So. Florida fans get another helping of Honda Classic’s home cooking

Popular PGA TOUR stop hopes to continue its momentum as Palm Beach County residents such as defending champion Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy take on Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at PGA National

Jack Nicklaus said he always loved playing golf at home. He feels the same about watching it.

Less than 10 miles from Jack and Barbara Nicklaus’ longtime residence, 144 PGA TOUR stars tee it up this week for one of the most-anticipated annual competitions on TOUR. What distinguishes The Honda Classic as one of the TOUR’s best stops of the year will likely depend on who you ask.

For Nicklaus, who pulled off a three-peat with back-to-back-to-back victories in the event from 1976 to 1978, it comes down to everything. Included is what The Honda Classic does for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, as well as other children’s charities in the community. One measurable: Honda Classic Cares has achieved record charity distribution for 11 consecutive years, including $3.63 million in 2017 that was distributed to 133 charities. And attendance has set a new mark each year—with the exception of the weather-plagued 2015 Honda—including a record 203,815 spectators last year.

“This tournament has really grown,” Nicklaus said on Tuesday. The crowds have been fantastic. I think this tournament’s done very, very well. I never dreamed that it would continue to do what it’s doing and what it’s raising to help kids. We’re very, very pleased with what’s going on and proud to be part of it.”

He and his wife Barbara co-founded the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, the tournament’s primary beneficiary, in 2004, in an effort to provide families in their community with access to world-class pediatric healthcare. The timing was intentional—it’s the same year The Honda Classic moved from Broward County north to Palm Beach County.

“From a charity standpoint, during the first couple years of the tournament, we were the main beneficiary, and the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation probably received $150,000 to $200,000, maybe up to $250,000,” Nicklaus said. “We had a check for $1 million the last couple years, and The Honda Classic gave away over 3.6 million to all the charities last year. That’s pretty good!”

Ask someone on TOUR what makes this event so special, and they might give you a different response.

“It’s always good to come back,” said two-time Honda Classic winner Padraig Harrington. “I clearly like the golf course. It’s a very difficult golf course but I like the conditions that we play in. I see lots of wind, which I know plays into my favor.

“I like the place. Obviously the difficulty of the golf course puts everybody under pressure, but I tend to play a little bit better when I’m forced into that. It narrows my focus… I tend to have a good track record on the Bear Trap. I kind of embrace the conditions and understand that they favor me slightly.”

The Bear Trap, the daunting stretch of holes from 15 through 17, was hailed by USA Today as “one of the toughest stretches in golf,” and is known to occasionally strike fear—or measurable caution—into the hearts of players. The Bear Trap’s name is inspired by Nicklaus, the Golden Bear and designer of 300 courses worldwide. He first redesigned the championship layout in 1990, and he cautions, “It should be won or lost right here.”

“The players know it’s a tough golf course. It’s a par 70 golf course and it’s a challenge,” Nicklaus added. “It’s a handful. It’s going to be a handful this week with a dry golf course. This golf course plays much more difficult when it’s dry. I don’t see any rain coming…and it’s a little breezy.

“You’re going to see some very interesting rounds.”

Ask a spectator, and you might get a different response about why The Honda Classic is so well-known. The tournament has been named the Most Fan-Friendly event by the PGA TOUR. The 203,815 confirmed spectators that saw fan-favorite Rickie Fowler win in 2017 dwarfs the number of fans (83,500) who attended The Honda Classic in 2007, when it first moved to PGA National Resort & Spa. The tournament broke the 100,000 barrier in 2010.

An unquestionable draw to this year’s event is the strength of the field—three of the Official World Golf Ranking’s top-10 players; eight of the world’s top-20; 20 of the world’s top-50; and 46 of the world’s top-100. Names like Fowler, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Jason Dufner, William McGirt, and Graeme McDowell highlight a field competing for a $6.6 million purse.

Oh, and a guy named Tiger Woods—on the comeback trail after extended back problems and multiple surgeries took him away from competitive golf for almost a year.

“It’s so great to see Tiger back healthy and swinging a golf club and competing again,” Honda Classic Executive Director Kenneth R. Kennerly said. “The golf fans of South Florida are going to be thrilled to see him again. Tiger has been such a big part of the growth that we have experienced at The Honda Classic since he moved to Jupiter Island.”

Grounds tickets, Bear Trap tickets and other hospitality tickets and packages for the 2018 Honda Classic are on sale at or by calling 1-844-HONDA (844-846-6328). Golf fans can also tune in to tournament coverage Thursday and Friday from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Golf Channel, and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 2:45 p.m. on Golf Channel and 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on CBS Sports. Barbara Nicklaus will highlight Saturday’s telecast with a visit to the CBS broadcast booth, and her husband will join the broadcast Sunday.