Review: PGA National (The Match)
- Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
- Public — Daily Fee
- Andy Staples (2021)
Part of the refresh of PGA National included the renovation of the old Squire course, which Andy Staples, responsible for the renovations at Olympia Fields and Meadowbrook, took on. Included in the renovation was a short course on the 1st and 18th hole of the course, leaving a rather unusual problem to solve: there was room for 16 holes, but Staples needed to fix 18.
As a result, the concept is a match play course, with only two tee markers: the maximum yardage, and the minimum. Between the two, various places to tee up and play the hole, with the previous winner picking the place to start the next. The tagline is “my six beats your seven.”
Beginning the Match course is two-shot hole with a yardage between 261 yards and 427 yards. In theory, this could also be a three shot hole for someone who usually plays the forward tees. The flexibility is there; at most, this golf course is 5800 yards.
After turning the corner on this dogleg left, you are met with a pushed up, difficult green to hit and hold.
As evident below, the greens are rather extreme and very pronounced. I guess this is where the 6 or 7 could come! Throughout the round, it becomes easy to question if the greens are too extreme given their size and profile. They might be at times, but it also really doesn’t matter; nobody is holding a State Am here, and if you come out to The Match and play for score, you missed the point.
The second is a short one-shot hole with a yardage between 97 yards and 163. To a green with a thumbprint in the middle and some railway ties, this seems to be an ode to National Golf Links of America.
The green is pretty awesome.
The third is an interesting dogleg right two-shot hole that can be played from as short as 206 yards, and as long as 430. Playing to the outside left of the dogleg opens up your view. The inside corner is visually blocked, although a shorter club awaits.
From the inside corner, your view is partially blocked:
But anywhere else opens up the view of the Lions Mouth green, which reminds me of Country Club of Charleston’s.
The fourth is a one-shot hole ranging from 103 yards to 166 yards. The green is filled with some micro interest and unique movement that I haven’t really seen elsewhere.
If par is your sort of thing, the 5th would be the first par 5 of the day, with tees ranging from 293 all the way up to 512.
Trouble lurks up the right:
For a three-shot hole, it is rather short and walks that line of “half par” quite nicely. Going for it, it seems challenging, but not overly difficult:
The green surrounds are violent and choppy, which helps potentially keep those aggressive players at bay. From tight bermuda, the swale below is not easy!
The 6th is our third one-shot hole, ranging between 118 yards and 189 yards. This is a homage to Garden City, with the upside down bunkers and the green undulations like that of the famed par 3 at Men’s Club.
The biggest issue with The Match is not the green complexes and surrounds, nor the strategy off the tee. Rather, the routing is hemmed in by the old Fazio routing, which takes us through the housing subdivison and essentially wrapped in housing. This is out of Staples hand. He did everything he could, but it doesn’t save the course entirely. On the 7th, a two-shot hole 252-418 seems the wounds of the generation past.
I believe this is a Leven template, where tee shots to the inside corner get the benefit of a clear view. From the outside right, the golfer plays over a hummock that visually obstructs the view coming home.
The 8th is a difficult two-shot hole flanked by water all up the right. At 258-419 yards, it would be a middle length par 4, with some hummocks and mounding in the fairway further complicating efforts.
Fairway contouring up the left:
Thankfully, the water dips out at the green and allows Andy’s green prowess to shine.
I am not sure exactly where the exaggerated pushed up green came from, but it is prevalent here. Andrew Green also does it when he restored Inverness Club or Oak Hill, and it makes things more difficult around the greens. In my view, it almost takes options away. Here, you’re just going to putt it because the tight surrounds are tough to get wedge under and they are too steep to bump a 9 iron into it. At Oak Hill, it is long grass, so you just take the wedge out and try and hit it high. I get Pinehurst (No. 2) falls off, but it is far more gradual than those two examples, which is why recovery shots are so terrifying; you have more options and further complicates the decision. Regardless, it is unique and cool… still.
The 9th is a middle length two-shot hole ranging between 238-403 yards featuring an Alps/Punchbowl template. Firstly, avoiding the water left is the play.
The bunkers on the right side are not nice, either.
The approach over the Alps to a green that funnels to the middle and left:
We are in the heart of template town by the time we hit the 10th, which is a middle length two-shot hole between 252-427 yards. Now, it is the Road template, with the trees on the right acting at the hotel at St. Andrews.
As always, the Road approach shot is rather terrifying.
A closer look at the green below. It certainly goes down as one of the more severe renditions I have seen.
Continuing with the C.B. Macdonald templates is the Redan at the 11th. Ranging from 115 yards all the way up to 181, it is a difficult par 3.
I personally think the 12th is my favourite hole here. Maxing out at 317 yards (minimum is 190), this is a quality drivable par 4 that I would also enjoy to play as a par 3 from further up. I do think its strengths are with a gambling par 4, especially because there is more that meets the eye.
The green is perched above its surrounds on the right, while the straight line off the tee is to a depression. This presents a dogleg right, even if the corridors are straight. I’m not sure if Staples had ‘Knoll’ on his mind, but I guess there are elements. Personally, this is an excellent hole without the template. There is some funky Pete Dye-esque volcano bunkers over the back, which is interesting/weird.
The 13th is a nice, fairly straightforward par 3 between 81 and 144 yards.
The 14th is a rather odd two-shot style hole with a scorecard yardage of 202-327. Principal’s Nose lurks in the fairway, as well as a tree and a shared water hazard from the 12th.
Principal’s Nose below, and where there is a Principal’s Nose, there is…
…Double Plateau, although from the angle of play, it is much more of a Biarritz.
The 15th is a difficult hole which blurs the lines between a par 4 and a par 5. Scorecard wise, 274-448 suggests par 4, but some hummocks and other gunk in the fairway really forces your hand: turn it over and get it over the trouble, or lay up short and play it as a three-shot hole.
The aforementioned trouble from the layup spot:
From just over the trouble:
The punchbowl green below:
The 16th is a really cool, funky drivable par 4 or long par 3, playing between 151 yards and 268. The tee shot is tight, with more room left than right.
Laying up is almost better because of how tight it is and how difficult the green surrounds are. From the layup zone, it is a fairly straightforward approach, although the surrounds still lurk.
This is where I love the shelf green as I think it provides enough penalty for those going for it, but also allows some variety into how someone would approach the green from yard. A long tee shot might bounce up, or fly into the upslope, but it creates that unpredictability.
The 17th is a straightforward two-shot hole with tees ranging from 244 yards all the way to north of 400 yards.
The green is intense and sitting high above the surroundings rather abruptly.
Upon further inspection, the 17th is a Maiden template:
The golf course ends on a Biarritz par 3 over water, ranging from 122 yards all the way to 198.
This is a well-done rendition with an aggressive swale.
In my view, this is the most interesting golf course at PGA National, and one I would include on a trip to the area for public golf. By conventional standards, 5,841 yards (par 68) is rather short, but on a buddies trip, having a course like this where you can go mono y mono and play for the match would produce some exciting golf and hilarious results. The idea is to forget par and play against your opponent, and I think Andy Staples achieved that beautifully here. A little Macdonald, Ross, Travis, Emmet, and Raynor combine here to produce a fascinating experience in the sunshine state that is really missing from Florida. A fun place to play golf, and make sure you stop at Birdies Diner after!