PGA National Resort & Spa’s acclaimed Champion Course—the Jack Nicklaus-designed host of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic and home of the famous “Bear Trap”—has reopened after a major re-grassing with cutting-edge Celebration Bermuda, and renovation of the 14th hole.
Celebration Bermuda grass is now on fairways, green surrounds and tees of the Champion Course, making the popular layout even more eye-catching and playable. The new turf should be embraced by the world’s best golfers who annually play in The Honda Classic—one of the top events in professional golf—as well as the thousands of resort guests who play the course.
In addition to hosting seven Honda Classic tournaments, the Champion Course has been home to the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship, and 18 Senior PGA Championships, and this year will host the final stage of the Web.com Tour’s Q-school.
“The Celebration Bermuda will provide us with major-like conditions,” said Lukus Harvey, PGA National Resort & Spa’s Director of Agronomy. “The Honda Classic field is perennially on par with golf’s four majors, and now we have the turf to provide similar conditions. Our resort guests and club members will love it because it provides a better year-around product, including upgraded irrigation. The grass is so dense you won’t get a bad lie.”
With the new turf, The Champion Course will no longer require over-seeding during the off-season, allowing for faster, firmer conditions that golfers enjoy.
“We can all use an extra 20 yards of roll,” Harvey added.
Four of The Champion’s greens—Nos. 1, 9, 15 and 17—have been expanded to their original size, creating more exciting pin locations for the event that kicks off the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing. The greens remain TifEagle, one of the world’s truest putting surfaces.
The Bear Trap Evolves
The Champion is well known as home to the legendary “Bear Trap.” The daunting 15th, 16th and 17th holes are considered one of the more challenging three-hole stretches in the game, with water prominently in play on each hole. USA Today called The Bear Trap “one of the toughest stretches in golf.”
As part of the renovation, Nicklaus moved the green on the 14th hole, which leads into the feared Bear Trap, 17 yards to the right, bringing water into play on the approach shot. The tee also was moved back 10 yards, and bunkers were built in front and behind the green to further strengthen the 465-yard hole.
“It seemed a shame not to have the water nearer to the green,” said Nicklaus, who re-designed the original George and Tom Fazio design in 1990 and reviews the course every year with Harvey’s staff in advance of the tournament. “It produces a little more freedom and it produces a very strong par 4 going into the Bear Trap. I honestly believe it will be more exciting, but I don’t think it will be any more difficult.”
To accommodate the large crowds that aid in raising millions for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation every year (The Honda Classic set another attendance record this spring with more than 190,000 fans flocking to PGA National), 20,000 square feet of spectator mounding has been added to the 14th hole, giving fans a bird’s-eye view of the 14th green, the 15th tee and the 15th green.
“Probably some of the toughest three holes in world golf, really,” says 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell about the Bear Trap. “You kind of just have to man up and hit the shot. You start bailing out, and you’re in trouble.”
Sergio Garcia, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, agrees: “They’re very challenging holes, all of them. Without hitting terrible shots, you can make a double, a par and a bogey, and you leave those holes shooting 3‑over and you don’t feel like you hit bad shots.”
Hail to The Champion
“The revered Champion Course is a major component of our puzzle when it comes to creating championship experiences and makes us a world-class golf resort and lifestyle community,” said Joel Paige, Vice President and Managing Director of PGA National Resort & Spa.
Played as a par 70 and 7,140 yards in tournaments, The Champion has ranked as the most-difficult course on the PGA Tour (for non-majors) three of the last five years. It ranked second overall in 2010 and 2011.
The Champion Course and The Honda Classic have produced world-class winners, including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who held off Tiger Woods in 2012 when Woods charged with a final-round 62. Hall of Famer and local resident Ernie Els won the 2008 Honda Classic. Y.E. Yang, the 2009 winner, went on to claim the PGA Championship that summer, becoming the only golfer to chase down Woods in the final round of a major.
For resort guests, it plays to a par 72, with the 7,045-yard layout featuring generous landing areas and spacious greens. Though a challenging course, five sets of tees provide playability for players of all skill levels.
For more PGA National Resort & Spa information: www.pgaresort.com or call 561.627.2000.