“PGA National Resort and Spa and The Honda Classic are to avid golfers what Fenway Park and major league baseball are to Red Sox fans!”
So said URI graduate Tim Rosaforte, Golf Digest senior writer and Golf Channel Insider, at the recent “Grand Re-Opening of The Champion Course” at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The president of the Golf Writers Association of America understands not only what makes the Honda Classic a special tournament but also what makes Red Sox nation a special domain.
The occasion for Rosaforte’s unexpected comparison was the ribbon-cutting ceremony on the 18th green of “The Champ,” home to the Honda Classic, since 2007 one of the premier PGA TOUR venues on the Florida Swing and the site of the 1983 Ryder Cup, the 1987 PGA Championship, and the Senior PGA Championship from 1982 to 2000. All 18 greens had been closed for four months and had just undergone extensive refurbishment and enhancement by Jack Nicklaus Design.
Jack Nicklaus has taken a singular interest in The Champion since 1990 when he both dramatically re-designed the original 1981 Tom and George Fazio layout and created his iconic “Bear Trap” trio of closing holes, 15-17. Then he personally oversaw the two major renovations in 2002 and 2014, both overhauls assuring that The Champ would remain one of the premier venues on the TOUR.
With his current project, Nicklaus wanted to make sure that the new Tif-Eagle Bermuda greens would be restored to their original 1990 sizes and contours and that the green complexes themselves would vastly increase playability and receptiveness. Old age, shrinkage, and contamination from fairway grasses and greenside bunkers had taken their toll.
Jeremiah Lockhart, Golf Course & Resort Landscape Superintendent, said, “We host the best players in the world, and we want to provide them with the best surfaces possible. With the support of the PGA TOUR, the resort owners, and the PGA National staff, we were able to get that done. We greatly improved the irrigation and have added about 800 square feet of puttable area to each green, which means we will have more pin placement options. For the TOUR players, our members, and our guests, the first time they play the new surfaces, it will be like attending a high school reunion—it will all appear very familiar but also very different!”
OK, The Champion is now in pristine condition and is ready for the winter influx of the resident members, the itinerant snowbirds, and the touring pros in late February—Justin Thomas, FYI, is the defending champ of The Honda Classic. But back to Tim Rosaforte’s declaration. Everyone in New England and all residents of Red Sox Nation who live elsewhere certainly understand the magic and the aura that surround Fenway Park. No place in MLB like it. Agreed?
Well, four of the ribbon cutters, George Linley, the Executive Director of the Palm Beach Sports Commission, and Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Maria Marino, and Andrew George, The Honda Classic Tournament Director, and Jane Broderick, Director of Golf, put into perspective just what PGA National, The Honda Classic, and The Champion mean to their loyal aficionados. They all touched on how the partnership between the city, the resort, and The Honda has grown in stature and in popularity, not only among the touring pros—where this first stop on the Florida Swing always entices many of the top players on TOUR—but also among the southern Florida locals and the many visitors from around the country—especially the Northeast—and from abroad.
Linley said, “Palm Beach Gardens has become an elite sports destination and an incredible international global brand because of The Honda and also because of the area’s superior golf courses, beaches, dining, shopping, sightseeing, accommodations, and weather. We have it all, and The Honda reflects those incentives. In 2007, about 80,000 fans viewed the event. In 2018, we played host to about 225,000 spectators”
Mayor Maria Marino echoed those sentiments. She said, “The Honda is so important to this city. It’s important to the character of the city. We’re the golf capital of the world, our little city of Palm Beach Gardens is [with more than 160 golf courses]. And we’re only 50,000 people. Although we have this major sporting event, we still feel like a small city.”
Andrew George added, “The Honda Classic traces its history back to 1972 and the first Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic [won by Tom Weiskopg] until it became the Honda Inverrary Classic in 1982 [won by Hale Irwin]. Thus, The Honda Classic has become the longest running non-major PGA TOUR event under a single title sponsor. And this city and this section of Florida has reaped the rewards of this championship. The Honda Classic awarded a record $4.55 M to South Florida’s children’s charities this year, and Palm Beach Gardens enjoyed about $58 M in positive economic impact.”
Jane Broderick ended her brief speech succinctly by saying, “Today is another proud moment in the history of PGA National Resort and Spa.”
The resort itself—a world-class golf, vacation, and convention facility—has recently completed its own comprehensive multi-million-dollar revitalization. The five championship golf courses—The Champion, The Palmer, The Fazio, The Squire, and The Estates—highlight the resort’s amenities, unsurprisingly. However, with 339 luxurious guest rooms and themed suites, the European Spa with its exclusive “Waters of the World outdoor mineral pools, the health/workout area, the racquet club with 18 Har-Tru tennis courts, the commodious conference space, and the eight on-site restaurants and lounges, the resort has well earned its AAA Four Diamond ranking.
Convenient to major Florida population centers, PGA National is close to three major international airports: 15 minutes from Palm Beach (PBI), one hour from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL) and 90 minutes from Miami (MIA). For more information, please call 800.863.2819 or visit the website.