The classically shaped golf course that stretches out before me – rolling fairways punctuated by gentle hillocks, elevated greens defined by their ridges and sloping slopes, and occasional greenside bunkers glistening with white sand – it’s all bathed in soft golden light as the sun dips low in the sky. On these 15 acres, the new short course of PGA National Resort called The Staple – named after its designer, Andy Staples – is a golfer’s playground. It is also a versatile location, which can be an informal place for beginners looking for a friendly introduction to the game. In the eyes of experienced golfers, however, the course shines as an ideal stage for honing short game shots. . Of course, it can also be a place just for fun.
On a late Tuesday afternoon in mid-January, my buddies and I had the class mostly to ourselves. Midway through our round, we hit tee shots as long as 130 yards and as short as 60 yards. So on the fifth hole – instead of hitting flip wedges to the green from the recommended teeing ground (an area marked by a single Adirondack chair) – we agree to drop the balls into a nearby sand trap and we test with a difficult bunker from 55 yards shoot. On the next hole we all try to hit putters off the tee. And on the last hole, which features a replica of the Riviera Country Club’s sixth green, we take longer to try to outdo ourselves as we move from the front right section of the green to the cut hole in the back left section – shots that must use the slopes of the putting surface but also around the pot bunker in the center of the green.
These are the games and challenges that The Staple course inspires. It’s a short course that quickly transports adults back to the days of their youth, when games were played that didn’t require a scorecard or pencil.
When building the course, Staples reallocated land that previously housed the first and 18th holes of The Squire course, a layout built in 1983 that was in desperate need of renovation. But The Staple isn’t the resort’s only new golf amenity. The remaining 16 holes of the old Squire layout have been completely redesigned by Staples, who have transformed the plot into an 18-hole course specially designed to host shotless matches with friends. “A lot of golfers have played their whole lives and never experienced golf in this setting,” says Staples. “When exposed to it, they say, ‘This is the most fun I’ve had on a golf course!'”
Fittingly, the course is called The Match, and it’s unrated by the USGA, meaning there’s no ‘par’, so golfers can’t keep a traditional score . Also, there are no starting markers. Holes are measured from the back and front of the tee boxes (the longest hole plays 512 yards), but these tee boxes are flowing and contiguous (the back and front edges are bounded by a single dock stack), which gives players the freedom to set it up wherever they want. In some cases, the length of a hole can vary by almost 175 meters depending on the starting point chosen by the player.
“Every time golfers play The Match,” says PGA National Golf Director Jane Broderick, “it can be a different golf course.”
According to Staples, when players of similar abilities compete on this unique course, the traditional match play format works best. In this scenario, the winner of a hole determines where they will play next. When a group is made up of players with vastly different skill sets, Staples suggests a two-team format where six holes are played as a scramble, six holes follow alternating shot rules, and the last six holes use best score. ball. “It’s the Staples roundup,” he said.
Design-wise, The Match course is also one that can accommodate players of all skill levels, thanks in large part to minimal use of bunkers. Instead of traditional sand traps, Staples has used lots of mounds, where uneven lies can lead to lopsided swings (or unpredictable outcomes) – challenges that affect highly skilled and less skilled golfers alike. “With a wedge in your hands and having a hill 80 yards from a perched green, you feel committed,” Staples says. “Suddenly the course no longer seems to be [only] 5,800 meters long.
“The concept of designing a golf course that is challenging for the best player but interesting and fun for the average player is so easy to put into words,” he continues. “But it’s so hard to get out of the park.”
The two new PGA National courses are only part of the significant changes that have been made to the complex. Every room and suite – all 360 – has been redesigned and redecorated with nostalgic sensibilities. Those at the resort coined the “1960s Palm Beach chic” aesthetic, and it’s an apt moniker. Ironically, the resort was only built in 1980, so instead of restoring the past, this transformative transformation does more to enhance the property for what could have been. Nonetheless, the interior design is so well executed that guests may do a double take the first time they see their accommodation.
Likewise, all PGA National food and beverage concepts are brand new. The resort’s flagship restaurant, Butcher’s Club, is the vision of Executive Chef Jeremy Ford, who blasted his way to victory in the 13th season of Excellent chef back in 2016. The upscale restaurant, accented by chic 1950s-inspired decor, specializes in creative presentations of classic steakhouse dishes, not to mention exotic-spiced side dishes and gourmet accessories, such as pan-fried foie gras and white truffles from Alba. Elsewhere, Lindsay Autry (another Excellent chef alum) is the spearhead of Honeybelle, a casual establishment that blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor dining and serves South Coast and Lowland comfort food. But don’t overlook Birdie’s Diner, which acts as an ideal conduit to the golf courses and serves hearty breakfasts, easy-going lunches, and delicious boozy milkshakes.
During TV coverage of the Honda Classic this week, the Champion course will likely steal all the limelight. That was to be expected, since the bucket list layout also hosted the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup in the 1980s. But these new upgrades – and the resort’s whole new identity – are just as much a reason to stay and play PGA National. Golfers may get a thrill playing on a course that hosts an annual PGA Tour event, but they’re almost certain to have more fun on the resort’s new layouts. As Broderick acknowledges, that has always been the goal.
“We unbuttoned the top buttons of our golf shirts,” she says. “It’s not our grandfather’s game anymore. We are taking it in a new direction.