South Florida Escape – Day 2

The statue and plaque that mark the beginning of "The Bear Trap" on The Champion course at PGA National (Photo: Scott MacLeod)
“The Bear Trap” is the focus on every golfer at PGA National

(October 23, 2012) Palm Beach Gardens – Splash!! – not the best way to start “The Bear Trap” at PGA National Resort’s Champion Course but given that the tee shot into the par 3, 15th hole was played into a 45 km/h wind I could hardly complain.  A shot hit a fraction short on the par three wasn’t the ideal result but proved to me just why the three hole loop it kicked off is considered one of the toughest on the PGA Tour.

The Champion course is clearly the pride of this massive golf facility but with five full layouts to choose from any golfer can expect to find a favoured place to get in a game.

On the first full day here in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida myself and Flagstick Publisher Jeff Bauder tried to pack in as much as possible.

Slated to play 36 holes, we found it kind of daunting that our first test was going to be The Champion, the host course of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic.  To our credit we hit outstanding tee shots under the watchful eye of the starter.  We mused that he is likely wary of those like us who try to tackle the former Ryder Cup host layout from the 7000+ yard Black Tees.

To our credit, save for a few holes, we had a successful journey around The Champion considering we had never played it before.  Originally a Tom and George Fazio design, it has been redesigned twice by Jack Nicklaus who lives just down the road in North Palm Beach.  The generous fairways it possesses are ideal for the normally windy conditions while the greens present a myriad of testy possibilities for hole locations.

Never a big  fan of  Nicklaus designs, this is one I could play daily.  To the credit of the resort itself, the turf conditions were impressive and every staff member we engaged was cheerful and well-informed.  Obviously they have pretty decent training practices.

After capping off The Champion we paused for a little lunch before heading to The Palmer course for a second eighteen.  As we prepped for that round we had a little surprise on the practice green when we spotted a familiar looking player.  It was 2012 PGA Tour Canada leading money winner Matt Hill getting in some practice time.  After a little banter about the upcoming PGA Tour Q-School 2nd stage we left him to head to the 1st tee.

Luckily for us a corporate outing had just finished up on the Palmer course and because they had used a shotgun start we had the golf course to ourselves.  Less than three hours later we found our way to the final green on the course that opened as The General in 1984 but was converted to it’s new name after the legend from Latrobe gave it a new look in 2006.

The Palmer had a little different flavour than Champion.  Slightly narrower fairways and a little more movement in the greens ensure that it is no pushover.  The final hole is a great par five that we are told is among the best of the property.  We were in full agreement after seeing all of it’s 550 yards.

With our golf out the way we still had some daylight left to burn.  We pointed our rental car away from the resort and discovered that just ten minutes to the east we could drive by the gates of the revered Seminole Golf Club and get sand in our shoes on the impressive Juno Beach. It’s a great stop for families staying at the PGA National Resort.

With the winds whipping about we had the added bonus of being able to watch surfers and and kite-boarders in action.  There was no way we’d consider taking part in the tumultuous seas but it was great to watch.

There were more highlights to the day but I’ll leave them for further stories.

Tomorrow we sit down for breakfast with PGA National’s PR Manager, Karen Cantor, to get a better feel for the place.  Three days here would hardly be enough to explore it all so we’ll use the time with Karen to glean some extra knowledge.

After that we’ll be off to tackle The Fazio course and if we manage to get it in at a decent pace we might just make it over to North Palm Beach to play a few holes at their Nicklaus-designed Municipal Golf Course on the advice of a few colleagues.

It’s also Jeff’s 42nd birthday so hopefully the golf gods reward him with a gift or two.

If not, I guess I’ll be on the hook.  I hear few extra conceded putts would be appropriate.

We’ll see.