The Agony of PGA National’s Bear Trap

How demanding is “The Bear Trap” on PGA National’s Champion Course?

Since 2007 — when the PGA TOUR moved The Honda Classic to the Jack Nicklaus-redesign — a total of only 20 players have gotten through the industrial-strength trifecta of holes bogey-free over four rounds. 20!

Part of the problem is the trio of testy teens – 15, 16 and 17 – comes at a crucial juncture when the world’s best are trying to post a score with the clubhouse just on the horizon. Many a pretty scorecard from the first 14 is left bloodied trying to reach the 18th tee unscathed.

And it’s not like golfers aren’t forewarned. A giant snarling bear statue welcomes those who dare to tame this perilous portion of The Champion. An accompanying plaque with Jack’s famous quote says it succinctly: “It should all be won or lost here.” The great Nicklaus is probably more like half-right – “lost” is the likelier outcome.

The potential agony starts with the seemingly benign 15th – a par 3 of 179 yards with a green flanked on three sides by a tranquil lake. However, many a golf ball has unceremoniously traded its playing career here for the sedentary life of a water-soaked bottom dweller.

Why so hard? The prevailing South Florida wind crosses boldly from the left toward the water hazard on the right. Hitting it left might keep you dry, but the probable bunker shot plays toward the drink and requires the touch of a safecracker. “Up-and-down” becomes like “up-over-wet-drop-down.”

Sixteen is a dogleg par 4 of 434 yards with a canal and gigantic fairway bunker lurking down the right harboring the evilest of intentions – hit it there and say hello to double-bogey. The approach is a wind-fighting flight over H2O to a slanted green with cavernous bunkers gobbling up anything not hit with full authority.

Seventeen is another treacherous par 3 and the toughest of the lot. The green rises up out of the pond with steep, ball-repelling sides. It looks like the target is the roof of a car from the back tournament tee of 205 yards. Anywhere on the promised putting land is good. Anywhere else is a nightmare.

Australian Robert Allenby, known as one of the best ball strikers on the PGA TOUR, says, “On Sunday when the pin is in the back right on No. 17, this is the hardest hole we play on TOUR.”

Yet, we golfers love our agony. One of the great things about The Champion Course is that visitors can come down to Palm Beach Gardens and test their mettle against the Bear Trap just like the pros.

PGA National offers a “Bear Trap Package.” The minimum two-night offer ($299 per person, per night, double occupancy) features two rounds (one on The Champion as well as one on its new Fazio Course), resort accommodations, daily breakfast, “Bear Trap” gift on arrival, golf cart, unlimited range balls and golf bag storage.

Visit www.pgaresort.com for more information.

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