Looking for a challenge? We’ve rounded up some of Palm Beach County’s toughest golf holes for a course only the most battle tested would play. Enjoy.
PGA National Resort & Spa | The Champions Course, No. 15, 16, and 17, aka “The Bear Trap”
Jack Nicklaus’ dreaded “Bear Trap” has earned its reputation, eating the lunch, and bloating scores, of some golf’s very best each year for the Honda Classic. Comprised of holes no. 15, 16, and 17 on PGA National Resort & Spa’s The Champion course, the Bear Trap is rated as one of the most demanding stretches of three-holes on the PGA Tour (non-majors), earning a +.803 relative to par (RTP), second only to Quail West’s 16,17,18 at +1.009 RTP, in 2010. The course holds the honor of being the second most difficult back nine on the PGA Tour in 2010, and hole 15 (start of the Bear Trap) was rated the fifth toughest hole on the Tour (non-majors), making it the toughest par 3 in all of 2010. Not to be outshined, No. 17 has at times been called one of the hardest holes on the tour when the wind is blowing and the pin is sitting in the back right—to get to the postage-stamp sized greens, one must shoot over an expansive watery grave known to eat quite a few lunches in its day. With all that said, Nicklaus’ quote on the plaque at the beginning of the three-hole stretch says it all: “It should be won or lost right here.”
Photos courtesy of PGA National Resort & Spa
Palm Beach Par 3 | No. 13
Golfers will be hard-pressed to find a more scenic set of links then that of the Palm Beach Par 3, an 18-hole municipal course that straddles the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway on Palm Beach Island. Redesigned by Raymond Floyd in 2009, the water—and wind—play into this course like few other (outside of the natural hazards like the beach and Intracoastal, the course is rife with manmade water hazards throughout, just to add a little extra). For the golfer with a strong sand wedge, no. 13 is your hole. Running along the beach, the 171 yarder (fourth longest of the 18) can give golfers fits if they head right, while an errant shot left will leave you in the beachy landscaping. While not the most difficult hole in Palm Beach, it sure is fun to play.
Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Par 3
Old Marsh Golf Club | No. 5
Consistently ranked as one of Palm Beach’s toughest golf courses, Old Marsh Golf Club, built along the Loxahatchee Slough, takes its cues from the natural terrain, making for some rather wet conditions. Designed by Pete Dye, the course includes plenty of blind shots with mounds and moguls hiding your landing, while natural wetlands demand your attention—this is essentially an intricate game of hopscotch, with a blindfold. One hole that imbues all these design quirks is no. 5, a 362-yard par 4 (from the Tour tees). The approach is hidden by mounds, giving way to a blind green guarded by bunkers and water; golfers at the tee see so little that a bell was installed at the greens for golfers to ring once they’ve finished up, giving the all clear.
Photo courtesy of Old Marsh Golf Club
PGA Village | No. 6, Dye Course
Located in Port St. Lucie, PGA Village has become a golfer’s destination of destinations. The home base of the PGA of America’s 27,000 PGA professionals, the compound is home to a state-of-the-art learning and performance center, the PGA Museum of Golf, and 54 holes of championship golf. Each course holds its own special trait, but for this piece, we’re training our eye on the Dye Course. Designed by legendary golf course architect Pete Dye, the Dye Course takes on a links-style course design, complete with slope-filled, moor-like fairways and grass-based bunkers that are more akin to Scotland than South Florida. As for the hole to watch, no. 6 can be a tricky devil. At just 170 yards from the tips, the green on this par 3 has multiple levels and wind direction changes often (this is Florida), so choose your club wisely. If you’re off the mark to the left, forget about it—if the water doesn’t swallow you, the steep slope, thick rough, and soft, stretching sand certainly will.
Part of the allure of PGA Village, aside from the three on-property courses, is the impressive practice facilities. The 35-acre PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance is complete with 7,000 square feet of putting greens, a three-hole teaching course, a swing and putting analysis center, and plenty of driving range options to work on just about every aspect of your game—there is even a sand trap corral with nine bunkers filled with sand from all around the world.
Photo courtesy of PGA Village
The Breakers | No. 16, Ocean Course
For the South Florida golfer who wants to test the region’s storied golf history, a trip to The Breakers for a round on the Ocean Course is a must. The par 70 course is said to be Florida’s first, laidout by Alexander Findlay in 1896. The course received an update in 2000 by Brian Silva, giving the course extra yardage, new putting surfaces, new and refurbished bunkers, and an additional lake just to name a few of the upgrades, all while staying true to Findlay’s original footprint.
When tackling this historic round, keep an eye on no. 16. Consistently ranked among one of the hardest par 3s in Palm Beach County, no. 16 benefitted from Silva’s redesign, with added elevation, a nearly blind tee shot—that has to carry plenty of liquid—that lands on a green that has enough slope to require spelunking gear. You’re going to lose a stroke on this hole, but its worth the walk in history.
Photo courtesy of The Breakers
Abacoa Golf Club | No. 17
Located in the heart of Jupiter, the Abacoa Golf Club may be a public course, allowing just about anyone with some sticks to get out there and rip a few, it does not diminish it’s stout play. Designed by Joe Lee, the course is relatively open, which can be deceiving—fairways have a decent slope that tends to funnel toward water and bunkers. No. 17, a par 5, 546 yarder from the tips gives golfers plenty to think about. Water flanks the entirety of the right side, with the approach narrowing to mere yards, dominated by a hulking hill topped with a deep bunker. To make matters worse, the greens are all but postage stamps, with enough undulation to make you want to cry. If you survive 17, 18 will make you pay—another water-dominated monster with more beach at the greens then the nearby Atlantic.
Illustration courtesy of Abacoa Golf Club
Boca Raton Resort & Club | No. 18, The Resort Course
While much of Palm Beach County’s historic accolades lies in the northern territory, South County boasts some pretty big names as well. Case in point, the Boca Raton Resort & Club’s Resort Course. Built in 1926, the storied golf course hosted Tommy Armour as the resort’s golf professional from 1926 to 1955, followed by Sam Snead from 1956 to 1969. The original William Flynn design underwent a redesign by Gene Bates in 1997, updating just about every aspect of the course. Relatively short—a par 71, 6,253 yards from the tips—the course plays longer than its total yardage due to elevation changes, offering a nice change of pace from the standard Florida resort course game—that extra yardage off the bounce doesn’t come easy here. And water is everywhere, playing on 15 of 18 holes—the Hugh Hughes waterfall between three and 12 is one of the course’s hallmarks. Playing the elevation and water is important, especially on no. 18, a par 4, 380 yarder that’s dotted with bunkers and swales just waiting to take a bite out of your score, while an island green can make golfers due a triple check before letting it rip.
Photo courtesy of Boca Raton Resort & Club
Old Palm Golf Course | No. 19
For the avid and newbie golfer alike, the 19th hole is where scores are settled. For most courses, that’s usually in the clubhouse bar, where, over a cocktail or two, wagers are settled and the round is reminisced. For Old Palm Golf Course, the 19th takes on a different meaning, letting golfers literally settle the score with one more hole. The Raymond Floyd-designed course includes a “Bye” hole, a par 3, 99-yard no. 19, allowing golfers take one last crack at breaking a tie, or double or nothing. But don’t let the “Bye” aspect of the hole fool you—this is a difficult par 3, with plenty of water to carry and a difficult green to maneuver. Luckily, golfers not settling a wager don’t need to include this hole on the official scorecard—it can be a real round buster.
Photo courtesy of Old Palm Golf Course