There is something to be said about playing on the same golf course where a PGA tour event is held. It is fun to play one that you have seen many times on TV or to play one that you will see on TV in the future. Either way there is just something special about playing a course and watching what the pros do on the same course with the cameras rolling. Just a few weeks before the Honda Classic I was able to play at the PGA National Championship Course. The Honda Classic has been held there for a number of years. It is an event that I have watched many times. While the event has started to draw the biggest names in golf, the biggest name at the course is the Bear Trap. It is a collection of 3 very difficult holes. It consists of holes, 15, 16, and 17 which are 2 par 3s over water and a par 4 that also requires navigating water. Golfer just talk about surviving the Bear Trap.
PGA National is more than just the Championship Course, it has 4 other courses. I’ve heard they are all top notch, although I didn’t have time to play any of them on this visit. The complex is sprawling with hotels, condos, houses, tennis courts, pools, restaurants and bars. You could park your car at the resort and never really have a reason to leave. It is about 10 miles from the Ocean, but there still seems to be plenty of tradewinds that sweep through the course. Along with all the resort amenities, there are plenty of golf related ones too. They have large practice facilities, but again my visit was limited so from here on out, this will just be about the championship course.
PGA National Championship Course begins just a few steps from the clubhouse. It really is a good starting hole, not too tough, but difficult enough to give you a good sense of what it to come on the remain 17 holes. Just like on this hole, you will often find trees on one side and water on the other. Sometimes it is mixed up with trees on both sides or water on both sides, but this is not a course for an extremely wayward driver. You can get away with a miss here and there, but you will be penalized by the thick rough. Now I’m not sure they always keep the rough as thick as they had it when I was there, just a couple weeks before the Honda Classic, but do whatever you can to avoid the thick rough. That is easier said than done. I had no problem testing the rough right away on the first hole. I was only a foot off the fairway but I just had to hack it up by the green as best I could. Once on the green you can expect smooth, consistent fast greens all the way around the course.
There are number of great holes on the front side of the Championship Course. On paper there are a couple holes that look easy, but playing them is much more difficult than one would think. The 4th hole is a short par 4, but because of the fairway bunkers, green side bunkers and a narrow crowned green, it can easily result in a big number on the card. The 6th hole is another short hole, this time a par 5. It shouldn’t be that tough, but with such a narrow fairway, water left and a prevailing headwind, it takes a number of accurate shots and good putting to beat this little hole. The front 9 wraps up with a solid, long par 4 again into the wind bringing you back to the clubhouse.
After making the turn and heading to the back side you get the first and really the only easy driving hole. The fairway is the widest on the course as you can see from the elevated tee box. But the narrowing fairway as you near the green challenges approach shots to be accurate. Hole 12 is one of the toughest holes on the course. It is a long dogleg right that requires accuracy and length. The green is well guarded by traps, water and trees. After you walk off the 12th green with a bigger score than you wanted you get a glimpse of the Bear Trap. The 13th and 14th holes are slightly tamer than what is ahead, especially if you hit the fairways.
The Bear Trap is one of the most famous stretches of 3 holes in golf anywhere . Once you get to these holes it is all about playing smart and trying to survive. It opens with a solid par 3. The 15th hole was playing around 180 the day I was there. The wind wasn’t too strong, but was pushing the ball toward the water. A solid strike of the ball that just drifted into the water next to the green was not the way I wanted to start the Bear Trap. But after a drop and chipping up close I was only scathed with a bogey. The 2nd hole of the Bear Trap is a long dogleg par 4. The tee shot need to go straight to give yourself a fair chance at hitting the green. I went 3-wood off the tee and just striped it. The second shot is the real scary one. I was left with 210 yards to the green, mostly over water. I lasered a hybrid in that just trickled off the green onto the fringe 10 feet from the pin. I walked away from hole 16 with a simple par.
So far it’s Bear Trap 1 vs. iGolfreviews 1. The rubber match is hole 17. It is very similar to 15. Around 185 to the pin mostly over water again with more water to the right. Another solid strike that held into the wind and hit and front portion of the green and rolled to the middle of the green. A simple 2 putt par means that I beat the Bear Trap. It is not really a stretch of holes that you are thinking about birdies, just surviving with pars. While 18 isn’t included in the Bear Trap, it is a solid finishing par 5. It can be reached in 2 with good shots, but there is water to navigate again all along the right side of the second half of this hole. It might be a chance to make up a shot if you lost one in the Bear Trap, or it could be a disastrous way to end your round.
PGA National Championship Course is a PGA tour stop that you will be happy to have played. It is a test of your entire game. You need to drive the ball accurately, recover miraculously and sometimes putt lights-out just to save par. The Bear Trap is the most famous stretch of three holes, but the rest of the course is worthy of a tour event too. West Palm Beach,FL in the winter is a great place to play. There are 5 different courses to enjoy, but make sure you challenge your game at the PGA National Championship Course. It is home of the Honda Classic and the Bear Trap.