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PGA Golf Club at PGA Village

By: James A. Frank

Appeared in 2013 LINKS Premier Clubs

PGA Head Professional Chris Donahue has a simple, yet compelling, way of describing PGA Golf Club at PGA Village, where he works: “I call it the past, the present, and the future of the game all in one place.”

It takes a big property to combine those elements successfully, but the multi-faceted golf community/resort/private club—in Port St. Lucie, Florida, about 45 minutes north of West Palm Beach and an hour and a half south of Orlando—makes it look easy. Conveniently located just off I-95 and cleverly sited to promote privacy as well as purpose, the club boasts a wide variety of great golf designed by Tom Fazio and Pete Dye; an extraordinary learning and practice center; a golf museum that captures and honors the history of the game; a six-hole short course; nearly 3,000 homes (with more to come); and a single-minded focus on growing and maintaining golf that can’t be found anywhere else.

Such golf-centricity isn’t surprising when you realize that PGA Golf Club is owned and operated by The PGA of America, the world’s largest working sports organization. As a result, PGA Professionals are everywhere—newbies, current members, and retired veterans—teaching, playing, and otherwise contributing to the all-golf, all-the-time atmosphere of this must-play resort.  

Or as David Downing, the Director of Golf Courses and Grounds and past president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), likes to say: “We ooze golf.”

“It all starts with the courses,” says Corey Aurand, PGA Senior Director, PGA Golf Properties. Accordingly, PGA Golf Club offers an impressive range of options. Fazio and Dye, two of modern golf’s most renowned architects, created three very different courses, a trio of treasures designed to both welcome and challenge players of all abilities.

Fazio’s smart and solid Wanamaker Course recently had its Bermuda grass greens replaced with the finer, more consistent TifEagle and its tee boxes lined with TifGrand. A favorite among members, the course is dedicated to turn-of-the-century department-store magnate Rodman Wanamaker, an early supporter of the golf professional who also donated the Wanamaker Trophy annually awarded to the winner of the PGA Championship. The Wanamaker Course is the most “Florida” feeling of the designs, with tall palmetto palms, abundant water, and acres of sand.

But Fazio added some tricks to the tropics, surrounding the tiered and undulating greens with humps and steep fall-offs that put a premium on precise approach shots and chipping. It’s also a local-knowledge course that demands a few test drives to learn just where, and where not, to place tee shots.

Take the opening hole, a stout par five reachable in two, but only after a strong drive down the left side. It’s a chance for an early birdie for those not afraid to attack a green that pitches back to front then away for the last quarter.

The picturesque par-three 6th is designed to simultaneously mesmerize and intimidate. Water runs all along the left side of the green, but its naturally sloping green actually will help those willing to be bold.

The Wanamaker Course concludes with a mid-length par four that features water to the right, trees left, and a landing area that looks very small when standing on the tee. Wind, water, and a two-acre-broad bunker framing the right side make for an exciting finish. Golfers will find it a hard hole to forget whether they are the conquered or the conqueror.

Fazio’s Ryder Course is named after Samuel Ryder, the benefactor of the cup that bears his name. Designed to look and play like a tree-lined layout typical of North Carolina, the Ryder is the gentlest of the three courses, with wide fairways, large greens, and hazards most golfers can avoid (and not too punishing if found).            

But it is not an entirely “easy Ryder.” For example, No. 9 is a muscular, uphill par four that stretches to 433 yards from the tips and demands playing down the right side off a tee framed by water. The final two holes make for a strong finish—a long par five followed by a stout par four that rises from tee to green, with the iconic clubhouse clock tower a beacon in the distance.

The toughest test, and the one preferred by the club’s many good players, is the Dye Course, built in 2000. The classic Dye architectural mix of old and new symbolizes PGA Golf Club’s unique ability to blend mythology with modernity.

With two distinctive American styles already in place, Dye looked across the Atlantic for inspiration and brought back pot bunkers, mammoth mounding, and open run-up areas. He also tried to simulate typical British challenges, such as gorse and heather, utilizing the site’s natural wetlands to create a few long carries (particularly from the back tees, which stretch to nearly 7,300 yards).

As is often the case with Dye’s better courses—and this is certainly one of them—his genius is making the trouble look more severe than it really is. The fairways are quite wide and, for the most part, the hazards are in view. The greens appear undulating but putts actually break less than expected, another bit of education that comes with familiarity.

There are many knockout holes on the course, tough customers like the 9th, where a forced carry over the wetlands (more than 100 acres of protected natural property edge the layout) also has to contend with a large bunker smack in the center of the fairway.

The 17th is a long par five with mounds edging the fairway, some shielding thin scrapes of sand. Most of the hillocks are out of play, save for a big one short and right of the green that would seem to be the perfect line for the second (or, in some cases, third) shot. But golfers who hit toward that mound are likely to find instead a little bowl just out of view, leaving a delicate chip up to the green. A little steamed? Stay calm, because the final hole is a sand-obsessed par four with too many bunkers to count, plus waste areas, and demanding at least two perfectly placed shots to find grass instead of grit. 

Thousands of PGA Professionals annually travel to the club to make use of the onsite, 35-acre PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance, where they bring students from their home clubs for specialized clinics and golf schools. Golf teams from around the world, including Russia, Germany, Canada, and Denmark, train here regularly, as well.

With tropical conditions year-round, the center—which also hosts the world-renowned PGA of America Golf Schools—features a huge circular range ideal for practice in any season, with an ever-changing ocean breeze providing plenty of ways to simulate playing in the wind. There are also nine bunkers of different shapes, sizes, and types of sand (to mimic conditions around the world), as well as putting greens, chipping and pitching areas, and a new three-hole Discover Course designed to encourage families and beginners.

The adjacent indoor facility is a hive of activity: Instruction bays are outfitted with the most advanced high-tech testing and training devices for developing every aspect of the game. The adjacent PGA Education Center is a gateway for aspiring professionals where they take an array of classes while on the path to earning PGA membership.

Located between the two is the PGA Museum of Golf, an inspiring and educational destination featuring exhibits that trace the history of the game, its players, and events. Many of golf’s most important trophies reside here, including those of the four major championships and the Vardon Trophy, as well as one-of-a-kind antique golf clubs, Donald Ross’ circa 1900 workbench, vintage photographs, and an impressive research library.

On the museum’s back portico are the names of the members of the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame, a Who’s Who of golf greatness that includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, and many others. And history is still being made here, for where else but the PGA Museum of Golf can you find legends such as Dow Finsterwald, Bob Toski, and Walker Inman Jr. appearing as part of a free seasonal speaker series?

In 2013, PGA Golf Club will unveil the first phase of a  clubhouse expansion that will add yet more elegance and aura. The new facility will feature fountains, private members-only dining, brick-lined walkways, and an expanded refuge after a day of outstanding golf.

For the true lover of golf, it doesn’t get any better than this.

PGA Golf Club offers a Private Membership program that gives exclusive members-only access to its vast array of facilities. For more information, contact Steve Watters at (772) 201-0850. Those looking to enjoy the Resort’s Stay and Play and Golf Schools packages should contact Richard Harrell at (772) 467-1300 ext 124.                                                 

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