The Bear Trap!
To any avid pro golf fan, those three words should immediately conjure up thoughts of three of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour – the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes at the PGA National’s Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The course is the host venue again for this week’s Honda Classic.
The Bear Trap is named after tournament host Jack ‘Golden Bear’ Nicklaus who resides just a short drive from PGA National that boasts five world-class golf courses – The Champion (Opened in Nov’ 1981), The Fazio (Mar’ 1980), The Squire (Oct 1981), The Palmer (Feb’ 1984) and The Estates (Nov’ 1984).
Before welcoming the hosting of the Honda Classic first in 2007, the Champion course initially hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup (Won by USA 14 1/2 to Europe 13 1/2), the 1987 PGA Championship (Won by Larry Nelson) and, also the Senior PGA Championship for 19 years, from 1982 to 2000).
It was a $US4m renovation in late 2002, and under Nicklaus’ guidance, that saw the Honda Classic move just nine minutes south five years later from the Country Club at Mirasol to PGA National.
Of note, the Honda Classic boasts four players to have won the Honda Classic twice – Jack Nicklaus: 1977 and 1978, Johnny Miller: 1980 and 1983, Mark Calcavecchia: 1987, 1998, and Pádraig Harrington: 2005 and 2015, with Harrington the only player to win the event twice at PGA National.
Though for the four days before a new champion is crowned The Bear Trap commands attention. For a golf journalist, The Bear Trap can provide a golf bag full of headlines – ‘Bear Trap Mauls ???’, ‘??? Lucky To Escape Bear Trap Mauling’, The Bear Trap Jumps Out To Maul ???’, ‘Bear Trap Savages Honda Field’, and so on.
So, what makes The Bear Trap so ferocious?
Par-3 15th Hole – 169 Yards
2021 Honda Classic Scoring statistics – Average score 3.183 strokes; Nil Eagles, 15% Birdies, 65% Pars, 13% Bogeys, 8% Double-bogey or worse.
The opening hole of The Bear Trap and the 206th hardest ranked on the PGA Tour.
First to greet you in making your way to the par-3 15th is ‘The Bear’, a must photo shot for anyone visiting the course for the first time. Now for the more-important tee shot.
The back of the green was raised after 1990 for visibility. The hole usually plays into the wind and a fade aimed at the bunkers on the left will likely avoid the water on the right. There are two bunkers beyond the green. For the double-digit handicapper, the smart play is to aim for the bottom tier on the left and hope for a two-putt to a back pin. If the hole location is on that portion of the green, more birdies can be had. For the pros, the tough pin is back right.
Par-4, 16th – 429 Yards
2021 Scoring statistics – Average score 4.154 strokes, Nil Eagles, 12% Birdies, 64% Pars, 20% Bogeys, 4% Double-bogey or worse.
The middle hole at The Bear Trap is ranked the 116th hardest on the PGA Tour.
This dogleg right is the toughest par-4 of all of PGA National’s 90 holes. Off the tee, everything slopes toward the water down the entire right side of the hole, with a bunker added on the water’s edge to also catch any errant drive. Those seeking to bail out left are faced with a 220-yard second shot over water, and likely into the wind.
The green shape runs diagonally to the right of the approach shot from the fairway. Again, bunkering beyond the green is a piece of visual intimidation. A bad approach shot, especially after an aggressive drive, could end up making an unwanted splash.
Par-3, 17th – 143 Yards
2021 Scoring Statistics – Average 3.209 strokes, Nil eagles, 14% Birdies, 63% Pars, 19% Bogeys, 4% Double-Bogey or worse.
The final hole at The Bear Trap is ranked the 84th hardest on the PGA Tour and probably the one to jump out and tear sheds off your golf game.
While there are eight sets of tees for recreational play, this shortest hole on the Champion also is by no means the easiest. It’s an all water carry and if the wind is in your face or when it’s blowing left to right toward the water to the right, then the task of finding the ‘dance floor’ makes all that much harder. There’s a bunker back centre of the green to catch anything long.
Though for the time you’re on the tee, it’s the water fighting to ruin your concentration, and with a 30-foot landing area there, the toughest pin is the middle left.
Well done, as it’s a Herculean effort if you’ve got through The Bear Trap unscathed.
And if it’s any comfort to you, there are four other holes at the Champion Course that were actually ranked tougher last year than any Bear Trap hole, and they included the 10th, 11th, 14th, and, toughest of all, the sixth, which was 10th-toughest on Tour.
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