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
Christopher J. Berry
Tom and George Fazio (1981) Jack Nicklaus (1990 & 2002)
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."
In the 2010 Honda Classic, Colombia’s Camilo Villegas cruised to a five-stroke win. His 13-under 267 total was a tournament record for the Champion course, underlining the ferocity of the course’s challenge, even for today’s top professionals. In the 2011 event, South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini claimed his sixth PGA Tour title with 9-under, winning by a single shot from South Korea’s Y.E. Yang. Another Rory, this time a certain Rory McIlroy, won the 2012 Honda Classic and in doing so also claimed the No.1 spot in the world rankings. The Northern Irishman also became the second youngest player to reach number one.In terms of difficulty, the Champion course is in the PGA Tour’s Top 10 for scoring difficulty. It’s one of the toughest driving courses on the PGA Tour circuit and, with only two par fives on the card – the par five 18th is one of the most difficult on tour – do not expect too many low scores to be carded on the Champion. As for eagles, they are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Rory McIlroy stole the Honda Classic headlines for the next two years. In 2013 he controversially walked off the course, initially citing “being in a bad place mentally” but later said it was because of a sore wisdom tooth. Michael Thompson went on to win the 2013 Classic, his first PGA Tour title. The following year McIlroy led the tournament from the off, but let a final round two-shot lead slip and lost in a four-man playoff (that also featured Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox) to Russell Henley, who claimed his second PGA Tour title following a birdie on the first playoff hole.
Rain delayed proceedings in 2015 and the final round was completed on Monday. After seven years in the doldrums, Padraig Harrington prevailed, beating American rookie Daniel Berger in a play-off to win the 2015 title. Adam Scott beat Sergio Garcia by one shot in 2016 and Rickie Fowler cruised to victory in 2017.
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.