PALM BEACH GOLF
As the largest county east of the Mississippi, Palm Beach, which covers 2,578 square miles—more than Rhode Island or Delaware—is a mighty big chunk of Florida; and golf is in turn a mighty big chunk of Palm Beach County. Virtually every distinguished course architect—from Donald Ross to the Fazios and Dyes—has worked within its borders.
EMERALD DUNES GOLF COURSE
2100 Emerald Dunes Drive, West Palm Beach; 888-650-4653, emeralddunes.com. Yardage: 7,006. Par: 72. Slope: 133. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1990. Greens Fees: $70-$175.
T&L Golf Rating: **** 1/2
Forced to identify a single golf course architect who has most influenced design in southern Florida in the recent past, Fazio would be your man. Emerald Dunes became an instant favorite—among players and even other designers—when it opened in 1990. The course's mounding and "SuperDune," a five-story-high hill with three tee boxes and three greens, presented an imposing antidote to the usual knock on Florida golf: "too flat." And the bunkering and numerous water hazards were tempered by the multiple-tee-box arrangement, relatively generous landing areas and few forced carries. It's plenty difficult without being absurd. Greens are on the large side but often include problematic pin positions. The closing sequence—a par three, par five and par four, all long holes—will give you something to think about after the fact. The 474-yard home hole starts at the crest of the aforementioned hill, with the trademark Fazio waterfall behind you, water down the right side of the fairway and sand and bushes on the left.
PGA GOLF CLUB
1916 Perfect Drive, Port St. Lucie; 800-800-4653, pgavillage.com. Yardage: 7,150 (Dye); 7,026 (Fazio North); 7,076 (Fazio South). Par: 72 (all courses). Slope: 133 (Dye and Fazio North); 141 (Fazio South). Architects: Pete Dye, 1999; Tom Fazio, 1996. Greens Fees: $29-$79.
T&L Golf Rating: **** 1/2
Just north of Palm Beach County, an autopilot drive on I-95, it would be a mistake to miss this facility—that rare commodity, a favorite among both hard-core golfers and environmentalists—on such a geographic technicality. Situated amidst huge wildlife preservation areas, The Reserve, as it is known colloquially, is notable on several levels. When it opened, it was the first public thirty-six-hole property, and one of only five of any kind, to receive "signature" status from Audubon International for environmental sensitivity—rightly a huge issue in Florida. As a showcase for the region's topography, flora and fauna, you couldn't do better than a day here. It would also be unusual to find three layouts, side by side, with more distinct personalities. Arguably the most scenic of the three, Fazio South is both slightly longer and a bit narrower than his North course, which has the feel of Carolina golf. The Dye course is actually the longest of the three, but its tightly textured fairways—one of the links-inspired touches along with pot bunkers, some with revetted faces—make it play shorter than the other two. Also tough to ignore are copious waste bunkers, and while it is flanked by the same lush vegetation, the Dye course succeeds in being as unlike its Fazio neighbors as possible. Rent one of the time-share condos and play thirty-six a day, walking the first round, riding the second. With high-season greens fees of $79 for the first eighteen, $65 for the replay, you will never get more for less.
PGA NATIONAL RESORT & SPA, CHAMPION COURSE
400 Avenue of the Champions, Palm Beach Gardens; 800-858-1904, pga-resorts.com. Yardage: 7,017. Par: 72. Slope: 146. Architects: Tom Fazio, 1983; redesigned by Jack Nicklaus, 1990. Greens Fees: $175-$325.
T&L Golf Rating: ****
As golf consists of adapting to ever-changing conditions, PGA National's story since opening in 1983 reads like a time line in the evolution of the modern resort, adding and updating golf courses, a huge spa, fitness center, business center, cigar bar and various restaurants. Like the PGA itself, for which it serves as headquarters, the resort is big: Guests play some 165,000 rounds of golf on five courses annually, the property spans 2,340 acres and encompasses a twenty-six-acre lake, and the porterhouse steak at Shula's is forty-eight ounces. The wildlife is everywhere—especially ibises, egrets, spoonbills and sandhill cranes—and so is the real estate: Somehow it adds up to the quintessential Florida resort experience. The Champion course is currently undergoing another renovation, due to be completed in December, courtesy of Nicklaus and colleagues. With a distinguished tournament history that includes the 1983 Ryder Cup, it will also be familiar to TV golf viewers, having hosted nearly two decades of the PGA Senior Championship. The $4.1 million renovation will include a new irrigation system, comprehensive regrassing and reconfiguration of the 107 sand bunkers. The "Bear Trap"—fifteen through seventeen, which include three of the course's sixteen water hazards—will presumably remain bearish. Though the Champion is the signature layout, the other four courses offer pleasant resort-golf experiences of varying difficulty.
BOCA RATON RESORT & CLUB, RESORT COURSE
501 East Camino Real, Boca Raton; 561-447-3000, bocaresort.com. Yardage: 6,253. Par: 71. Slope: 128. Architects: William Flynn, 1926; redesigned by Gene Bates, 1997. Greens Fees: $100-$175.
T&L Golf Rating: *** 1/2
The Boca, as it is known to locals and regulars, is among the progenitors of the modern golf resort. Besides hosting the nation's golfing presidents and celebrities, the resort managed to keep the same two pros—Tommy Armour followed by Sam Snead—during its first forty-three years of operation. So perhaps the only surprise in the equation is that the original Resort course was not a particularly distinguished layout. It has been greatly enhanced by the extensive redesign completed in 1997, which added drastically needed mounding for delineation between parallel fairways and other changes in elevation for visual interest. Now its multiple tees, numerous water features and tropical flora form a much more appealing "resort track"—a sneaky sort of challenge, considering that it is just 6,253 yards from the back tees. The other two courses available to resort guests are fitting complements involving short commutes. The Country Club course is an object lesson in the work of Florida golf architecture luminary Joe Lee and features deep greenside bunkers and a precipitous grass face on the eighteenth green. Grande Oaks Golf Club's place in the game's history—it served as the set for Caddyshack—may tend to overshadow its present-day status as a quite-good test of golf. Notable are an elegant clubhouse and the century-old oak trees, a welcome arboreal alternative to the palm.