PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie: Ryder Course shines after renovation

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Tom Fazio's Ryder course at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, offers a track that'll suit hackers as well as those who play the short game, even if it still has its imperfections.

Ryder Course at PGA Village
Ryder Course has you blasting out of some strangely shaped bunkers.
Ryder Course at PGA VillageRyder Course at PGA Village - bunkersRyder Course at PGA Village - water carryRyder Course at PGA Village - par 3 seventh
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Ryder Course at PGA Golf Club

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1916 Perfect Dr
Port Saint Lucie, Florida 34986
Saint Lucie County
Phone(s): (800) 800-4653, (772) 467-1300
18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 71 | 6826 yards | ... details »

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A renovation is redoing your kitchen cabinets or adding a deck. What Tom Fazio's Ryder Course at PGA Golf Club went through is more like what Michael Jackson did to his face.

Though, the Ryder's results are pretty.

"With the Ryder Course, it's almost like they completely started from scratch," Head Professional David Trout said.

They even changed the name from its blah North Course designation. Not that anyone is likely to mourn the passing of that layout. Or even much remember it.

In its prior incarnation, this clearly stood out as the third of the three PGA Golf Club courses (this is the only public facility in the country solely owned and operated by the PGA of America). Golfers would play the other Fazio (now called Wanamaker Course) and the Dye Course and sort of trudge through this track if it had the only tee times available.

Now, the Ryder is a worthy play of its own. It's the most hacker friendly of the three courses. You're not going to get as beat up here as you can by Wanamaker's huge obstacles or Dye's demented ingenuity. On the Ryder, there are wider fairways, less dramatic breaks in the greens, more chances to post a good score.

It's a tamer golf course.

"Ryder's a good course to play over a few beers," vacationing golfer Anthony Weingard said.

The thorough makeover only added 30 yards to a course that was rated a Top 50 for women by Golf For Women magazine two years running in its North Course life. Instead of muscling things up, Fazio's team concentrated on the bunkers and greens.

Ryder has smaller, tricky greens that place an even greater emphasis on the short game.

"The greens are a little more restrictive (than on the other courses)," Trout said. "Getting the ball to stay on there is not a given."

That can befuddle big hitters while leaving their 9-iron-happy counterparts to thrive. Some of the biggest changes at Ryder came in making the course a little less daunting on approach. On No. 1, the sloping green was lowered about three feet and a one bunker removed to make sure golfers don't have heart attacks before their morning coffee even kicks in.

This kind of softening is repeated in several other holes.

Fazio doesn't go monster on the bunkers at Ryder either. Instead he shows his artistic side with bunkers in shapes that an origamist, or at least one of those balloon animal creators, would appreciate. There are bunkers that look like four leaf clovers, bunkers that seem to have a nose, bunkers with apparent feet.

I swear one bunker was shaped like Papa Smurf, complete with one of those Smurf hats. But maybe that's just me. Someone else saw it as a mushroom.

It can get to the point where you wonder if you're taking one of those Rorschach ink blot tests or golfing.

Of course the bunkers could be shaped like Jessica Simpson and they'd still be no fun if you were in them all day.

There are holes like No. 11 where there's a great possibility of spending almost all your time punching out of Fazio's playpen. This is a 399-yard dogleg right with a water clear off the back tees and big bunkers that drop off below an elevated fairway.

Ryder surprises with just how rolling it can be. Looking down the fairways from the tees, the elevation changes don't seem very dramatic. But out in those fairways, those slight up and downs can make a big difference with your score.

Some of Ryder's little nooks and dips can downright swallow up a golfer. You'll look around, assume one of your playing partners must have gone into woods and then see him pop out from behind a little hill.

Just another Ryder illusion.

Ryder course at PGA Golf Club: The verdict

Ryder is not a perfect course. Trout thinks it will be much better in about a year from reopen (which would be October 2008) when the renovation matures some along with the conditions. At its $85 weekday rate, it's an enjoyable play right now, though.

In fact, on this visit, its tee sheet turned out to be the most crowded of all three PGA Golf Club courses. Regular golfers like a course where they have a chance to hit some good shots.

Ryder also gives you a good idea of how much even sleepy Port St. Lucie's grown in South Florida. There are a lot of homes, more than you'll find on Wanamaker. The par-3 seventh plays toward a number of enclosed backyards with swimming pools.

If you play the course on a windy day — and it's often windy in the Florida winter — you'll quickly find out why those pools need protection from near-major-league-ballpark nets and screens.

Some things you just cannot soften.

"With the ball getting up there in the wind and reading those greens, it's still a good challenge," Columbus, Ohio, golfer Kevin Cossin said.

Even when he's pretty, Tom Fazio's not exactly tickling you.

Port St. Lucie hotels

PGA Village's Hilton Garden Inn in Port St. Lucie is a new hotel minutes from the golf courses' clubhouse and right across the street from the PGA Learning Center.

It turns out to be an easy hotel to love in an area without a lot of them. The rooms are very nice, the staff's super courteous and there are tons of extras like laundry machines for guest use.

Port St. Lucie dining

There's a Sam Snead's full of golf memorabilia right off the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn.

Not far away on the main drag of Port St. Lucie, skip all the fast food chains and hit West End Grill for some often inventive cooking. Just be sure you know what you're in for if you order the corned beef sloppy joe.

Fast Fact

Ryder has more pine trees than the other PGA Golf Club courses, but the fairways are wide enough that they are not much of a factor.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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