Get ready Palm Beach Gardens, it’s that time of the year again: the Honda Classic is here. The annual PGA Tour stop is once again returning to PGA National Resort & Spa with an astounding 140 professional golfers looking to try their hand at the JJack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course, with festivities beginning on February 23 and match-play running February 26 through March 1. Though Jupiter’s favorite golfing res, Tiger Woods, sadly cannot make the home-town tournament due to injury, a whopping 16 of the world’s top 25 golfers will be walking the course, with Rory McIlroy (no.1), Sergio Garcia (no. 6), Justin Rose (no. 8), Martin Kaymer (no. 10), Rickie Fowler (no. 12), Hideki Matsuyama (no. 14), and Dustin Johnson (no. 15), to name but a few, surely making up for the lack of the so-called “Tiger-effect.”
As the PGA Tour’s only Palm Beach County stop (home to more than a few professional golfers), the first tournament of the “Florida Swing” (the unofficial warm-up stretch for The Masters in April), and a hefty prize purse (this year it comes to $6.1 million, $1.098 million of which goes to the winner) the Honda Classic has become one of the marque tournament on the tour, and certainly one not to be missed for all the local golf fans. All of this makes for one of the biggest gathering in Palm Beach Gardens’ all year. To make the most of it, we have cobbled together a little advice on how to do the Honda Classic.
If you don’t have a press-parking pass, you’ll likely have to park off campus. I suggest arranging for someone to drop you off and pick you up. If this is not an option, and you do drive, general parking is located at Dyer Park (7301 Haverhill Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33412) and costs $10 per day. Shuttles take spectators to and from the tournament. Expect a 45-minute delay.
BallenIsles parking is also available for $20 per day just off PGA Boulevard. This option is limited, so get there early.
Pairings to Watch
Without Tiger prowling the fairways, whom should fan attention gravitate toward? Here’s a few pairings to keep an eye on the first two days of tournament play, complete with tee times.
Rory McIlroy | Dustin Johnson | Brooks Koepka
The Honda Classic marks McIlroy’s 2015 PGA Tour debut. Look for the world’s No. 1 player try to exact some revenge on the Champions Course, after narrowly losing the Honda Classic in 2014 in a playoff.
- Tee Times: Round 1, 12:45 p.m. off 1st tee; Round 2, 7:45 a.m. off 10th tee.
Phil Mickelson | Sergio Garcia | Martin Kaymer
With longtime PGA Tour staples Mickelson and Garcia looking for their first win on the Tour in years (Mickelson, 2013; Garcia, 2012), Kaymer has been playing some solid golf, finishing 16th in the FedEx Cup standings in 2014. Look for Kaymer and Garcia to battle it out while Mickelson tries to get his 2015 campaign righted.
- Tee Times: Round 1, 7:45 a.m. off 10th tee; Round 2, 12:45 p.m. off 1st tee.
Rickie Fowler | Russell Henley | Graeme McDowell
Henley returns to the Honda fresh off his 2014 victory, defeating McIlory, Ryan Palmer and Russell Knox in a playoff last year. But among this group, Fowler, the local cat, is the guy to watch. Hailing from Palm Beach Gardens, and one of the PGA Tour’s young guns, Fowler is due for a Tour victory, and where better then home?
- Tee Times: Round 1, 7:35 a.m. off 10th tee; Round 2, 12:35 p.m. off 1st tee.
On the Inside
Aside from the stellar golf this tournament is shaping up to deliver—Rickie Fowler is due a win, keep an eye on him this week—the 2015 Honda Classic fan experience is set to blow all previous years out of the water (kind of like the floating cars out on the ponds).
From post-play concerts to multiple hospitality tents amplified by prime spectating sections, there is plenty to do and see while hopping from hole to hole. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect with the Fan Experience:
The Michelob Ultra Terrace is a great spot to catch both the tee on first and the greens on ninth while grabbing a cold one—hence the name—and a bite of grub. When the last putt drops (around 6 p.m.), the Terrace will double as the stage for the After Play Concert Series till 9 p.m. This year’s lineup includes Joe Bachman and The Tailgaters, a Nashville-based country five piece on Thursday, February 26; Riverdown, one of the best local cover bands around, takes the stage on Friday, February 27; and High Tolerance, a R&B and current hits cover band, wraps the series on Saturday, February 28. As a bonus, Friday and Saturday night will boast fireworks displays following the concerts, so sit tight and enjoy the evening. On Sunday following the last putt, the winner will be handed the Honda Classic trophy and a check for $1.08 million.
For the roaming golf fan, the hospitality options are plentiful throughout the course. Returnign this year, and my personal favorite spot to catch the action is Gosling’s Dark ‘n’ Stormy Bear Trap tent. Located in the heart of the Bear Trap, just off the 16th green and the 17th tee, the tent has expanded in 2015, engulfing the Cobra Puma Golf Village (try your hand at the Bear Trap Challenge Swing Simulator and see how difficult this stretch of golf can be). And with the live televised tournament coverage piped into the tent’s televisions, Gosling’s is essentially a sports bar in the center of a golf tournament—its sightlines of the Bear Trap are only topped by its dining and spirits offerings. As the name suggests, Goslings Rum will flow freely—dark and stormy’s anyone?—and upgraded food selections will be available.
- Tickets for this party on the greens cost $110 per person per day. These will sell out, so purchase now, here.
Bring the Kids
The Honda Classic is not just a place moms and pops, but a great kid-friendly event as well. On Saturday, from 12-8 p.m., the Kids Club at the Honda Pavilion will keep the kiddies busy and plenty entertained with a plethora of interactive games and contests, all centered around golf of course.
Attend on Thursday
If you are crowd averse but still want to catch the action firsthand, head to the tournament on Thursday. While spectators are still expected to be in record numbers for the early rounds, it is not nearly as crowded as the weekend, especially Sunday.
Need a break from walking the course? Take a step into PGA National Resort and Spa, and belly-up to the posh lobby watering hole, iBAR—an air-conditioned reprieve (and quite possibly the only dry hideout come Saturday—the forecast calls for rain, lots of rain).
Want to get further away? Try Palm Beach Gardens’ newest bastion of beer, Twisted Trunk Brewing. Located roughly five miles east on PGA Blvd. in the City Center plaza, Twisted Trunk is run by the same cats at Tequesta Brewing Co., who are slinging the same quality quaffs that you have come to expect from Matt Webster and Fran Andrewlevich. The place is new, so it is still plenty busy, but compared to the crazy Honda crowds, this will be the spot to enjoy a fine craft brew without the sweaty sunburnt bustle.
Skip the tournament altogether and play a round, a round of mini-golf, yourself. Head a bit north, into the Jupiter Inlet territory, and play a round at the Lighthouse Cove Adventure Golf. Boasting two 18-hole putt-putt courses, Paradise Falls and Lost Lagoon, Lighthouse Cove will give all you weekend warrior golfers a chance at a scratch game—if you can read the felt-covered breaks. Make a day, or night, of it and enjoy a snack from the Burger Shack and a sweet treat from 3 Scoops, home to hand-spun milkshakes—they also serve beer and wine, to help ease that triple-boogie pain. Best part: no tee times!
- An 18-hole outing costs $12 for adults, $6 for children 5 and younger.
- For more information, visit lighthousecovejupiter.com.