A world-class international field has assembled for this week’s Honda Classic on the PGA TOUR—played on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, just seven miles from the Golden Bear’s South Florida home.
Ten of the top-20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking will tee off today on the award-winning layout in Palm Beach Gardens that was first redesigned by Nicklaus in 1990. The deep field includes defending champion and world No. 7 Adam Scott; No. 8 Justin Thomas; No. 9 Sergio Garcia; No. 12 Justin Rose; No. 13 and reigning Masters Champion Danny Willett; No. 14 Rickie Fowler; No. 16 Paul Casey; No. 17 Branden Grace; No. 18 Tyrrell Hatton; and No. 19 Russell Knox.
The Honda Classic airs today from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. EST on Golf Channel and Friday from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. Weekend coverage is Saturday and Sunday on Golf Channel from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on NBC. Tournament coverage will include an interview with Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation Chairman Barbara Nicklaus on Saturday, while Sunday coverage will feature her husband and Foundation co-founder in the broadcast booth. Nicklaus is a three-time Honda Classic winner and the only player to twice defend his title in the tournament’s 45-year history.
The Honda Classic made the move to PGA National and the Nicklaus-designed Champion Course in 2007, and since the move to its new venue and city, the tournament has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular on TOUR. Attendance has grown from 97,000 in 2007 to a record 202,128 in 2016. Most important, charitable giving has elevated from $430,000 to a record $3.212 million last year.
On the eve of the 2017 Honda Classic, it was announced that a five-year extension was signed that would keep the event at PGA National through 2021.
“PGA National is just the perfect home for The Honda Classic,” said Joe Steranka, the president of Children’s Healthcare Charity, the tournament’s host organization. “The phenomenal success the tournament has enjoyed since it moved here is a reflection of an extraordinary golf course and world-class service experience for PGA TOUR players and their families, fans and sponsors.”
The stellar and deep field the event has been able to attract over the last decade also stems from the challenge and stern test of golf that awaits them. The Champion Course was the hardest par 70 in a non-major and boasted four of the PGA TOUR’s hardest 50 holes in each of the last two seasons.
Some of the course’s reputation and a bit of its bite comes from the “The Bear Trap,” the daunting stretch of Holes 15, 16 and 17—considered one of the more challenging three-hole stretches in the game, with water prominently in play on each hole. USA Today called The Bear Trap “one of the toughest stretches in golf,” and according to Nicklaus, who has returned several times to tweak the layout, including considerable renovations in 2014, “It should be won or lost right here.”
Two-time Honda Classic winner Padraig Harrington (2005, 2015) described his nerves playing The Bear Trap ahead of this week’s tournament.
“You’re never quite comfortable on this golf course until you’re through The Bear Trap,” Harrington said, putting additional emphasis on the par-3 15th and 17th holes. “Certainly 17 is probably one of the toughest holes we play in golf full stop. The three holes, certainly 15 and 17—you are thinking about those holes for a long time and trying to figure out your strategy and just really praying to get through them.”
Harrington won in 2015 on the second hole of a Monday playoff against then TOUR rookie Daniel Berger, the Florida State grad and native of nearby Jupiter, Fla.
“This is not a golf course that it’s easy to defend the lead on,” Harrington said. “You get cautious on so many holes out here. I know The Bear Trap takes all the glory… [but] I found 2 difficult; 5 difficult; 6 has got to be one of the toughest holes in golf. 10 is a big hole… 11 is probably one of the tougher holes out there.
“It’s a lot easier to play The Bear Trap when you’re going into it feeling good about your game.”
This week’s competitive action on the golf course is just one highly anticipated element of the tournament. In 2014, The Honda Classic received a PGA TOUR “Best Of” award as the TOUR’s most fan-friendly event. And in 2016, the fans made it clear that they agree—The Honda Classic set a new attendance record—with more fans than ever before attending every single tournament day, except Sunday.
Ask any one of the 50 local organizations supported by The Honda Classic and they’ll tell you—the more spectators, the better. Through the tournament’s host organization Children’s Healthcare Charity, Inc., The Honda Classic makes grants available to nonprofit organizations in Palm Beach County and throughout South Florida to enhance the health and welfare of children and the future of the community. Chief among those is the tournament’s primary beneficiary, the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which in 2016 received an unprecedented individual grant of $1 million as part of the record $3.212 million that The Honda awarded to charities last year.
“The Honda Classic has been a great event for us for a long time,” Barbara Nicklaus said. “Jack probably played in almost every Honda since the beginning, when it was at Inverrary in Fort Lauderdale.
“When the tournament was moving to Palm Beach Gardens, they called and said, ‘Can we pick your brain a little bit? We’re moving from Broward County to Palm Beach County and we’ve always been involved with children’s charities. When we move to Palm Beach Gardens, we’d like to be a part of your community.’
“Jack and I have always wanted to bring better pediatric care to this area, so we looked at each other from around our kitchen table and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ The Honda has been very supportive of our Foundation since 2007. They helped us to open our flagship hospital in Miami as well as 10 outpatient centers and two external affiliation locations. A lot has happened for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, and The Honda Classic was responsible for basically getting everything started.”
Grounds tickets, Bear Trap tickets and other hospitality tickets and packages for the 2017 Honda Classic are on sale here or by calling 1-844-8Honda8 (844-846-6328).