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The Breakers Palm Beach in south Florida: Old-school resort golf that passes the test of time

By David R. Holland, Contributor

The Breakers Palm Beach features two golf courses with contrasting styles. The Ocean, Florida's oldest 18-hole layout, is old-school golf at its best. The Rees Jones Course brings a multitude of peninsula greens that will challenge your golf ball supply.

The Breakers Palm Beach hotel
The Breakers Palm Beach is home to Florida's oldest 18-hole golf course.
The Breakers Palm Beach hotelThe Breakers Palm Beach - Ocean golf course - hole 18The Breakers Palm Beach - Rees Jones golf course - hole 8The Breakers Palm Beach - Rees Jones golf course - hole 13The Breakers Palm Beach - Ocean golf course - hole 17The Breakers Palm Beach in south Florida

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Legends are often embellished, and Florida golf history certainly has its share of stories. Like the day in 1900 when Harry Vardon arrived on a steamship, docked at The Breakers and played his first round of golf in the U.S. at Florida's oldest 18-hole layout, the Ocean Course.

"The way I've heard the story is that Mr. Vardon was on an exhibition tour for the Spalding Company," said Tim Collins, director of golf at The Breakers.

You can no longer play the "Vardon Flyer" -- a golf ball he promoted, but "vintage" certainly can be used to describe The Breakers Palm Beach, a venerable resort that dates back to 1896.

Today, the Breakers' Ocean Course is old-school golf at its best. Originally laid out by Scotsman Alexander H. Findlay in 1897, it was once retooled by Donald Ross and was completely redesigned by golf course architect Brian Silva in 2000 (to the tune of $6 million).

At the turn of the century it had sand greens and measured 4,925 yards before Ross visited in the 1920s and added length and grass greens. It was about that time that golfers were allowed to remove their jackets and ties to play the game on days the heat and humidity were stifling. Any activities in the clubhouse, however, required golfers to wear their best clothes.

Today, the Ocean Course also has a new Old Florida-styled clubhouse for tennis and golf that is home to the Flagler Steakhouse. The Rees Jones Course at The Breakers, which is 11 miles from the oceanfront hotel, is the Ocean Course's contemporary counterpart. A complimentary shuttle will take you there.

The Breakers Palm Beach's two golf courses: contrasting styles

Two things will be the theme during your round at the Ocean Course: This is a tight golf course with tropical-flowering trees and palms lining the fairways, and the tiff eagle greens are perfect.

Collins will tell you that the bunkering (88 new and refurbished traps) throughout the landscape is more random than most modern courses that have a repetitive scheme. Fairways intertwine to sandy hazards and merge into some water-hugging greens. Deeply recessed, classic bunkers and close-cut green fringes that surround and allow chipping options flank some putting surfaces.

Silva's redesign addressed tee elevation, tee sizes, surface slopes, pin placement areas and an integration of sand and grass-faced bunkers. There was also installation of complex new drainage and irrigation and a sixth lake.

"I think we successfully heightened playing interest while re-establishing vintage design characteristics of the course," said Silva, a past Golf World magazine Architect of the Year. "Our goal was to preserve the unique and priceless attributes of the original course while reviving those details that have not survived the rigors of climate and time."

The primary thing you will notice about the 7,104-yard, par-72 Rees Jones Course is the multitude of peninsula greens that will challenge your golf ball supply. It is a playable, contemporary championship course, with lush foliage and numerous water hazards in the style of a nature preserve.

Opened in 1976 as The Breakers West Course, it was redone by Jones in 2004 and awarded "Renovation of the Year" by Golf, Inc. Jones artfully sculpted the course with full views of the rolls and dips, water, palms and pines. Slight elevation changes make the course even more interesting.

Golf at The Breakers Palm Beach: The verdict

Longtime players say the Ocean Course rewards wits over power and challenges skill. Resort pros recommend playing the ball low to counteract the ocean winds and to use the terrain to play the ball in front of the green.

Any skilled golfer will be challenged by the Rees Jones Course, especially with the holes where greens are encircled by water. Beware of No. 6, a 556-yard par 5 that doglegs right. Water is all along the right and the peninsula green, which has three tiers and looks tiny for any approach, especially if the wind is blowing sideways.

John Webster Golf Academy at The Breakers Palm Beach

The John Webster Golf Academy makes The Breakers a prime place to sharpen your skills with individual golf instruction. Webster personalizes his tutorial with physical fitness and state-of-the-art Learning Centers can be found at both the Ocean Course and the Rees Jones Course.

A PGA of America member since 1995, Webster has taught Cal Ripken Jr., Tom Kite, Candy Hannemann, Kyle Boller, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and former USGA president/U.S. Amateur champion Fred Ridley.

The Breakers Palm Beach hotel offers classic elegance

The Breakers Palm Beach is one of America's legendary resort destinations. Awesome describes my oceanfront room overlooking the breaking surf of the Atlantic Ocean.

Founded in 1896 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 540-room, Italian Renaissance-style hotel occupies 140 acres of oceanfront land. And like any world-class hotel and resort, it is constantly being upgraded.

Aside from golf on Palm Island, there are 10 tennis courts and a 20,000-square-foot luxury spa. Add to that the oceanfront beach club with a half-mile of private beach, featuring beach bungalows for daytime rental, as well as five pools and four whirlpool spas. Water sports, including scuba diving (an incredible, renowned reef is just a half-mile out) and fishing, are available.

When it came to dine I picked the Seafood Grill for crab cakes and crab claws topped off with The Breakers' 100-year-old recipe for key lime pie. The second night I walked to the Flagler Steakhouse in the golf clubhouse for T-bone steak and the trimmings.

The Breakers Palm Beach has a broad selection of other restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, as well as an array of on-site boutiques -- all owned and managed by the resort. The Breakers is recognized as an AAA Five Diamond property. For reservations or more information, contact the resort at 1-888-BREAKERS (273-2537), (561) 655-6611 or visit www.thebreakers.com.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Great place

    Sandy wrote on: Feb 8, 2011

    Loved your story. The Breakers is one of my all-time favorite splurges. Keep up the good reporting.


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