PGA National’s The Match course offers something new and fun

The PGA National Resort is best known for its challenging The Champion course, featuring the Honda Classic PGA Tour and the oft-mentioned Bear Trap. This layout is water everywhere, with enough length and hard knocks to make it one of the toughest tests the pros face every year.

Three other resort amenities – The Palmer, The Fazio, and The Estate – offer traditional Florida golf experiences similar to, if not as challenging as The Champion Course.

Andy Staples decided to change the scenario with a different kind of golf at PGA National. The architect wanted guests and members to have an alternative that he believes is more fun and faster-playing, providing a chance for regular players to complete reasonable challenges in a format that doesn’t focus on scoring. traditional stroke play.

With the opening on Friday of its 18-hole The Match course, Staples has made its wish come true.

It’s a completely different approach to golf, as far removed from what is often called the “championship test” that you can find anywhere. Staples took the resort’s old 18-hole Squire course and redesigned it, turning several lanes of play into the nine-hole Staple par-3 course that opened in July, then using much of the rest. to build the new Match course.

No more tee markers. No more traditional ratings. And if all goes to Staples’ plan, stroke play is over.

The Match course scorecard reflects the range of playing distances for each hole, with the number on the far left indicating the maximum distance and the number on the far right indicating the shortest distance for each hole. Photo by Jason Lusk / Golfweek

In their place are track tees that can be played from a wide variety of distances – The Match can play anywhere from 3,447 yards in length up to 5,841 yards. Instead of trying to display a number, golfers are encouraged to compete in a variety of match play formats. The winner – or sometimes the loser, depending on the format chosen – of the previous hole chooses the location from which all the players in the group will tee off for the next hole.

This choice can make a huge difference in the playing experience. For example, the first hole can play from 261 to 427 yards. That in itself isn’t much different from a traditional par 4 that could play 261 yards from the front tee to over 400 yards from the spikes. But within this framework, all players in a group are encouraged to play at the same location or with a designated and marginal distance difference on each hole. For men, women, good players or novices, allocated handicap strokes make all the difference instead of distance.

The options and strategy for choosing a starting point are extensive, with the start and end of each start being marked off by wooden posts that mimic the navigation channel markers. Straight but short hitters might want to play forward, while long hitters might force their opponents further on some holes. On several other holes it may be in favor of the long hitter to play the hole as short as possible, trying to drive a green over what would normally be considered a shorter par 4. It’s a bit like a horse game in basketball. , and there’s a lot of interest involved – plus the occasional sidelong glance from opponents waiting to hear where they’re going to set it up.

The start markers for The Match course are designed to mimic the navigation channel markers, with the hole number in the red triangle and the playing distance range below in green, Photo by Jason Lusk / Golfweek

This isn’t the first course to focus on match play – architect Gil Hanse’s Ohoopee Match Club, which opened in 2018 in Georgia, has a similar philosophy, for example, and this private facility is Raised to 7th on Golfweek’s list of best modern courses for built trails. in 1960 or later in the United States, but the PGA National version is a great opportunity for public access golfers to experience what Staples hopes is a very different approach to golf.

These players will also experience challenging and fun greens, many of which were built to mimic classic architectural patterns, the types of design features that make golf architecture enthusiasts swoon. For example, a Biarritz green crowns it all at n ° 18, with a deep ravine cutting two distinct sections of the putting surface in two. Another historic pattern is evident at # 2, which features what appears to be a giant thumbprint down the middle in front of the putting surface – if the hole is cut into the thumbprint, any player landing an approach into the ridges is assured of a good birdie putt.

The Green at No.18 of The Match, what would traditionally be considered a par 3, is crossed by a huge ravine. This calibrated design is called a Biarritz Green. Photo by Evan Schiller / PGA National

“I’m one of those who firmly believe that great architecture is important, and it can have a real effect on getting people into and keeping people there,” Staples wrote in prepared remarks he didn’t was unable to engage after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in the week before the course opened.

“You will find some features on this course that you will not find in your typical South Florida golf course,” he continued. “Each hole has been modeled after a playing strategy of some of the most famous golf hole designs from around the world. … History has proven that these strategic concepts never get old.

The second green of The Match course features what appears to be a giant thumbprint down the middle front, another classic pattern design. Photo by Evan Schiller / PGA National

So while there is a lot of talk about where to play, it is the greens that raise the best holes on the Match course.

“The greens are what will protect this course,” Staples wrote. “… Stay under the hole.” I have used the green design to ensure that all levels of players will remain interested and engaged. “

It’s an attempt to do something different and fun. Staples wrote that he was not interested in doing just another standard 18-hole canvas course that previously contained exactly that. It didn’t hurt that the Squire course needed updating and was likely to become saturated after heavy rainfall in South Florida. Staples said there was almost no built-in drainage in the Squire, while the new Match course on the same property features more than 10 miles of drainage pipes to promote firmer conditions.

“Most of us remember the old Squire course. A good golf course originally designed by George and Tom Fazio, ”Staples wrote. “But we all know it was tired and past its useful life. He needed new greens, a new irrigation system and better turf. And the playability of the course just wasn’t up to par.

Architect Andy Staples’ Match Course opened on September 10 at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo by Evan Schiller / PGA National

Just as par 3 courses have sprung up at many top resorts to provide players with fun alternatives to traditional 18-hole courses, Staples hopes golfers will focus on a new kind of experience and dive in. in the spirit of match play, forgetting whatever total score they might shoot. There’s a place for players to challenge themselves on the resort’s Tower-level Champion course, and now there’s a place for players to relax.

“The golf industry has evolved since 1983 when the Squire was first built,” Staples wrote. “There is a new emphasis on golfers’ experiences, an emphasis on the time factor and an emphasis on fun. We are also focusing on reducing resources, labor and water. My vision for The Match course was to respond to these changes in golf.

“Instead of difficulty, they want fun. Instead of five- to six-hour tours, they want something in under four hours, and maybe even under three. They want a class that allows them to feel good about their game and to be in nature. And they want experiences with their family and friends and they want it over and over again. “