PGA Tour pros quiver at the three-hole stretch called the Bear Trap at the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, but here I am in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with a bad back and a worse game to confront one of the toughest gauntlets in golf. I don’t have a prayer, and I’m in good company: Even the best professional golfers make a hash of holes 15 through 17 each spring at the Honda Classic, the first stop on the Tour’s Florida swing.
But the Classic’s tempting purse makes it worth risking embarrassment or death by drowning in the notorious Bear Trap. PGA Tour number crunching concludes that only two players have navigated the terrible trifecta under par in the four years the tournament has been held at PGA National: Luke Donald and Rory Sabbatini, both at 1 under.
In 2011 the entire field went around in 1 over. Sabbatini’s 1 under helped him win the tournament. Meanwhile, 60 balls went in the water at hole 15, 25 at 16, and 65 at 17.
It was not always thus. Putts started flying across PGA National’s greens 31 years ago, but the Champion course, originally a George and Tom Fazio design, was redone by Jack Nicklaus in 1990 and again in 2002. From his Golden Bear moniker came the Bear Trap nickname.
Nicklaus put more teeth into the Champion, but there was already plenty of golf history to chew on here, plus plenty to play, with 90 total holes at PGA National Resort & Spa. The smorgasbord includes two other George and Tom Fazio tracks (the Haig, after Walter Hagen, and the Squire, after Gene Sarazen), one by the King (the Palmer Course) and one by Karl Litton (the Estates). A PGA National Club Fitting Lab will put the right sticks into players’ hands, while a David Leadbetter Academy and a Dave Pelz Scoring Game School will show how to use them.
The 379-room resort and communities nestled within the 2,300-acre sprawl include a full-service spa, tennis courts, nine pools, one of the largest croquet courts in the hemisphere and meeting facilities, all fresh off a $65 million renovation. Seven dining options, overseen by executive chef Gordon Maybury of Dublin, Ireland, are topped by the contemporary Ironwood Steak & Seafood. The iBAR watering hole right off the main lobby is enlivened by guests and locals at all hours — particularly so at tournament time.