By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
March 1, 2013
As the PGA Tour returns to the warm environs of South Florida this week at The Honda Classic, it’s more a homecoming for a large contingent of the golfers rather than just another lonely series of tour stops.
A 2012 survey by the Palm Beach Post revealed that 61 active or former PGA and other pro tour players make their homes in Palm Beach County and Martin County, making the region the de facto World Capital of Golf. Among the locals are Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Greg Norman, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, new residents Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, and Rick’s next door neighbor, Dustin Johnson.
On the grounds around PGA National’s The Champion Course, Honda Classic officials have created a brand new experience for these golfers and attendees alike by completely overhauling the spaces surrounding the “Bear Trap,” The Champion Course’s notorious 15th-17th hole stretch. According to the Palm Beach Post, officials would “like nothing more" than for hole No. 17…to approach the “energy and intensity" of the Waste Management Phoenix Open’s equally notorious 16th hole.
Attendance figures compiled from the Bear Trap show that the grouping of holes has "lured the greatest number of fans in recent years, and inspired by the raucous success of the 16th at Phoenix, tournament officials have focused their expansion on the area from the No. 16 green through the 17th hole, a difficult par-3 over water.”
Hospitality space in the Bear Trap environs has grown from 21,000 to 33,800 square feet, now featuring expansive food and beverage stands, a wine garden, retail outlets, loads of flat screen TVs, and a hospitality deck just for military personnel. As in Phoenix, a tunnel has been added running from the 16th green to the 17th tee box—6,500 fans should now be able to find a space to watch the action at that hole.
Said the Honda Classic Tournament Executive Director Ken Kennerly, referring to the Phoenix Open’s 16th hole, “Everybody wants that enthusiasm. And the energy around The Bear Trap has kind of created that force.”
Golfing legend and nearby resident Jack Nicklaus adds, "It’s not about length, it’s about precision. It’s about guts. It’s all about what do you have in your chest that you can finish those holes." And concludes Australian Robert Allenby, now a local, “On Sunday when the pin is in the back right on No. 17, this is the hardest holes we play on tour.”
To commemorate the notorious stretch, for amateurs, PGA National has created a new “Bear Trap Package” comprising lodging and golf.
“Our Bear Trap Package provides a true Tour experience as golfers can battle on The Champion just like Rory and Tiger did last year in the final round of the Honda,” says Joel Paige, Vice President and Managing Director. “With our challenging new Fazio Course and three other outstanding layouts, we have 90 holes of golf not to be missed.”
Besides the modifications to the Bear Trap, and the new Fazio Course, prior to the Honda Classic, PGA National Resort & Spa also announced that the “final round” of its $100 million revitalization is well on its way to being complete. PGA National’s recent renovations include numerous enhancements to its 379-room resort hotel, clubhouse, golf courses, spa, health and racquet club, and conference and meeting space.
The main chatter around the Honda Classic besides the Bear Trap’s lively new configuration and resort renovations remains the topic that dominated talk at Dove Mountain last week: the fate of the belly putter. Echoing the sentiments of many of his players, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem declared his opposition to the USGA and R&A’s proposed 2016 ban on anchored putting. The divisive issue has created a de facto “power struggle” over the control of the sport.
The PGA Tour wouldn’t be bound by the rule change, but it’s unlikely the Tour wouldn’t comply if the rule were enacted. With the ban not expected to go into effect until January 1, 2016, there’s still plenty of time for the debate to continue.
If McIlroy (who shot even par on Thursday as did fellow Nike endorser Woods) fails to make the cut at the Honda Classic, he can drive home and shut out the world via a new pair of noise canceling headphones. The world’s top golfer just signed a new endorsement deal with Bose. The multi-year deal, McIlroy’s first with a consumer electronics company, will see him serve as a global brand ambassador for the company’s headphones, portable speakers, home, and automotive sound systems.
Likewise, just weeks after extending its PGA Tour apparel license, Perry Ellis International signed six golfers, headlined by Jason Dufner and Kevin Na, to endorsement deals. Perry Ellis hopes to use the golf platform to grow its market share in Canada and Latin America.
Standard Life Investments, finally, has signed on to become the first company with worldwide sponsorship rights for the Ryder Cup. The deal is valued in the high seven-figures. The PGA of America and European Tour hope to have four worldwide sponsors.
But first, the golfers must survive the Bear Trap. We wish them well.