Palm Beach Gardens, Florida – Since the Honda Classic relocated to PGA National Resort & Spa in 2007, the tournament has become one of the top draws for players on the PGA Tour and has earned a steady following among fans, largely due to the famous, or is it infamous, finishing stretch known as the “Bear Trap” on The Champion course.
This Jack Nicklaus-renovated layout, and particularly the water-filled 15th, 16th and 17th holes, has ensnared the world’s greatest golfers for more than a decade. It has also provided a daunting challenge to amateurs, who regularly make the pilgrimage to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida to experience the succession of white-knuckle shots that leave little room for error.
But those who now venture south will notice a few changes that were inspired by the pros who felt that the iconic course, which has hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup, the 1987 PGA Championship and numerous PGA Senior Championships through the years, required a facelift.
An eight-month, $1 million renovation by Nicklaus Design, which was completed last fall, should please the pros, and it will also enhance the experience for amateurs visiting the resort. Don’t fear, the Bear Trap remains as intimidating as ever. But the green complexes, which had eroded due to the passage of time, have been rebuilt, re-shaped and expanded by one-third of an acre, an average of 800 square feet per green.
Pros and amateurs alike will find larger putting surfaces that role truer, along with new and challenging pin placements. Essentially, the greens have been restored to their original 1990 design.
The Nicklaus Design team did what is called a “strip and rip,” said Chad Getz, a Nicklaus design associate. “We removed the existing turf, brought in fresh green mix and returned the grade back to where it was,” he said. “We also added hollows around the greens. It makes shots around the greens more doable and the greens more receptive. Some of this might by small nuance things, but they add up to big changes.”
Of course, the Bear Trap, considered perhaps the toughest finishing stretch in professional golf, still demands nerves of steel. Unless you’re a scratch golfer, you won’t face quite the same challenge as the big boys, but even playing from the member tees requires a solidly struck shot. From there, you’ll face a 153-yard carry over water on 15, a testing par 4 of 391 yards on 16, and 155 yards over water on 17.
“[The three holes] are not about length, but about precision [and] guts. What do you have in your chest so that you can finish those holes?” Nicklaus says.
There have been numerous other changes across the resort. Not the least is the sale of the resort last September to a Canadian real estate company for a reported $233 million. It remains to be seen what impact the sale will have on the resort, which includes five 18-hole golf courses, more than 300 hotel rooms, a 40,000-square-foot spa and 42,000 square feet of meeting space.
For golfers, the resort also includes The Palmer, which reopened in November 2017 following an extensive renovation and is the most forgiving of the five layouts; The Fazio, also redesigned within the past five years by Tom Fazio II and which combines classic architecture with modern touches; The Squire, the shortest and most exacting of the courses; and The Estates, which features wide fairways and is designed for the high handicapper.
If rain dampens your visit, golfers can still work on their game as the indoor golf simulator and teaching center, where they can choose from one of 25 virtual golf courses from around the world.
The resort also offers a multitude of dining options, from the upscale Ironwood Steak & Seafood, one of two Palm Beach restaurants to earn the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, to pool and spa-side venues, the outdoor Bar 91, a sports pub and the seemingly always bustling iBar.
While PGA National Resort & Spa is definitely undergoing changes, they appear to be improvements that will continue to make this a desired destination for golfers, whether on a buddy trip or a romantic getaway.