Play The Champion on a nice calm morning in January and you might not understand what makes this such a tough tournament course (it hosted the 1983 Ryder Cup, the 1987 PGA, the Senior PGA from 1982 through 2000, and now the Honda Classic). The course looks like any Florida resort, winding around lakes and homes and condos with greens and fairways buffeted by lots of bunkers, a Tour length of just over 7,100 yards, greens perched up above fairway level and plenty pines and palms along the edges.
But in the afternoon, when Mother Nature hits the fans, behold the savagery of those South Florida winds. Toss in a dose of spring and summer humidity, grow the bermuda rough up, drop it to a par of 70 and add a few classic choke holes to close out the round, and suddenly you got one of the most demanding stroke play courses in the state.
They won’t make you forget where you are, but the Champion offers some nice design features too, including the steep faces to
Nicklaus’s bunkers and large angled putting surfaces that, by no means complicated, force you to get the ball on the right level of you want any kind of score.
The “Bear Trap” is over-hyped from a marketing perspective but it can be devastating in the strong winds, and 18 is a good strategic par five where you can either press your luck or hedge your bets to the limit of your nerves.
The Champion, to me, is akin to a classic California cabernet, like the Beaulieu Georges de Latour reserves from the 1970’s, ‘80’s and 90’s, or the Beringer (Private) or Mondavi Reserves: classically structured, archetypes of the category with rarely any visible flaws. Maybe not quite the fireworks of more exotic, newer cabs, but they always delivering the goods. (89)
Palm Beach Gardens
Architect: Tom Fazio/renovated several times by Jack Nicklaus, most recently in 2014