Escape the Winter Doldrums at PGA National on the ‘Gold Coast’ of Florida
By Leigh MacKay
CamiloVillegas enjoyed the warm weather, aura, and setting at the PGA National Champion Course almost as much as he enjoyed winning the 2010 Honda Classic, the first stop on the “Florida Swing.” With his five-stroke victory over Anthony Kim and his successful navigation of the “Bear Trap” in this early March event, Villegas jump started his year and finished in 15th place in the Fed Ex Cup. Villegas will return to PGA National this February 28-March 6 to defend his title in the $5.6M purse, but an all-star field will certainly be motivated to wrest that crown from him.
The PGA National Resort and Spa, undoubtedly to rescue New England golfers from their current winter doldrums, has instituted a one-of-a-kind golf package, the “Honda Classic Experience.” Players can emulate the stay-and-play adventure of this PGA Tour stop in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, now through April 30, and contend with what Golfweek designates as one of the nation’s “Best Resort Courses” and “Best PGA Tour Courses You Can Play.”
The “Experience” includes one round per person per each night’s booking on The Champion, with a photo-op on the first tee before the first swing. To enhance the challenge, immaculate greens are kept at tournament speeds with double-digit Stimpmeter readings. Garmin GPS and mandatory forecaddies maintain a suitable pace of play, and walking caddies in Augusta-style jumpsuits are available. Unlimited same-day replay rounds, booked at the course after the first round, also feature access to the three other courses on the grounds—The Palmer, The Haig, and The Squire. Complimentary bag storage and unlimited range balls complete the golf aspect.
“Our package provides a true ‘inside the ropes’ PGA Tour feel for our guests,” says Joel Paige, VP and Managing Director. “The Honda Classic is our pinnacle event, and now golfers can test their skills against The Champion and mighty Bear Trap in tournament conditions.”
Accommodations are onsite at PGA National’s award-winning resort hotel, the 24-karat standard for the famed south Florida “Gold Coast,” where the majority of the Honda Classic field stays. The 379-room resort recently completed a $65 million comprehensive revitalization including an outdoor pool and pavilion, and the new Ironwood Grille and iBAR make nine on-site restaurants and lounges. The cuisine is also of championship caliber. Whatever the guest craves, from seafood to steaks to burgers and dogs to buffet breakfasts to snacks, the chefs can prepare, and be assured that the wait staff will serve the appropriate potables.
The resort boasts a luxurious European Spa with 32 treatment areas and the exclusive “Waters of the World” outdoor mineral pools plus a contemporary health-and-racquet club facility with 19 Har Tru tennis courts and nine recreational pools. Another advantage is that the AAA Four Diamond resort is only 15 minutes from the modern Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). Shuttles to and from the airport can be arranged by the concierge staff.
The Champion was originally laid out in 1981 by Tom and George Fazio for major tournament play and redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 2002. Host of the 1983 Ryder Cup, the 1987 PGA Championship, and 19 Senior PGA Championships from 1982-2000, the course has generous fairways and true tif-eagle greens, surrounded by a myriad of course-management obstacles. The formidable “Bear Trap,” a triumvirate of the closing holes 15-16-17, that usually determines the Honda Classic champion, was coined as a tribute both to the holes’ intricacies and to Nicklaus himself. Villegas was one of the very few professionals to tour the 12 holes in even par over the four days; the rest of the field had 352 bogeys or worse.
Fifteen is a par three of 179 yards over water to a green flanked on three sides by a lagoon. Sixteen is a par four of 434 yards that demands a long tee shot over water and away from a huge fairway bunker and then an exacting second shot to a green with cavernous bunkers. Seventeen is another par three, this one of 205 yards, again over water and to a sliver of a green. The usual stiff breeze adds just one more degree of difficulty. A plaque and bear statue have been erected to celebrate this ultimate challenge to those finishing The Champion, both professionals and resort guests alike. As Jack Nicklaus said, “It should all be won or lost here.”
Because PGA National is all about golf, guests may wear their spikeless golf shoes throughout the hotel and campus, anywhere they want to go. And because PGA National is all about golf, those spikeless shoes often take guests who want to improve their games to the Golf Academy, the only location in the world to offer two of the most elite instructional programs—The Dave Pelz Scoring Game School and The David Leadbetter Golf Academy—with a state-of-the-art custom club fitting lab. From the short game to the full swing to matching the player to his equipment, the Golf Academy offers it all.
Although The Champion is the crown jewel of the four courses on-site, the other three offer demanding and satisfying layouts as well. The Palmer is one of the King’s signature courses, and he designed it to echo the game’s Scottish roots, especially with his series of finishing holes and with the 18th as one of the most picturesque par fives on the property. The Haig, designed again by Tom and George Fazio, honors Walter Hagen, and was the first course opened at PGA National. It has no crossing water hazards and no forced carries. The Squire, another Fazio creation and named after Gene Sarazen, is a test of accuracy off the tee and precision with the irons. Built adjacent to a natural environmental area, The Squire provides the player with a glimpse of the unique southern Florida wildlife. Play The Champion as often as desired, but don’t neglect the other three tests, either.
Ricky Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Jhonattan Vegas, and Lee Westwood are just some of the notables who have committed to play in the Honda Classic. Their objective is to take on The Champion and dethrone the 2010 champ. In many ways, their week of stay-and-play at PGA National Resort and Spa will be no different from any guest who takes advantage of the unique “Honda Classic Experience.” Besides, for a few days what could be a better venue for that escape from the harsh, enduring winter conditions?
For more information about the “Honda Classic Experience,” other golf packages, and PGA National Resort & Spa, please visit www.pgaresort.com, or call 800-533-9386.