left. The fairway narrows substantially as you approach the green. Beginning about 65 yards from the green are bunkers on the left, five in total, with the final two set against each other. There is a left bunker just short of the green and two bunkers in the rear. As I stood over my five feet putt for par, I tried to recall what the announcers said about the break for the putt I had since the pin was on a similar line to the Sunday pin placement for the Honda Classic. Alas, as the putt got halfway there I remembered, “it looks like the putt breaks right but it doesn’t” and I lipped out. I like the eighteenth hole.
As mentioned, this is a good public resort course, kept in good shape with a very friendly and welcoming staff. There is nothing really new here from a visual standpoint. The routing would have been enhanced by more spacing and variety of the par 3’s, but that decision was made a long time ago. The main defense of the golf course is the direction and speed of the wind as the greens and bunkering are not overly penal.
A round at PGA National will show why it is one of the most difficult courses each year on the PGA Tour. After watching the Honda Classic for many years, it was cool to see the holes the pros face. In particular, getting to see how demanding the Bear Trap is. I have greater appreciation for what Sungjae Im did coming down the stretch of the 2020 Honda Classic.
As far as the golf course goes, PGA National is very demanding with many hazards. The stretch holes from 14-17 tests the player to hit good iron shot after good iron shot with little room for error. It is an excellent test and setting for tournament golf but could beat up the average player.
4 - A short par 4 which leaves the player with a wedge into the green but firm conditions demand the player to be coming into the green from the fairway. A runoff area long and left and a deep bunker short and right protect a narrow green.
15 - Playing as the first hole of the Bear Trap, the player is faced with a do or die golf shot. Any shot missing right, short, or long will find the water while any left miss faces a tough up and down.
18 - A long par 5 that is reachable with a great drive or when playing with the wind. This hole has been the stage for many great Honda Classic moments from Tiger making eagle to shoot 62 or Rory's 3 wood.
Any Course that has a big statue is cool. The huge bear statue on this course is just sensational. I played it in the summer. I am amazed at how close they get to "losing" the greens before getting it ready for the Honda Classic. I am not one to complain but I could see others complaining about the quality of the course in the summer for the money they pay to play. It is a great layout. I enjoyed the course. I was just surprised at the poor quality of the greens during the summer. That said - IT's the Honda classic, so a high rating.
PGA National hosts 5 course, of which the most famous is the Championship, with the infamous Bear Trap. The facility is great for any kind of golf getaway. To the course, one great feature are 6 tee boxes. We need to encourage people to play the right tees. The first hole is welcoming, a short par 4, with water left and trees right. It sets the tone for what is to come. I think there is only one hole, the 10th, without a water hazard. The 4th hole looks like a birdie hole, but, due to fairway bunkers, right and left greenside bunkers and a narrow green danger lurks. The par 5 6th is a short reachable par 5. However, there are bunkers right and the fairway slopes left towards the water hazard. If you go for it, favor the right side as the green runs hard to the left rear. Not really sure why this is the number one handicap hole? The 9th is a dogleg left where you get to choose how much of an appetite you have. It has an elevated green with a bunker so take an extra club.
To me the 12th is one of the toughest holes on the course. It is a long dogleg right that is guarded with bunkers right and left and water and trees. As with many Nicklaus designs, this hole significantly favors faders. The short par 4 13th is probably your last birdie oppty before hitting the Bear Trap. Having said that it has a narrow landing area with bunkers on the left and water right. The green is slightly elevated with bunkers right and short.The Bear Trap is one of the most famous stretches of 3 holes in golf. The 15th is a 176 yard par 3. When we played the wind was swirling and there is water short, right and long with a bunker left to keep us honest. We only lost two balls. The 16th is a bear, no pun intended. Long par 4 with water all the way down the right, fairway bunkers left and right and then a carry over water on your approach. I forgot two-tiered green. We were consistent, only lost two balls. To me, the par 3 17th is eerily familiar to the 15th. Water, water everywhere. Go for the middle of the green. We did not lose any balls! Then came 18. I do not know why this is not considered part of the Bear Trap. I think it is a super finishing hole. Dogleg left with fairway bunkers left and right that narrows as you get closer to the green. Oops, forgot to mention the water all down the right side. On your approach, bunkers left, water right and the green gets extraordinarily skinny the further right you go. Our short-term euphoria of not losing any balls on 17 was dashed as we splashed 4 and staggered to the clubhouse. Good but not great, I would not go back unless you are paying.
There's a tendency to link difficulty and architectural greatness. However, the former is merely about the wherewithal to create a series of challenges that can often times prove insurmountable most notably when courses are pushed either right to the edge or even go over it. Florida golf -- with very few exceptions -- invariably entwines the presence of water on a steady basis. In some cases, the presence of water hazards can be saturated -- no pun intended -- to the point of excess.
The Champion Course hosts the annual Honda Classic on the PGA TOUR and those competing for the title are well aware of the dangers. The course's reputation for difficulty is further enhanced by varying wind velocities so the pressure on pure ball striking only becomes more intensified.
For many people the level of difficulty is assumed to be in league with compelling architecture. Top tier architecture is about the necessity for a wide range of shotmaking acumen. The issue I have with much of Florida golf is that water is inserted to the point of overkill. No doubt it's tied to the fact that nearly all the State is right at sea level. Water is also chiefly more penal in its role. Very rarely do players who come in contact with it have any other option except to drop ball and play on from there. Pity any player having issues with one's driver -- you'll likely be contacting the pro shop to have more ammo sent to you. My best wishes to Tiger Woods who plans to compete this week at a course that has absolutely zero tolerance for wayward driving.
When wind speeds exceed 20-25 mph, which is not unheard of in the winter / early spring period -- the air game is certainly tested to the max. Given the nature of the spongy turf -- there's little meaningful roll so a ground game option is generally not included. That is one of the main reasons why much of Florida golf is of limited appeal to me and others. The bounce of the ball is a needed element when wind speeds pick-up. In playing links courses the fescue grasses allow for players to succeed by using the ground option as a way to mitigate severe blowing conditions.
The Champion Course has been upgraded by Jack Nicklaus and the feature item of discussion is always holes #15 thru #17 -- infamously known as - "The Bear Trap." Two of the holes are par-3's and water is a central issue to overcome on both. The slightest push to the right on either means the very real possibility in scoring a double-bogey or worse. The 17th can be absolutely terrifying to play in any crosswind - especially when coming from left-to-right. The other hole in the trio -- the 16th -- is a fine par-4 which often gets the least attention but is nonetheless a fine hole.
Players can make-up ground one final time with the closing par-5 18th. But only with the best execution. This is one hole which only grudgingly gives up birdies and even rarer yet eagles. The hole features a drive zone turning left and then a fairway narrowing considerably the closer one gets to the green. There's also a water hazard hugging the right side of the green and needs to be thoroughly respected. The 18th provides a range of options and scoring situations and is one of the very best holes at The Champion.
There's little in terms of note regarding topography and for many the memorability of the course may be an issue -- save for the visceral impact caused by The Bear Trap.
The Champion shows that difficulty is an item of primary concern but riveting architecture is more often than not in short supply here. Just be sure to have your frog mask and fins available if the golf clubs fail you. And pay heed to the alligators lurking nearby!
by M. James Ward
Recently spent a couple days staying at PGA National resort. The first impression is how impressed I was with the scale of everything, even the roads going in to the resort which seem like main roads share the name giving an indication that this entire areas was made up with golf and catering to golfers and their families in mind. Sure the scale of everything is huge but with year round sunshine and near perfect conditions it’s pretty unique and pretty cool from my perspective. Naturally the Champions Course is famous from the Honda Classic one of the big stops on the PGA Tour. It’s highly characterized by the 15-17 holes called the Bear Trap.
I’m not the guy that gets overly excited about playing on championship courses but on this day I went out with a member and his daughter and we had a blast. The course was fun, I’d say a solid resort course from the tees I played, the men’s back tee and it was playing firm and fast which made it more enjoyable. Add a nice Florida breeze and we were all set.
I actually had a great round going till I went into the bear trap holes. They are tough and don’t have too much margin for error. The par 3 17th was, in my mind the toughest, playing into what was then a hard left to right breeze. I chickened out to the left, which is the safe side or at least I thought it was. The shot I was left with was almost impossible. I had to pitch it down wind over a bunker onto a fast green with water behind and the green sloping toward the water from my angle. A shot I tried several times with no success. No matter how good I pitched my 60 degree wedge I couldn’t get the ball to stop without going into the water (of course the member was standing there stopping my balls from rolling in), so I left knowing that there are some shots the pros are faced with that I wouldn’t want to have on a day to day basis at my home club. Accept and move on.
The resort itself was a worthy place to stay as it’s really all about the golf. The rooms were nice and the atmosphere was pretty buzzing with golf excitement as well. There is something to be said for waking up to paradise out your window for avid golf fans. For me the courses themselves would not be enough to convince me to visit but the combination of everything makes for a great place to visit and even use as a base to see some of the golf in the area.
A championship venue offering great drama every year. This will be on everybody’s wish list coming to the area!