PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – The PGA National Resort is best known for its difficult The Champion course, home to the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic and the oft-mentioned bear trap. This layout is water everywhere, with enough length and hard blows to make it one of the toughest tests professionals face every year.
Three other properties at the resort – The Palmer, The Fazio, and The Estate – offer similar, traditional Florida golf experiences, albeit not as difficult as the Champion Course.
Andy Staples decided to turn the script around with a different type of golf at PGA National. The architect wanted guests and members to have an alternative that he believed would be more fun, play faster, and allow regular players to enjoy appropriate challenges in a format that less emphasized traditional counting in stroke play.
With the opening of its 18-hole course The Match on Friday, Staples granted his wish.
It’s a completely different approach to golf, a far cry from what is often referred to as the “championship test” found anywhere else. Staples has taken over the resort’s former 18-hole Squire course and reinvented it by converting several game corridors into the 9-hole Staple par-3 course opened in July and then using much of the rest to build the used the new match place.
The trail is marked as a tee. Gone are traditional face values. And if everything goes according to Staples’ plan, the stroke play is gone.
They are replaced by runway tees that can be played from a variety of distances – The Match can be played from 3,447 yards to 5,841 yards. Instead of trying to post a number, golfers are encouraged to compete against each other in a variety of game formats. The winner – or sometimes the loser, depending on the format chosen – of the previous hole chooses the place from which all players in the group tee off on the next hole.
This choice can make a huge difference in the gaming experience. For example, the first hole can play anywhere from 261 to 427 yards. In itself, this is not much different from a traditional par 4 that could play 261 yards from the front tee all the way back to 400-plus from the tips. But in this setting all players in a group are encouraged to play from the same spot or with a certain and slight difference in distance on each hole. For men, women, good players or beginners, the assigned handicap strokes make all the difference rather than the distance.
The options and strategies for selecting a tee are enormous, with the beginning and end of each tee demarcated by wooden posts that mimic boat channel markings. Straight, but short hitters may want to play it forward, while long hitters could force their opponents further back on some holes. On some other holes it may be beneficial for the long hitter to play the hole as short as possible in order to drive a green on a normally short par 4. It’s kind of like a horse game in basketball, and there’s a lot of interest – plus the occasional sidelong eye from opponents waiting to hear where they’re going to serve it.
It’s not the first place to focus on match play – architect Gil Hanse’s Ohoopee Match Club, which opened in Georgia in 2018, has a similar ethos, for example, and this private layout ranks 7th on the list of best modern courts Jumped from Golfweek for built courses in or after 1960 in the US But PGA National’s version is a terrific opportunity for public golfers to experience what Staples hopes it will be a very different approach to golf.
These players will also experience thought-provoking and fun greens, many of which were built from classic architectural templates, the types of design features that golf architecture fans swoon. For example, a Biarritz green completes things at # 18 with a deep gully that bisects two different sections of the putting surface. Another historical template is evident at # 2, which features a huge thumbprint in the center of the putting surface – if the hole is cut within the thumbprint, any player landing an approach within the ridges is guaranteed a great putt Birdie.
“I am one who strongly believes that great architecture is important and can have a real impact on getting people to play and keeping them there,” Staples wrote in prepared remarks that after being diagnosed with COVID-19 was unable to deliver itself in the week before the course opened.
“You will find some special features on this course that you will not find on a typical South Florida golf course,” he continued. “Each hole was modeled using a game strategy from some of the most famous golf hole templates from around the world. … History has shown that these strategic concepts never get old. “
So while there is a lot of discussion about where to tee off, it is the greens that highlight the best holes on the match course.
“The greens will protect this place,” wrote Staples. “… Stay under the hole. I used the green design to make sure all players stay interested and engaged. “
It’s all an attempt to do something different and be fun. Staples wrote that he was not interested in just building another 18-hole standard course on the canvas that previously contained exactly that. It didn’t hurt that Squire Square was in need of renovation and was prone to oversaturation after a heavy rain in South Florida. Staples said there was almost no drainage built into the Squire, while the new match course on the same property has more than ten miles of drainpipes to encourage more solid conditions.
“Most of us remember the old Squire course. A good golf course originally designed by George and Tom Fazio, ”wrote Staples. “But we all know that it is tired and obsolete. It needed new greens, a new irrigation system, and a better lawn. And the playability of the course simply did not meet the standards. “
Just as par-3 courses have emerged in many top resorts to offer players fun alternatives to traditional 18-hole courses, Staples hopes golfers will focus on a new type of experience and get into the spirit of match play, and forget about the total score they could shoot. There’s a place on the resort’s tour-level Champion Course for players to challenge themselves, and now there’s a place for players to let off steam.
“The golf industry has evolved since 1983 when the Squire was first built,” wrote Staples. “There is a newfound focus on the golfing experience, a focus on the time factor and a focus on fun. Our focus is also on reducing resources, labor and water. My vision for The Match was to address these changes in golf.
“Instead of difficulties, they want fun. Instead of five to six hour rounds, they want something in less than four hours and maybe even less than three hours. They want a course that makes them comfortable in their game and in nature. And they want experiences with their family and friends and they want it again and again. “