Few golf experiences are as memorable as playing the superb PGA National Resort Champion Course two weeks before the PGA Tours Honda Classic. I can almost hear the crowd roar in the surrounding stands. A Nicklaus layout, it’s well known for three holes named The Bear Trap – Holes 15,16 and 17 – perhaps the most diabolical three consecutive holes in golf.
The Palm Beach Gardens resort is home to four golf courses at the primary Avenue of the Champions address – The Champion (Home of the PGA Tour Honda Classic), The Palmer, The Fazio, and The Squire. A fifth course, The Estates, is 10 miles west. They allow members and guests of the resort access. Courses are rotated daily between members and resort, guests.
Golf Magazine’s 2016-17 public course rankings have the Champion Course ranked #9 in Florida. The resort is large, luxurious and legendary.
Champions Course is not long, playing 7047 yards from the tips, and 6367 yards from the Blues where I played. Fairways are generous. The opening hole unveils an uncomplicated course. Fairway bunkers are not a big worry. It’s not tricky; everything is in front of you. Stay out of the rough. It is short but thick and uniform. Unlike many courses, it’s a penalizing shot to recover.
The Bear Trap is famous for its diabolic temptation to fire at the pin. Bunkers are large with fluffy white sand. Expect no false fronts on greens but several false backs that collect shots that don’t find the correct landing areas. Greens are open and inviting to approach shots along the ground. They are large with only mild contours but grainy. Without a doubt, the grain affects your putts. If you’re not used to this, you will struggle on the greens.
As with many Florida courses, water hazards are abundant. Eight holes require the approach shot to cross a water hazard. They include forecaddies with the fee. Invaluable in providing targets, they help tackle the subtle breaks on the grainy greens.
It’s a special feeling to play the Champion Course. Once you’ve played here, you’ll appreciate watching the Honda Classic even more. Conditions are outstanding; the holes are straightforward. Greens are tricky. Figuring out the subtleties in breaks and speeds is an intoxicating challenge.