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A GOLF BLOG: GOLF IN THE PALM BEACHES
9:27am - 16/01/2017

By Mike May (mikemaymarketing.com; mmaymarketing@gmail.com)

For golf fans planning to travel to The Palm Beaches (Florida) to attend the Honda Classic at PGA National in late February, they should also pack their golf clubs and sample some of the historical golf courses in the area, including the oldest 18-hole golf course in the state of Florida which is also located in Palm Beach County.  It’s the Ocean Course at the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach.

While the TV cameras from the Golf Channel and NBC will be focused on the Champ course and all things Honda in late February, which includes the infamous Bear Trap, the many visiting golfers to Palm Beach County should consider playing the five golf courses – North Palm Beach CC, West Palm Beach GC, Lake Worth GC, Delray Beach GC, and the Resort Course at the Boca Raton Hotel & Club -- in Palm Beach County that are part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. 

Here’s an editorial glimpse into each of these five layouts along with a few newsy nuggets on the Ocean Course in Palm Beach:

North Palm Beach Country Club (www.village-npb.org/453/Country-Club; 561-691-3433):

The North Palm Beach Country Club is a course which has experienced true transformation -- a facelift and a name change -- since it opened in the mid 1920s.  And, today’s golfers are reaping the benefits of this change.

On May 3, 2006, local resident and golf legend Jack Nicklaus entered the picture, as he oversaw major renovations on the course.  By November of that year, the course re-opened for play. 

During the renovation process, the Golden Bear took an active role in the course redesign and reconstruction.

With his creativity, Nicklaus maintained the integrity of the original design while sharpening its appearance.  And, in some cases, the Golden Bear added a ‘roar’ to the course, especially to the 10th, 11th, and 18th holes which have heavily, but not unfairly, bunkered fairways.  As you play the 5th and 6th holes, you get a great view of the Lake Worth Lagoon and its upscale boat traffic.  The waterway flanks both fairways, but doesn’t impact play.  Many of the greens have enhanced undulations, which makes putting an experience at times.  The greens are always in great condition.

This renovated golf course became only the second public municipal golf course in the U.S., at that time, to bear the prestigious moniker of a Jack Nicklaus “Signature” Golf Course. Nicklaus stated that the North Palm Beach Country Club would be a great showcase course for Palm Beach County.  He was right.  And, many golfers who now play the course would agree. 

For this major renovation project, Nicklaus charged the Village of North Palm Beach just one dollar for his expertise.

"This was my way to give a little something back to the community and the people who have given me so much," said Nicklaus, who has lived in the area since the early 1960s.

The North Palm Beach Country Club remains an 18-hole, par-71 golf course, which now features six sets of tees, including a family tee.  Depending on the tee, the course plays from 3,600 to 7,000 yards, so each golfer gets to play the course in a manner that is equal to their level.

The course features first-class practice facilities – a lighted driving range, a practice putting green and a pitching/chipping green.

The renovated North Palm Beach CC has received many accolades -- the #1 municipal golf course in Florida and the #27 municipal golf course in the U.S. by Golfweek.  The Palm Beach Post has ranked the North Palm Beach CC as the top public golf course in Palm Beach County.  And, AAA Magazine rates this course as a Must Play Course in Florida.

West Palm Beach Golf Course (www.wpalmbeachgc.com; 561-822-1591):

Believe or not, there is a championship golf course in the state of Florida that doesn’t have any alligators living on its premises!  What?  How?  It’s because there are no water hazards located on the course – no lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, creeks, canals, bays, lagoons, or an ocean.  And, it’s been that way since it first opened in 1947.  I am referring to the West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course (formerly the West Palm Beach Country Club).

This course – originally designed by renowned golf course architect Dick Wilson -- features plenty of sand and usually a steady and, at times, a strong – breeze!  If you can keep the ball ‘off the beach’ and learn how to keep your golf ball below the wind, you will excel on this layout, which is also the home of the old West Palm Beach Open Invitational, a former PGA Tour stop from the 1950s through until the early 1960s. Back in the 1980s, this course was ranked as one of the ‘Top Ten’ public golf courses in the United States.

Like many golf courses, the West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course, over the years, was changed and reconfigured into a course that left many people yearning for yesteryear.  With that being the case, 10-time PGA Tour winner and golf course architect Mark McCumber was hired to look at old blue prints and return this course to its classic design.  In early 2009, the renovations began and in seven months, the course was ready to play again.  On November 16, 2009, the West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course was re-opened.  To help add some prestige to the moment, the great Arnold Palmer, the winner of the 1959 West Palm Beach Open Invitational, was invited back to West Palm Beach to hit the ceremonial first tee shot.  He accepted the invitation and his tee shot found the left edge of the first fairway.

Since then, thousands of golfers have made the trek to this venerable course and thousands more should make plans to include this parkland layout on their list of ‘must play’ courses in Palm Beach County.

When you set foot on the first tee of the West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course, be prepared to hit every club in your bag at one time or another in the round.  If you are strong and consistent off the tee, you will take many of the sand-strewn waste bunkers out of play that border nearly every fairway, but once you negotiate the tee shots, finding the greens in regulation will not be any easy chore since bunkers surround every putting surface and the ever-present, swirling winds cause you to re-evaluate every approach shot.

Like many older courses, this venue is fun and easy to walk, since the distances on every hole from the greens to the next tee are minimal.

When you decide to play this great course, arrive at least an hour before your tee time so you will have time to utilize the wonderful practice facilities which are open every day from dawn to dusk.  The facilities include a well maintained all-grass driving range, an 8,000 square-foot putting green and a second green to practice chips and pitches, which includes a practice bunker, too.  Time spent practicing will give yourself a chance to find your swing d’jour, get used to the Bermuda greens, and sharpen your short game before actually setting foot on the course. 

To play the historic West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course, call the pro shop for your tee time.  If it was once good enough for the PGA Tour, then it remains good enough for you – January through December.  Remember, the public is always welcome!

 

Lake Worth Golf Club (www.lakeworthgolfclub.com; 561-582-9713):

While golfers in Palm Beach County, have access to a number of well-known, nicely manicured layouts, one of the forgotten ‘gems’ is actually one of the oldest golf courses in the area -- Lake Worth Municipal Golf Club.  It’s ‘worth’ noting that Lake Worth Municipal was a winter golfing destination for former baseball slugger Babe Ruth, back in the day!

As for the tees, fairways, rough, and greens, it’s a traditional, old-style south Florida coastal golf course, where walking is always an option.  It’s pure golf and a fun outlet for golfers of all abilities.

Every day, Lake Worth Municipal plays like a classic links golf course as the wind is ever-present -- always impacting your selection of the right club for the next shot.  What makes this course special is that every green is slightly raised from the fairway and is bordered by a lush, well-watered perimeter which adds to the degree of difficulty of getting ‘up & down’ for par. 

While the championship tees measure less than 6,200 yards, short by today’s standards, the course will play longer and tougher than it appears on paper. 

Another appealing aspect of Lake Worth Municipal is the wide variety of birds and animals that live on or near the course.  They include blue ducks, mottled ducks, great blue herons, iguanas, oystercatchers, spoonbills, and ‘Elvis’ the alligator. 

To add to the local ‘flavor’ of Lake Worth Municipal, four benches on the course are named in honor of those who once called this club their golfing home.  They are Charlie Terry, Angelina “Bingo Angie” Ferrano, Agnes Carreccia, and a group of golfers called “The Dogfighters.”  After you play Lake Worth Municipal, you’ll understand why this course was their ‘home away from home’ and why it remains that way for many of the area’s golfing regulars.  Plus, not many people get to play golf and walk in the footsteps of such luminary figures as baseball slugger Babe Ruth.

When you walk off the 18th green, check out the spectacular views and the menu at the club’s ‘19th hole’ -- The Beach Club On the Waterfront, which overlooks the Intracoastal.  In addition to enjoying the views, I highly suggest you enjoy what’s on the menu, especially the Nachos Beach Club and the Beach Club Catch.

The Lake Worth Municipal Golf Club awaits your arrival.

Delray Beach Golf Club (www.delraybeachgolfclub.com 561-243-7380):

Amidst the hustle and bustle of south Florida, there’s a ‘golfing green lung’ which ‘snow birds’ from the North might label as ‘paradise’ and a Scotsman could call ‘Brigadoon,’ but for the late, great LPGA founding member Betty Jameson, it was her ‘home away from home’ -- the Delray Beach Golf Club.

From the outset, the Delray Beach Golf Club has been a place where golfers can escape to find a sense of calm, peace and serenity.  And, it remains that way for many people who live in the neighborhoods that surround this municipal golf course that has been a recreational outlet for thousands of golfers since 1926. 

Designed by the legendary golf course architect Donald Ross, the Delray Beach GC, a par-72 layout, has stood the test of time and remains as enjoyable to play now as it was back in the 1920s.  Ross’ concept of building raised greens protected by sand bunkers was a great idea in the 1920s and remains relevant to this day.

“We are an asset to the community with a full-service restaurant and offering five sets of tees, which allow all type of skill levels to enjoy the course,” notes Tommi Ylijoki, the current pro at the Delray Beach GC.  “We have one of the most active men's and ladies golf associations, an expanding junior program, and our Friday night skins game is a long-standing tradition.”

The sense of elegance and class that emanates from the Delray Beach GC is also present in the clubhouse that exudes the charm of the 1920s and 1930s from the outside, while having modern-day amenities on the inside.

So, are you ready to escape to south Florida’s ‘golfing green lung’ where you will discover a sense of calm, peace, and serenity?

Resort Course at the Boca Raton Hotel & Club (888-543-1277; www.bocaresort.com):

When you arrive at the Resort Course at the world-famous Boca Raton Resort & Club, it’s a yesteryear atmosphere.  While on the first tee, you can almost imagine golf’s great names from the past (Tommy Armour and Sam Snead, for instance) walking by, as they once did, ‘back in the day.’  Based on the pure beauty of the course, it could easily be referred to as a ‘millionaire’s playground.’

 

The Resort Course (par 71) is just over 6,200 yards from the tips.  This course is proof that length is not necessary for a course to be great.  It’s also appealing to the eye as the course is a landscaping masterpiece.  At this course, water is never out of sight as a ‘watery grave’ is usually one swing away.  Elevation changes are not a major issue.  The highest point on the course is 30 feet above sea level.

Four of the biggest visual ‘takeaways’ at the Resort Course are the tee shots on the 3rd, 12th, 18th holes,…..and the entire 16th hole.  The fairways of the 3rd and 12th holes are bordered by colorful flowers and shrubs.  From the 18th tee, you will see an island green in the distance, flanked by a powerful water fountain on the golfer’s right.  On the par-five 16th, water hugs the left side of the fairway from tee to green.  The 16th is rated as the course’s most difficult hole.

“Simply put, this course can be conquered with strategy and not strength,” says Jimmy Gascoigne, the Boca Resort’s head golf professional.

And, here are a few newsy nuggets about the oldest golf course in Florida…….

Ocean Course at the Breakers in Palm Beach (www.thebreakers.com; 877-724-3188):

If there’s ever a golf course that requires more brains than brawn to play, it’s the Ocean Course at the Breakers in Palm Beach.  As the course’s website notes, the “Ocean Course rewards wit over power, challenging its golfers to play the ball especially low and controlled.”

When you step foot on the Ocean Course, it’s quite clear that the superintendent is as concerned about maximizing the beauty of this par-70 layout as he is maintaining the top-notch quality of the golf course.  This course – less than 6,200 yards from the back tees -- is very appealing to the eye and is always in the best shape possible. 

The Ocean Course at the Breakers in Palm Beach is also the oldest 18-hole golf course in Florida.  Designed by Scotsman Alexander Findlay, the course actually opened for play in 1896 and was also the first golf course in the U.S. that English golfing legend/six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon played when he first arrived in the U.S. on February 22, 1900.

In 2000, Brian Silva redesigned the course by blending the course’s original unique qualities with some modern concepts.  He did a great job and Findlay would be proud of Silva’s input.

When you play the Ocean Course, you will walk along the fairways of golfing history.  Many of the golf’s greatest names have played the Ocean Course at The Breakers.  The course record on the original course was set by Jack Nicklaus who shot a 59 back in the 1970s. Since the course was reconfigured in 2000, the lowest score is a 62 by Todd Sapere, who was one of the Ocean Course teaching professionals at the time.

From an aesthetic point of view, the Ocean Course has 18 signature holes, in my opinion.  Every hole can be a portrait on a postcard.  From a golfing point of view, all 18 holes also have character, charm, and backbone.

It’s fair to say that The Breakers spares no expense in keeping this course in tip-top condition – 365 days a year.  One of the ways in which the Ocean Course stays in great shape is that a local rule gives golfers free relief from all flowered areas as well as the tropical plantings.  The Breakers doesn’t want you trying to save par from the petunias or trying to get up & down from the impatience!

Whether you play the Ocean Course in January or July, you will always benefit from your close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean which provides a steady cool, refreshing breeze off the nearby ocean.
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