PGA National Resort

Golf all day long at the home of the Bear Trap
By Ian Cruickshank (October 2011)
For a lot of years I was in denial. I thought I had a serviceable golf swing. Not like Freddy `Boom Boomí Couples, whose smooth as maple syrup swing is the envy of the golf world, but an okay swipe. However, while attending a clinic at the David Leadbetter Academy at the PGA National Resort in south Florida, the teacher recorded my action and to my horror I looked like a lumber jack swatting mosquitoes Ė a real hacker.

The teacher calmed me down, showed me some drills and also pointed me in the direction of the Dave Pelz Scoring Game School, also part of PGA Nationalís Golf Academy. Pelz, who is best known as the short game guru for Phil `the flop shotí Mickelson, is a former NASA scientist who gave up outer space for his true passion, golf. Pelz has determined that 65% of the total shots in golf are played within 100 yards of the hole and so concentrates on chipping, sand play and putting.

I was anxious to try out my new swing thoughts and PGA National Resort turns out to be the perfect place for experimenting. Not only do they own five golf courses but the resort sports a 40,000 sq. ft. spa, nine restaurants and lounges and has recently undergone a $65 million nip and tuck.

The resortís courses are the Champion, Palmer, Haig, Squire and Estates layouts. Each of the courses have distinct personalities, some are heavy on the water hazards and shorter off the tee while for instance, the Estates is a little wider and more forgiving. The headliner is the Champion course which hosted the seniors for nearly 20 years and is now the annual home to the Honda Classic.

The course is infamous for `the Bear Trapí - holes 15 to 17 which were designed by Jack Nicklaus and skirt the very edge of the water. When the wind is up and itís almost always blowy in Florida, tee shots get slapped into the wet stuff.

The course has an interesting history before its redesign by Nicklaus in 1990. It was originally laid out by the uncle and nephew duo of George and Tom Fazio who also did The National Golf Club in Woodbridge, Canadaís number one ranked layout. The Champion course held a number of big league events during the 1980ís including the 1983 Ryder Cup, where on the 18th hole, the young matador, Seve Ballesteros, carved a 3-wood, 240 yards out of a fairway bunker to the fringe of the green, then got up and down to tie his match with Fuzzy Zoeller. In 1987, Larry Nelson beat Lanny Wadkins in a playoff to capture the PGA Championship. (Nelson should be much better known. After dodging bullets as an infantryman in Vietnam, he returned home and at the age of 21 taught himself how to play golf. He went on to win three major championships and grab 19 more victories on the Champions Tour.)

If you have a chance, take a peak at the nearby Trump International Golf Club. The private club is uber-opulent. Architect Jim Fazio was given 215 acres of flat, Florida scrubland and a blank cheque to transform it into rolling hills and waterfalls Ė the 18th tee teeters on top of a six story dune. The course is now ranked as one of the top 100 courses in the US and has hosted LPGA tournaments. Once, while following PEIís Lorie Kane at the International, I actually ran into The Donald. This was in the pre-Apprentice, Youíre Fired days, but he was still plenty famous and in fact, earlier in the week had teamed up with Annika Sorenstam to win the pro-am. With his tsunami of red hair stashed underneath his golf cap, he looked like the rest of our group, a kind of lumpy middle aged guy who is goofy about golf. Trump, who sports a single digit handicap, was surprisingly soft spoken and gracious, nothing like his blustery image. Itís amazing how a golf course can soothe the soul.

Maybe Iím getting lazy, but one of the reasons I like PGA National so much is because of the convenience. The resort is less than half an hour away from the international airport and with five courses to play, you never have to leave the grounds or rent a car. Once you arrive, thatís it.

Starting on October 16 and running until January 12 2012, PGA National is featuring a Fall Escape and Play deal that starts at $199 per person, per night and includes accommodation, unlimited golf each day at the Palmer, Squire, Haig or Estates courses, including cart fees and practice balls, 50% off the daily golf clinic at the David Leadbetter Academy and daily breakfast. There is a $75 surcharge to play the Champion course from Oct. 1 Ė Nov. 30 and a $100 fee from Dec. 1 to Jan. 12. For more information, www.pgaresort.com

Ian Cruickshank

Ian Cruickshank is a Toronto-based golf and travel writer who has been chasing the little white ball around the globe for the past 25 years.
More articles by Ian Cruickshank
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