PGA National Resort sports a new vibe amid timeless tradition

A $100 million reinvention of the iconic Palm Beach Gardens, Florida destination includes course architect Andy Staples’ work on the 18-hole Match and par-3 Staple courses

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida — There’s a confluence of golf generations around the PGA National Resort property beginning this spring.

Jack Nicklaus, circa late 1970s, with flowing blond hair and plaid Sansabelt trousers comes to mind as guests walk the salmon-colored carpets of the restored resort, view the golden palm trees that adorn each guest room, sit on the circular couches that take a corner of each room or see the throwback PGA National logo. The look is a characterized as “Palm Beach chic.”

Then in a direct modernization of the game, there is the 18-hole Andy Staples-designed Match Course with no established tees and wildly entertaining green complexes. Also, the par-3 Staple Course features Adirondack chairs on each tee box and even more rolling and eccentric greens.

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The Champion Course hosts the PGA Tour's Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches.

Propped up by a $100 million reinvention over the last few years, the PGA Tour visits PGA National's Champion Course for this week's Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches. There’s even a new vibe in the tournament as Cognizant, a global information technology services and consulting company, has stepped in as the title sponsor after Honda separated from the PGA Tour in 2023 following a 41-year relationship.

The Nicklaus family will still be involved as it has been since PGA National started hosting the event in 2007. The Bear Trap, the Champion Course’s three watery back-nine holes (Nos. 15-17) will still be featured. And the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, helmed by Barbara Nicklaus, remains the primary charitable beneficiary.

Opened in 1981, the resort was originally licensed by the PGA of America to Llwyd Ecclestone, who later sold it to Walton Street Capital. In 2018 Brookfield Asset Management purchased the 800-acre property that sits off PGA Boulevard, west of the Florida Turnpike, for more than $200 million. The Canadian company, one of the world’s largest alternative investment management firms, touts as its centerpiece the 339-room hotel with restaurants, meeting space and a new spa designed by tennis star Venus Williams that opened in spring 2023.

The five 18-hole courses, a nine-hole par-3 course and multiple practice facilities and golf schools offer many golfing options. The marquee attraction is the Champion Course, which in addition to hosting the PGA Tour has held the 1983 Ryder Cup, 1987 PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship from 1982-2000. Only Pinehurst and Whistling Straits can also claim to have hosted a major championship and Ryder Cup.

Perhaps most emblematic of the new look and feel is the work completed by Staples, which began in 2020 at the outset of the pandemic. On his first on-site visit to PGA National “the world was shut down,” Staples recalls, and he had a Jack Nicholson-type stay from the film “The Shining” as no one was staying there. Brookfield had rented the resort to the National Guard, so it wasn’t a problem to venture outside and tromp around on what was then called The Squire course.

“I reviewed the course pretty closely and thought that the hard course, the Champion Course, was covered and the Squire course had never been renovated, had poor drainage and the turf was tired,” Staples says. “When I made my pitch over Zoom before being hired, I talked about the future of golf. I was a little more adventurous, so the group that interviewed me called me the future of golf guy among the candidates, I hear. One of the people on the committee doing the hiring didn’t play golf so I guess they liked that vision.”

The 18th green at the Match Course.

For the Match, Staples took holes two through 17 on the Squire to transform the golf into a place where there’s no rough, teeing spots are up to the golfers and greens have extremely varied changes of elevation in a combination of old-school architecture with new-age thinking. The Match is not set up for traditional medal scoring, but for match-play situations — hence the name — as groups can play risk-reward shots as they see fit on a course where the total yardage is slightly under 6,000 yards.

“It challenges the traditional golfer’s mind,” Staples says. “The essence is to get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes, no matter what par is.”

The Squire’s first and 18th holes were fit into a nine-hole par-3 course with a figure-eight design that allows for groups to cross paths and converse along the way. The chairs on the tees and adjacent picnic tables encourage relaxation and perhaps a cold drink. The Staple name doesn’t derive from the designer — see the ‘s’ at the end of his name — but that the short course is the stapleof the resort.

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Hole No. 8 on the Staple Course.

“I guess that is a little odd, but I honestly had nothing to do with it,” Staples says. “Just about everybody goes to my name. I always have to laugh when people indicate it’s probably an honor the course is named after me.”

Taking the experience even more into the fun zone, creative firm Sugarloaf Creative Lab used a sailboat with a yellow stripe on a mast to brand the Match, using a photo of a sailboat on water behind a large scoreboard at the 1983 Ryder Cup for inspiration. The Staple has a similar fun logo — also designed by Sugarloaf — of a pelican flying along with a small golf trophy clinched in its feet.

There is the thought that the Staple could be used as a site for a mini pro-am event during the
tournament in the future. The Match could also offer an alternative to the Bear Trap on the weekend if tournament organizers wanted to infuse even more fun. Whatever its purpose, it’s a thought that has uplifted the entire place.