Course Review: PGA National, Florida – Week of February 7
I always look forward to our mid-winter golf getaway to Florida. While our annual trip is now entering its fourth decade, this year, as for the last 25 years we have been heading to PGA National (PGAN) in Palm Beach Gardens.
It’s usually great weather, and many excellent restaurants are nearby, but the highlight is always the opportunity to play a variety of five challenging courses at the same facility.
The PGAN recently changed owners and the new group is investing over $100 million in improving the hotel and related amenities, with a large amount of money going to upgrading the courses.
The staff is very friendly and helpful, the practice areas are large with an extensive short game area, and all the range balls look brand new.
But the main focus is on the courses and these are my latest impressions of the five courses.
CHAMPION COURSE: Home of the upcoming Honda Classic and the famous “Bear Trap” the Champion is always the highlight of the week. Playing a couple of weeks right before the tour pros gives you a real sense of the conditions they face. Greens are in excellent condition and a starter told us they were actually rolling faster now than they do for the Honda. Getting though the three-hole Bear Trap in even par means you are really playing well, especially if the wind is up. Definitely a bucket list course.
PALMER COURSE: Adjacent to the Champion course the Palmer has wide fairways with large rolling greens. Like the other courses it is in excellent condition. Several holes require a precise carry over water. From the blue/white combo tees its 6329 yards but from the tips it stretches to 7077 yards. The finishing par 5 18 is as difficult a hole as I can remember playing.
FAZIO COURSE: Old style Florida course and very challenging from the proper tees. All the greens and bunkers were rebuilt last summer and are in excellent condition. Hit good shots and you’ll be rewarded, hit a little off line and you’ll struggle for bogey. Like the other courses at PGAN the finishing stretch of 16-17 and 18 is well worth celebrating if you can par in.
ESTATE COURSE: Located 6 miles west of the main resort the Estate course is where we usually begin our trip. It’s fairly wide open but still challenging. Generally, it gets a lot less play than the other courses, perfect for a warm up after a few month layoff. It is in a residential community of large homes but they are set back far from the course. It’s always in excellent shape and has a large range and short game area. The par threes and fives are all really good holes. Several members told me it’s their favorite course and I think well worth the short drive.
MATCH COURSE: This is the newest course at the resort, a complete redo of the old Squire course. Rather than a set par and tee markers on each hole, architect Andy Staples designed a free-flowing layout where match play is the focus. He used template designs of many famous older courses for the green complexes. It’s a radical change from a traditional course and certainly provides a new way to experience Florida golf. If you set up matches within your group and can accept the challenge of very tricky and difficult green complexes you’ll probably enjoy it.
STAPLE COURSE: This is also brand new, a nine-hole par three located just off the Champion range. It’s PGAN’s answer to a demand for something else to do after your main round of the day. Holes range from about 80 yards to 135 so you can play with three or four clubs. Greens are large, challenging and in the same excellent condition as the other courses. Its perfect for and hour or so in the afternoon, along, of course with a beer or two.
In summary, PGA National offers pretty much everything you could want in a one stop golf resort. A variety of very good to great courses, the new Match course that is completely unique, a cool par three course and fine practice facilities. We’ll be back again next year.