Courses: PGA National & PGA Village
This story was originally published in The Globe and Mail on March 19, 2013
Sun, sand, wind and water. The four pillars of the classic Florida golf experience on its almost 900 courses. Canadian golfers venturing to the Sunshine State on a limited visit want to find this quintessential golf without venturing too far afield. Luckily, they can find two excellent destinations that offer multiple courses in a resort facility that allows a stay onsite or nearby.
PGA National, the site of the recent Honda Classic, offers five courses of varying difficulty that can keep a player happy for a week or more. TV viewers are no doubt familiar with the Champion, the main course and its famous Bear Trap in the Palm Beach Gardens facility. The daunting forced carries over water and the lightning greens speak for themselves.
But PGA National is much more than the Bear Trap. Four more courses - the Palmer, the Squire, the Estates and the newly re-named Fazio - allow for a range of golf experiences. We recently played the Fazio course, formerly known as The Haig, which re-opened last November after renovations by Tom Fazio II that increased green size by 70 percent while also installing TifEagle grass on the putting surfaces.
PGA National Fazio Course, 7th hole
One of Fazio’s innovations is the addition of forward tees, part of the PGA’s Play It Forward initiative, to speed up play while also making the game more enjoyable for the high handicapper or senior player. So while you can play 7,050 yards from the tips, there’s also the option of playing it 5,100 yards as well.
Considerable attention has also been lavished on the reconfigured bunkers on The Fazio and re-sodding the fairways with Celebration Bermuda. In keeping with environmental innovations, all the earth needed for changes came from elsewhere on the course. The effect, like all the recent renovations at PGA National, has given the resort, opened in 1980, a fresh and vibrant feel.
PGA National Fazio Course, 12th green
The Fazio has a number of memorable challenges. No. 4 is the top-rated hole here, a challenging par 5 that stretches 550 yards from the tips. On the back nine, No. 12 is a 520-yard par 5 that requires a precise tee shot to set up the hole.
Outside play is restricted to members only, but PGA National’s beautiful resort offers attractive stay-and-play packages that range from one day to week-long holidays.
PGA Village Wanamaker Course, 5th green
About an hour north in Port St. Lucie is the PGA Village, another multi-course treat. PGA Village has stay-and-play packages as well but allows outside play, too, for those who choose to stay offsite.
The Village has a more laid-back feel than the National Resort but its golf is every bit as interesting. There’s no central hotel like PGA National, but the courses wind through ample homes and condos. Its four layouts include a short course and three full-length efforts: The Wanamaker, the Ryder and the Dye.
PGA Village Wanamaker Course, 6th tee
On our recent visit we played the Wanamaker, which also got the Fazio treatment recently. New greens and fairway grasses were added and some tee boxes augmented to add a variety of distances to the course. The tips stretch to 7123 yards while the forward tees are a comfortable 4964 yards.
With its combination of water, wetlands and diabolical greens, the Wanamaker is both scenic and very much a comparable challenge to the best at the PGA National. When the wind blows, batten down the hatches on holes like No. 7, where water borders the entire left side and the green is protected by water, sand, and a large tree on the right side.
PGA Village Wanamaker Course, 18th green
For the hardy on the back nine, there’s the 546-yard Par 5 No. 13 to navigate. The finishing No. 18, a 462-yard par-4, ends in a tricky, two-tiered green protected at the front by water and by a large sand trap on the right side. A suitable conclusion to a demanding course. And enough time to grab another 18 on the Dye or Ryder course in the afternoon.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).