PGA National Resort: The Champion Course

“The Bear Trap” on PGA National Resort & Spa’s The Champion course is an intimidating trifecta of holes – 15, 16 and 17 – known as among the most demanding 3-hole stretches on the PGA TOUR.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – “It should be won or lost right here.”

Everyone who has watched The Honda Classic throughout the years knows the author—and the veracity—of that pithy statement.

Everyone who has teed it up on The Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa has read that pronouncement on the plaque beside the rampant bear statue on the 15th tee.

Jack and His “Bear Trap”

And everyone could ask the last four Honda victors—Justin Thomas (playoff with Luke List), Rickie Fowler (four strokes), Adam Scott (beat Sergio Garcia by one stroke), and Paddy Harrington (playoff with Daniel Berger)—just how important it was for them to successfully navigate Jack Nicklaus’s iconic three-hole “Bear Trap.” Words like “crucial,” “imperative,” “paramount,” “essential,” and “pivotal” would be rolling off their tongues like putts on a fast green.

For what Jack Nicklaus has created with his 1990 total redesign of the 1981 Tom and George Fazio layout and then renovated and refurbished in both 2002 and 2014 has become an enduring classic, as is The Honda Classic, on the PGA TOUR. And Nicklaus has been at it once again, closing “The Champ,” as the locals call it, for four months to modernize, restore, and reconstruct the 18 greens.

So it was with great glee that PGA National Resort & Spa–Palm Beach Gardens’ world-class golf, vacation, meetings and spa destination–has just had its ribbon-cutting ceremony to reopen its celebrated Champion Course, following the major $1 million renovation by Nicklaus Design.

Hole No. 15 is visually appealing and plays at 153 yards from the blues–179 yards from the tips–and shows a diagonal green running left to right with water all along the right side.

Jack and His Champion Greens Enhancement

Significant improvements implemented by Nicklaus Design, led by senior design associate Chris Cochran, included the removal of Palmetto palms on the right side of No. 1 and the left side of No. 9 to offer more options for PGA TOUR players on their tee shots as well as approaches into both greens. The removal will also allow for better crowd flow during The Honda Classic as the annual event has become one of the most popular and well-attended on the PGA TOUR schedule.

Additionally, one-third of an acre (14,400 sq. ft.) was recaptured on the putting surfaces, adding an average of 800 square feet per green. Most notably, the putting surfaces will return to the native design Jack Nicklaus and his team implemented 16 years ago with their 2002 renovation.

The green complexes were re-built, shaped, and grassed with Tif-Eagle Bermuda. This results in seamless transitions from green surrounds to putting surfaces and tighter relationships with respect to greenside bunkers. The changes allow for consistency in a variety of weather conditions and make one of the true “bucket list” courses in the game even more compelling. The fast, pristine, state-of-the-art surfaces will Stimp at no less than 12 come late February and during Justin Thomas’s defense of his title.

Play The Champion As if It Were The Honda

The Champion Course has long been feared and revered as one of the most challenging in the game, and the field at the first event on the Florida Swing is one of the strongest year after year. Resort guests can try and tackle The Champion Course when taking advantage of several exceptional stay-and-play offers including the popular Gold Golf Package with rates starting at $279 (per person, per night, double occupancy).

Nicklaus and his team redesigned The Champion in 2002 as well as a 2014 redesign of layout’s stout par-4 14th hole which leads to the famous “Bear Trap”–a stretch of the three demanding holes (Nos. 15,16 and 17) which engendered Nicklaus’s “right here” decree. Include the blustery and unpredictable south Florida winds and the pressure of the moment, and the Bear Trap leaves only the winners somewhat unscathed.

With five 18-hole golf courses in its portfolio, the PGA National Resort & Spa has a true smorgasbord for golfers, with the star attraction being The Champion Course.

Hole No. 15 plays at 153 yards from the blues–179 yards from the tips–and shows a diagonal green running left to right with water all along the right side. A big bunker in the back prevents easy up-and-downs as the green runs away from the bunker and toward the water.

Hole No. 16 is a relatively short par 4 at 391 yards from the blues and 434 for the pros. Well trapped right and left to present a small landing area, the hole demands a precision drive. Most of the pros use irons or hybrids. The second shot is played completely over water to a large, undulating and elevated green.

Hole No. 17, at 155-yards from the blues and 205 yards from the Honda tees, is an imposing hole. From both tees, all you can see is water in front and then a sliver of a green with a cavernous bunker on the left. Even hitting the bail-out area left of the green and short of the trap requires great skill.

“The Champ” Earns Its Redesign

“We are honored to have worked on a course with such a storied history with both Jack Nicklaus and his design company,” said Chris Cochran. “We took the advice of the best players in the game and made one of the great layouts in the U.S. even stronger.”

Next to its daunting first hole, The Champion Course’s driving range was significantly upgraded last year and includes a secluded section for PGA TOUR pros to practice their short game as well as greenside and fairway bunker play.

“As the home of a PGA TOUR course as well as being an iconic golf resort and private membership club, we continue to invest significantly in our brand assets,” says Greg “Coach” Saunders, PGA National’s vice-president and managing director. “The time was right to restore the greens, and we are excited to announce the completion of this major project on our distinguished Champion Course.”

PGA National Resort & Spa has earned AAA Four Diamond status, and the excellence of the iBar in the hotel’s lobby is one of the reasons why.

More Golf at PGA National Resort & Spa

The renowned destination also features four more first-class championship layouts: The Palmer, The Fazio, The Squire and The Estates. The transformed Palmer Course, originally designed by Arnold, reopened last November after undergoing a comprehensive renovation.

Additionally, PGA National offers the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and the David Pelz Scoring Game School for individual instruction and group clinics, and advanced club fitting.

For more information, please visit

As a caddie, greenkeeper, and Ouimet Scholar from Marshfield Country Club on Boston’s South Shore, Leigh developed his love for the game at an early age. The BA from Amherst College and MA from Dartmouth prepared him for his 36-year career in education, most of it teaching Advanced Placement English and coaching varsity golf. In 1986, a sabbatical from teaching students to writing stories for “Golf World” magazine prepared him for his second career in golf journalism. Leigh is a low-handicap golfer who has won the Golf Writers Association of America’s championship seven times. He is currently a member of Southers Marsh Golf Club in Plymouth, MA, and PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, FL.

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