By Jason Bruno
THE MATCH COURSE
Long known for its Champion course that hosts the Honda Classic each spring, PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens regularly leads off the PGA Tour’s windswept Florida swing.
The Squire, one of the four other courses at the resort – originally designed in 1983 by George and Tom Fazio was in dire need of an update and a new concept. Enter course architect Andy Staples, armed with plans to completely transform the existing parcel into something bold and exciting for both the skilled player and recreational vacationing golfer. The resort took the brave leap, and with it a new star in the S.Florida golf scene has been born . . .
In an area where interesting architecture often gives way to water and residential real estate, the resort’s gamble with such an outside-the-box plan appears to have paid off. Staples discarded the uninspiring and tired layout, converting it into two separate courses that put the focus on thought-provoking, less time-consuming play featuring firm n fast playing surfaces without a typical rough turf along the boundaries of holes, opting for coquina sand that also acts as a natural surface for cart traffic instead of the usual hardscape of asphalt or concrete. Staples’ vision to create an experience where the ethos is FUN and not Championship difficult adds an element to the resort’s golf portfolio that didn’t exist previously (and yes, the existing waterways and real estate remain along the perimeter of most of the holes, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice them at all).
“The Match” is a 5841-yard course that emphasizes pure matchplay with a plethora of teeing distance options and the 805 yard – 9 hole Staple course that now occupies the same parcel that once was the ninth and eighteenth holes of the Squire.
The Match follows the path paved by the Ohopee Match Club , an exclusive private-designed by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in Cobbstown, Georgia – where the emphasis is Matchplay in a format of the group’s choosing. Par doesn’t exist on the unconventional scorecard, the yardages displayed reflect a huge disparity of distances of the free-flowing ribbon tees, where each hole is to be played from where the winner (or loser) of the previous hole decides. In lieu of typical tee markers are nautical dock pilings that denote the front and back of each teeing ground (in some cases the disparity is as much as 200+ yards) – everything in between the two is fair game. For instance, the 1st hole can play as a drivable 261-yard hole or a tough two shotter as far back as 427 yards. The longest hole on The Match – the 12th, plays from 293 yards all the way back to 512. The Match’s most exciting feature beyond all of the glorious options previously described is Staples’ imaginative golden age template greens that include a “Thumbprint” on the short par 3 – 2nd, “Garden City” 6th, “Redan” on the 11th, and a worthy “Biarritz” on the 18th among several others. The course can play as short as 3,447 yards from the front dock pilings to 5,841 at the tips.
Staples, who wasn’t able to attend the grand opening media day on Sept.10th due to being diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus – offered up a written statement on his new design, “The greens are what will protect this course, stay below the hole. I used the green design to ensure all levels of players will remain interested and engaged. You’ll find some features on this course that you won’t find in your typical South Florida golf course. Each hole has been modeled after a playing strategy of some of the most famous golf hole templates from across the globe. History has proven that these strategic concepts never get old.”
Perhaps his best thoughts came when he wrote of what’s happening in the industry, “There’s a newfound focus on golfer experiences, a focus on time factor and a focus on fun. We’re also laser-focused on a reduction of resources, labor and water. My vision for The Match course was to address these changes in golf. Instead of difficulty, they want fun. Instead of five to six hour rounds, they want something in under four hours, and maybe even less than three. They want a course that makes them feel good about their game and being out in nature. And they want experiences with their family and friends and they want it over and over again.”
With summer months bringing thunderstorms nearly every afternoon in subtropical Palm Beach County, several miles of drainage pipes were installed to keep the course playing firm n fast, which will keep the design playing as intended – accentuating the contours of each green complex.
“I am one that feels strongly that great architecture matters, and it can have a real effect on bringing people to the game and keep them there.
STAPLE SHORT COURSE
The Staple short course that opened in July, is a walking only 9 holer that features holes from 48 yards to 130 yards. The ideal spot for a warm-up before taking on one of PGA National’s 18 hole layouts (which besides The Match include the Champion, Palmer, Fazio, and off property Estate course) or an evening twilight stroll during your stay at the resort.
Kudos to PGA National, what Staples brought to the resort is something it has lacked and now has – variety and fun. Is a world-class putting course like the Himalayas of St.Andrews, Punch Bowl of Bandon Dunes, or Thistle Dhu of Pinehurst in the works? Build it, and it’ll be hard to keep them away . . . https://www.pgaresort.com/