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West Palm Beach Golf Course: no water, plenty of history

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
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At West Palm Beach Golf Course, little bunkers can mean big problems. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

West Palm Beach Golf Course is an old school golf course in the grand tradition, and offers a good value in Florida golf.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's a selling point that seems to make as much sense as an ice cream shop disassociating itself from vanilla and chocolate flavors at first blush. West Palm Beach Golf Course disdains water obstacles and it doesn't try to hide that.

Instead, it seems as proud about it.

"Its most unique feature is there's not a drop of water out there," Head Professional Rick Durham said. "In south Florida, that's extra rare."

Try an albino elephant rumbling down the streets of Manhattan at rush hour rare. Plenty of golfers show up expecting an aqua overload too. After all, West Palm Beach comes from the design mind of Dick Wilson, the man behind the famed Blue Monster.

Apparently, Wilson felt a little more cuddly when he laid out West Palm.

Not that a lot of average golfers mind.

"It's nice not having to worry about losing any balls in the water," regular Leslie Phillips said.

It's also eccentric enough to keep a course that was built in 1946 something of a pro golfer hangout. Every Friday there's an open tournament that regularly draws players such as Champions Tour star Dana Quigley and 1957 Masters champion Doug Ford.

On the week of this visit, 32 pros and 96 amateurs dueled in what's been dubbed "The Oldest Game in Town."

"It's going on every Friday for more than 50 years," Durham said. "It's probably as good and fair a game as I've ever seen."

The tournament stands as a fitting weekly reminder of the history of West Palm Beach Golf Course, which was known as West Palm Beach Country Club for most of its existence. This used to be a PGA Tour stop -- yes, a Tour stop without any water -- and it counts Arnold Palmer among its winners. As diverse a lineup as Babe Ruth, Jackie Gleason, Richard Nixon and Tony Danza have teed it up here.

First, West Palm came into existence thanks to golf-loving Kroger supermarket executives though. The original course was built in 1921 on the north part of Palm Beach airport with this current site going up 25 years later.

Those old suits from the 1920s wouldn't be able to recognize much of what goes on at West Palm today -- are those jeans shorts at the first tee? -- but the atmosphere is surely super public. In a Palm Beach region geared for the rich and richer, an area where luxurious private golf communities like Frenchman's Creek dominate the golf scene, West Palm Beach Golf Course carries a $52 high-season green fee.

That's tip money in these parts.

"We're staying in Fort Lauderdale and we were looking for any sort of reasonable course," vacationer Keith Thorson said. "So we ended up driving all the way here."

Sometimes, it might seem like half of south Florida's done the same. West Palm gets packed and its fairways show plenty of wear and tear from those traffic jam tees. This isn't going to be a quick round or a pretty resort course round.

Even though many of your fairway lies are bound to be far from perfect, you're unlikely to leave sour-faced and cursing. It's a lark to play this early Wilson-design that's seen much better days.

Your day starts with rare back-to-back par 5s for an opening and will often include a heavy dose of Florida wind in your face. Only hardcore golfers need apply.

West Palm Beach Golf Course: The verdict

West Palm Beach Golf Course is one of those spots that just carries a great old school golf atmosphere. There are a bunch of raised-ridge greens, a good run of drivable par 4s and a few more tricks than you'd expect from a 6,759-yard track without many doglegs. The bunkers are the one thing that is in pretty good shape and they provide trouble around greens that can seem shrunken by today's super-sized standards.

"It's not about one great hole or anything," Ed Rendine, another snowbird regular, said. "The people in the pro shop are just nice."

Sometimes that's enough.

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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.

 
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