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Beyond the Bear Trap: The Champion at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens is a great Florida golf course

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
PGA National Champion Course - Bear Trap
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The Bear Trap plaque at PGA National's Champion course packs in marketing punch and Nicklaus "wisdom." (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

PGA National's much-hyped Bear Trap may be more about opening golfers' wallets than buckling their knees. But beyond the hype, National's Nicklaus-redesigned Champion course is a terrific south Florida play.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - The plaque stops most golfers cold.

It's right before the 15th tee at the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa. It takes up the surface of a large rock and includes a solemn quote from Jack Nicklaus meant to make the average golfer's knees buckle:

"It should be won or lost right here."

Welcome to the Bear Trap - Nos. 15-17 at the Champion course and one of the great marketing inventions in golf.

The Bear Trap - born of Nicklaus' redesign of the George and Tom Fazio original - gives this Palm Beach Gardens golf course an instant identity in a south Florida golf market glutted with luxury golf communities.

Don't believe the hype. The Bear Trap isn't about buckling knees, it's about opening wallets ($241 high-season green fee). The good news is, beyond the three-hole marketing myth is a course that's enjoyable from start to finish.

No. 18, a newly renovated 600-yard double dogleg, is arguably a more impressive hole than any in the Trap.

Nicklaus added a far back tee over water - a lot of swampy Florida water - in preparation for the PGA Tour's return to PGA National with last March's Honda Classic.

Facing that drive is much more stomach-spinning than taking the tee at the Trap's two water-carry par 3s.

"Forget the Bear Trap," visiting golfer Zane Sanders said. "No. 18 is the hole that can eat you alive right at the end of the round when you think you're home free."

It's best not to go to sleep at No. 10 either. It doesn't look too intimidating from the tees, but those trees are closer than you think, and the green is tucked in as tight as a farmer at 10 p.m. At the Honda Classic it yielded more than half as many bogeys (143) as pars (256).

Of course, for the pros it plays as a par 4. For you, it's a par 5, and you'll be thankful for that - although probably still staring at a bogey.

Caddies give PGA National's Champion course an extra boost

At least you'll have someone course-savvy on your side: PGA National requires non-members to use a caddie on the Champion, turning the 7,048-yard, 147-slope-rated track into an easy walking course and, if you're lucky, turning your round into a first-rate story-telling session.

The caddies at PGA National are an interesting group. Like many Floridians, they come from far and wide. My companion on this play, Kevin McCaffrey, is a former garbage man from the Bronx whose tales about New York trash could make your toes curl. ("You'd be surprised at what people throw out," he said.)

You'll also be surprised, much more pleasantly, by how quiet it is here. There are houses scattered around the course, but you can still get lost in the round, especially if you're walking. The fairways are ultra-green and from the first tee, you're staring down water. Maybe it was hype that got you out here, but by round's end you'll be thanking the marketers.

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PGA National Champion Course - hole 17PGA National Champion Course - caddie

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Palm Beach Gardens

    olaf auer wrote on: Mar 4, 2012

    What a bunch of Debbie Downers the author and some of the posters are. So don't play the course; no one will miss you !


  • too pricey now

    joel goodman wrote on: Feb 11, 2012

    nice golf course that used to be a fun place to play at $50 or so, BUT they got the HONDA CLASSIC and "in season" the suckers get ripped off to the tune of $300+CADDY FEES. IT AINT NO PEBBLE BEACH OR EVEN IN THE TOP 100..
    Take a pass and spend the same amount for 4 or 5 rounds at other area courses.