The Champion Course at PGA National is much more than the Bear Trap
About three weeks ago, I was standing on the first tee of the Champion Course at PGA National, albeit way forward of where the pros are playing today in the Honda Classic. “I don’t know an ugly hole out here,” said the starter when asked to name his favorite hole. “Maybe no. 17. It’s a fun par 3,” he added. Add its twin, no. 15, to all that fun.
Fun indeed. Just ask Erik Compton where his “fun” came when his ball hit in front of the green and bounced back into the water on the 15th in the second round. And the many others who likewise followed suit.
Now after playing the course myself, I found it made watching Rory Mcllroy, Tom Gillis and Harris English along with other pros like Tiger Woods nipping at their heels, all the more fun. Sure the standing statue of the bear signaling the start of the “Bear Trap” on 15 announces three great holes and admittedly the Bear Trap comes near the end adding to the pressure cooker buildup, but there are so many other superb tests on this course worth talking about and a whole lot of water.
Indeed if you caught the shot from the blimp, you’d have seen water everywhere coming into play on all but two holes, the first and 10th. Many of the pros found it like English whose ball fell just short of the green on the fifth hole, a par 3.
So you can only imagine how regular folks will fare.
Clearly the pros playing from the back tees were dealing with a different course then my pals and I played including added distance and thicker rough. But the greens, bunkers and trees placed strategically to challenge, hadn’t changed. As I watched the televised broadcast, I remembered I had found many of them.
Originally designed by Tom and George Fazio (1981) The Champion was destined for tournament play from the git go. Before Jack Nicklaus came into the picture in 2002 to renovate it, Champion had served as the venue for the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship and 19 Champions Tour events.
The Bear Trap has been called one of the toughest stretches in golf and certainly in the reporting of the Honda, it is referred to again and again. But there are simply no wimpy holes on this track. Clever bunkering, slick undulating tif-eagle greens, some very large like no. 10 and wide fairways squeezing into narrow ribbons like on no. 16, make Champion one of the most interesting courses on the tour.
They tell you to focus on your target, not the trouble. Easy enough to say. Still flying or dodging water like on the par-5 sixth, the no. 1 handicap hole, and the seventh, a long par 3 can strike fear in the hearts of amateurs and pro alike. And yes, there are alligators plying these waters. Yet even mere amateurs should get a thrill playing such a fine track, especially if they play from one of the five tees that best suits their game.
The Champion is just one of five solid courses at PGA National Resort & Spa at Palm Beach Gardens on the east coast of Florida. Others include The Haig designed by George and Tom Fazio; The Squire by Tom Fazio; The Palmer; and the Estates. With a beautiful new zero-entry garden pool, a Spa with its “Waters of the World” mineral pools, kids club, tennis and restaurants, PGA National is a place the entire family can enjoy even if they don’t know a putter from a margarita.
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