Growing up in South Florida but never playing golf in my youth, I always had this vision of PGA National Resort as the place to be for serious players. The name alone gave my young brain the implication that this was a monument to the sport and any course here would be the toughest in the world. In reality, it was most definitely a golfer’s elite retreat, but it wasn’t a place that my family would consider for our local staycation needs. However, I have a feeling that would be very different today.
Last year, this iconic Palm Beach Gardens resort unveiled the results of a nearly two-year, $100 million renovation that began in late 2020 with the closing of the Squire Course. And the big reveal was done in the most appropriate way, as a throng of excited, loyal fans rolled in for the 2022 Honda Classic to watch Sepp Straka take top honors with a reinvigorated property as the backdrop.
But when I recently visited, expecting to stroll into the expansive lobby for a “Welcome to Golf Valhalla” moment, it quickly occurred to me that this is actually a phenomenal choice for a classic Florida getaway. Sure, the changes to the golf courses and Members Clubhouse have reinforced this resort’s status as the place to be, but a new generation is set to learn the fun way that there is far more to PGA National Resort than just the fantastic courses.
It’s Play Time
There’s something about the sight of a group of children taking lessons at a resort that brings a big smile to my face. For love of the game, it’s great to know that a new wave of players will soon be teeing off—even if it means accepting that people 30 years younger than me would beat me by a minimum of 10 strokes. But with a 7-year-old son of my own, I know there’s only so much of one activity a kid can take before boredom sets in, and I’m glad PGA National Resort’s management realized that, too.
For starters, the Banyan Buddies program will not only keep kids of all ages busy with creative itineraries, but it will also allow them to make friends at the same time. Whether for a full day, morning or afternoon session, or the Kids’ Night Out—for when parents want extra time to enjoy the magnificent dining options—the entire family can be confident that no one will suffer from the woes of monotony.
A child’s day will begin with the Power Hour fitness session that, let’s be honest, any adult should want to join as well. As good as the coffee is at The MKT, the lobby’s quick stop snack bar, a little exercise would be great for any golfer about to step out into the South Florida heat for the next four hours or so. That experience is followed by snacks and a Splash Fest before everyone heads inside for more activities and excellent food. Kids will also enjoy an educational art session and an hour or so of the property’s other sports offerings.
Obviously, there will be ice cream, too.
Way More than Just Golf
One of the most constant themes I’ve seen at Caribbean and Mexican resorts over the last year is the prevalence of pickleball, and that wave of fun has also arrived at PGA National Resort. The kids won’t be the only guests enjoying some other sports in their free time, as six courts await anyone looking to catch the fever. Nineteen Har Tru tennis courts are also available for purists, with a dozen of them boasting lights for night play. Although, by the time I was done on The Champion, the only other sport I cared about was how fast I could get to The Butcher’s Club.
With so much fitness and action available to guests, everyone will need a place to unwind as well. Yes, the pool is always an ideal choice, and maybe some people will prefer to cool off with some fro-yo at The Big Drip. But you’ll find the rest of us at The Spa, a 40,000-sq. ft. holistic escape that has been reimagined with the help of Venus Williams’ award-winning design firm, VSTARR.
Between The Spa and Groom Guy—a barber shop concept imported from New York to ideally complement the other salon services—it’s fantastic how PGA National Resort has created the perfect balance for all types of travelers. Just as a family could be enjoying the kids’ Spring Break fun, a gaggle of golf bros could be having the perfect bachelor party. This resort is truly a one-stop shop for almost any style of vacation.
Let’s Talk about the Golf, Though
Any Florida Man knows that afternoon golf is always a crapshoot as the warmer months approach. Some grey clouds in the distance had me nervous that my afternoon round on The Match would end with wet clubs, so I teed off with a sense of urgency… that undoubtedly led to my first hole double bogey. It’s hard to be mad at a course this fun, though, so I cleared my head for Hole 2, a par-3 with a wicked crater in the middle of the green, and I high-fived the air around me as my putt dropped for my first par of the day.
I was beginning to feel some positive vibes coming from the curves on The Match, as my Hole 3 tee shot ran a little longer thanks to a friendly fairway design. Next thing I know, I’m just off the green for an eagle chip, something I’ve never faced in my short casual golf career, and words can’t even describe the smile that ran across my face as I sank a 5-footer for birdie. And then the lightning struck, the air horns went off, and images of Caddyshack raced through my mind as I headed back to the clubhouse. Still, it would take far more than some rain to wipe the smile off my face.
By the time I met up with Brian Robinson, one of the resort’s exceptional instructors, for a morning lesson ahead of my tangle with The Champion, I wondered if I’d be able to carry over the momentum from yesterday’s short round. Robinson is the ideal type of teacher for an average golfer like me, as he was informative and direct without being patronizing. He kept things simple and quickly identified the biggest problem with my swing, all without contradicting anything I’ve learned from my current instructor back home. If only he could have caddied for me in the coming round.
It’s just so cool to me to be able to play a course that was recently occupied by a PGA tournament. Identifying the various nuances of each hole in person is always a good time, and I even made a game of it with the strangers I was teamed with. That helped distract me from my less-than-ideal play, but that’s no indictment of The Champion. This is a fun course for all skill levels, and even when I hit a bad shot, I never felt like the recovery was impossible.
If anything, I feel like these courses taught me even more about how to be a better player, something I kept in my brain vault when I took on Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic the following week.
And the Cherry on Top
Upon arrival and check-in, I was struck by the vintage design vibes that carried from the lobby all the way to my room—it felt like Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer were about to walk around the corner in their cardigans with cigarettes hanging from their lips. Between the new look of the 339 guest rooms and the 21 Serena & Lily-designed luxury villas, I didn’t think anything would top the immense first impression, but then my stomach rumbled.
Six new dining concepts will have food-focused guests smiling as wide as I did when I sank that birdie. Two of them, Honeybelle and The Butcher’s Club, were conceived by Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford and Lindsay Autry, who has been nominated for James Beard Awards on multiple occasions. While Honeybelle was a great dining experience, I remain head-over-heels in love with The Butcher’s Club, where I enjoyed hands-down one of the finest dinner experiences of my life.
For starters, the staff is phenomenal. From the host stand to the table service, I was so impressed by how attentive every person was to even the tiniest element of the meal. And while the wagyu skirt steak made my heart pitter-patter, I couldn’t stop myself from openly raving about the creativity on display for the “pick your spirit” cocktail option. I’ve had great drinks at amazing resort bars, but never have I enjoyed the experience as much as this, with the server asking a series of questions as if it was a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I don’t even know what was in my mezcal cocktail, but it was delightful, and it will be a long time before I forget it.
That’s PGA National Resort in a nutshell. New golf resorts will open all over the world and players will race to be among the first to tee off on their wild new courses. But the greats remain great because they adapt and continue doing what visitors love. Most importantly, though, they rely on the personal touches to make guests feel special, and that’s exactly why this property retains its legend status year after year.