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Review PGA National Resort Spa

bear trap
An intimidating grizzly marks the entrance to the Bear Trap (Courtesy PGA National)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – There aren't many resorts where guests can play five different golf courses all in the same location. South Florida's PGA National Resort & Spa, which enters a new era with its major updates to the golf courses and the resort, would be near the top of a short list.

Located next to the PGA of America headquarters, one of the resort's five golf courses, the Champion Course, has as much history and tradition as many storied layouts with a higher profile reputation. Originally designed Tom and George Fazio – and more famously renovated by Jack Nicklaus – The Champ, as they like to call it around here, is the site of the PGA Tour's Honda Classic.
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The Champ also was the stage for the 1987 PGA Championship, 1982-2000 PGA Senior Championship and 1983 Ryder Cup. PGA National also now houses the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, the Dave Pelz Scoring School and Titleist Performance Institute. It's the only resort in the world to have both the Leadbetter and Pelz schools in one location.

Naturally, the rest of the resort needed to hold its own as well, and a new ownership group, which acquired PGA National in 2006, didn't disappoint. The new group embarked on a massive makeover of the AAA 4-Diamond resort, which has resulted in a golf destination that includes top-tier dining, lounges, fitness facilities and spa.

'Our $65 million revitalization gives us a sophisticated new feel and complements our overall guest experience,' says Joel Paige, vice president and managing director. 'We felt the investment was the perfect vehicle to celebrate our 30-year anniversary as we continue to build customers for life.'

Golf, golf and more golf at PGA National

The combination of golf courses, practice facilities and game improvement opportunities makes PGA National of the most complete golf resorts in the world. It starts with the Champion Course, which has history on its side.

Opened in 1981, the golf course's first high profile event was the 25th Ryder Cup in 1983, which the U.S. team narrowly won, continuing a decades-long string of dominance by the Americans. PGA National also was the site of the 1987 PGA Championship, won by Larry Nelson. It had a long history of playing host to the Senior PGA Championship, and now the PGA Tour visits PGA National each spring.

The Champion, which has undergone significant improvements over the past decade, is the home of the famous 'Bear Trap,' a stretch of three holes with two difficult and watery par 3s sandwiched around a par 4 (holes 15-17). It has a reputation for difficulty, especially in the wind.

The other four classic south Florida golf courses at PGA National also feature plenty of water, trees, gators and gently rolling fairways. They're not too shabby either.

Those other courses include: The Palmer, which is actually slightly longer than The Champion at 7,079 yards; The Haig, a George and Tom Fazio design that pays tribute to five-time PGA Champion Walter Hagen; The Squire, which is also designed by the Fazios and pays homage to Gene Sarazen; and The Estates, a Karl Litten design that's a short drive from the resort.

'With our five courses – including the Champion, home of the legendary Bear Trap – the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, the Dave Pelz Scoring Game School, tour quality club fitting, and some of the finest fitness Instruction in the U.S., we are able to offer golfers of all skill levels an unparalleled golf experience.,' said Jane Broderick, director of golf operations at PGA National.

PGA National has a more elegant feel

From the rooms to the spa and the restaurants, the resort has a more updated feel these days. Large flatscreen TVs, ultra-comfortable beds and new furnishings adorn the 379 rooms and suites at PGA National. Then there's the 40,000 square-foot European spa, which features 32 treatment rooms and more than 100 different treatments.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing Swedish massage, facial or simply looking to pass the time, the spa is the perfect antidote for the Bear Trap. Outdoor mineral pools, dubbed the 'Waters of the World,' top off the experience.

The resort also offers ultra modern fitness facilities, including the newly remodeled Health and Racquet Club, which has a 33,000-square-foot fitness center that includes tennis and racquetball courts. The Titleist Performance Institute, which guides golfers through critical physical assessments and training, is also part of the equation, and for golfers looking for the complete package, it's a great start.

Dining at PGA National also has been ramped up to new levels. The Ironwood Grille is cornerstone of the resort's dining as it opens up to the lobby and the hotel's popular iBAR. The Ironwood Grille has a level of casual sophistication, with a food and wine menu to match.

Entrées include certified Angus beef, fresh local seafood and chef's specials. There's also a large collection of private wine labels from PGA Tour players such as Greg Norman, as well as a wine cellar stocked with more than 1,000 bottles of fine vintages.

The iBAR, which has become a resort favorite, offers more casual fare, plus live entertainment and sports on its TV monitors. The resort likes to stage events there like wine-tastings and 'Ladies Night Out.'

There's also dining at the spa, private dining and even a fine cigar bar at the resort. And the resort boasts nearly 100,000 square feet of meeting space, both indoors and outdoors.

PGA National Resort & Spa: The verdict

In time, almost anything can become worn out, and the new owners of PGA National Resort & Spa certainly recognized that and didn't waste any time or money. A hallway to the large golf shop and staging area of the golf courses is littered with photographs of past champions and golf legends to make sure it never loses its golf heritage.

At the same time, the inviting iBAR in the lobby welcomes guests into the new era. There, you can watch a game or listen to live music. Or guests can retreat to the fine dining of the Ironwood Grille, and they don't have to go far.

What it all provides – including a terrific spa where some of it therapists have two decades of experience or more – is a great environment for the golf courses. It's perfect for a guys' trip or couples retreat. The courses are all in excellent shape, and there are plenty of other activities in a luxurious setting to keep everyone entertained.