Once you account for a plane ticket, a hotel room, meals, transportation and event tickets, you’re talking about thousands of dollars for one person to properly attend the golf competition at Rio de Janeiro’s Summer Games this August. And while the money may not be a major hurdle, the customs line and jet lag certainly could be.
Thankfully, there’s an alternative for golf fans with their hearts set on experiencing PGA-level facilities over the next few months — taking a trip down to Palm Beach Gardens’ PGA National Resort & Spa, the annual home of February’s Honda Classic. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors provide three reasons why the site should be July’s headquarters for golf lovers who won’t be making the trip down to Brazil.
Before this year’s Honda Classic began, Rory McIlroy, No. 4 on the World Golf Ranking, said PGA National’s intimidating The Champion golf course was “looking as good as it has ever looked.” And after winning the 2016 tournament, Adam Scott said, “It wasn’t easy, but that’s to be expected. This is a tough track.”
You may discount the last quote as mere post-celebratory chatter from a guy who received a $1 million-plus check for the victory, but that’s not the case; the 7,045-yard layout truly dumbfounds and dazzles in every way imaginable.
Though the first few holes aren’t necessarily headache inducing, water hazards and pesky bunkers play the role of irritants to perfection.
On the 11th, you might spot the occasional heron positioned near the water, but be sure to hold your focus long enough to get your second shot over the wet stuff.
And then there’s the infamous stretch at 15, 16 and 17 — lovingly called “The Bear Trap” to honor course re-designer, Jack Nicklaus, and to show respect for the damage the terrifying trio can do to scorecards — that devours golf balls like a famished grizzly that just woke from hibernation.
But even though The Champion course is the most renowned at the resort, it’s far from the only highlight. All told, PGA National Resort & Spa offers four other courses — The Palmer, The Fazio, The Squire and The Estates. Each provides jaw-dropping backdrops and fist-raising outbursts, especially the unforgiving Palmer.
While you likely won’t match the pros’ scores, you can at least walk a similar path as they do thanks to world-class training facilities (David Leadbetter Golf Academy, Dave Pelz Scoring Game Golf School and Every Ball Counts Elite Training) and an impressive pro shop filled with everything from golf shoes to Stance socks bearing Payne Stewart’s image on them.
Thanks to a $125 million renovation a few years ago, the 368-room resort (the property also has rental homes available) now ensures that every person who visits is wrapped in luxury — no matter how brutal his score on the back nine.
Contemporary guest rooms offer a red-and-chocolate color scheme and 42-inch flat-screen TVs while the PGA Suite (pool table), Legend Suite (pool table, dry bar) and Media Suite (side-by-side 55-inch TVs) turn up the elegance even more. If Vijah Singh has finer accommodations during his Honda Classic visits, they can’t be by much.
PGA National is making it almost too easy for you to check things out for yourself this season with Summer Escape and Play, a fun-filled package consisting of a room, daily breakfast at the new-look Palm Terrace, a daily round of golf (there’s a $50 surcharge for The Champion course) and a complimentary replay round.
From the dining facilities (Ironwood Steak & Seafood) to the spa (40,000-square-foot The Spa at PGA National), there’s nary a corner on the campus where you don’t feel like you’re being treated like a pro. Even a stop by the iClub Piano Bar has a way of making regular Joes feel special. We’re guessing the sultry vocals of Dawn Marie Basham, who performs every Thursday and Friday, has a lot to do with that.
Not surprisingly, though, the area where the resort impresses most away from the greens may be with the state-of-the-art Sports & Racquet Club, another shiny new toy from the renovation. Inside, you’ll find a fully stocked workout room, three aerobic studios, a five-lane lap pool and 19 Har-Tru tennis courts. Have Ian Creighton or one of the other coaches give you a lesson or reserve an hour or two with your own group.
If you’re up for it, let an instructor teach you the joys of pickle ball. An interesting blend of tennis and table tennis, the game is almost too much fun for a playing surface roughly the size of a doubles badminton court. The paddle is tiny, too, so the mechanics take some getting used to. But hey, if you’ve been hacking at golf balls for a few years, you’re used to making adjustments to your swing.