PGA National Resort's Haig Course: A little pricey, a lot of fun for hackers
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Older resort golf courses without historical significance tend to get tossed aside quicker than trophy wives.
Its showcase Champion Course underwent a renovation to wow the PGA Tour players — and therefore the public — as the new host of the Honda Classic. The resort itself has overhauled all its rooms, put in plush sheets, flat-screen TVs and bathrooms that Martha Stewart could appreciate.
Only there's one thing at PGA National that's stood the test of quick golf time: The Haig course. This Tom and George Fazio design came in as the first course at the now five-course resort. It opened in 1980 and while everything's changed around it — Director of Golf Bob Coman remembers when I-95 didn't even reach Palm Beach Gardens — Haig has stood strong.
Even today, it's the second-best golf course at PGA National. Champion Course is clearly the class of this South Florida getaway spot, the reason golfers should have this place on their vacation radar. But the Haig gives PGA National some added value. It's a second-thought course that is anything but second class.
"The Haig still ends up being the course that a lot of the guests who stay for a week will play more than any other course," PGA National caddie Kevin McCaffrey said.
It turns out there's still room for an interesting course that doesn't go out its way to beat hackers up. Should anyone be surprised? Some things just don't go out of style.
Haig is subtle in its forgiveness. Water is found on 15 of its 18 holes, but there's always room and always a bailout, to go around it. Water on 15 holes, but not one forced carry. That math is almost hard to digest. From the Fazios, no less.
Of course for a golfer who had his clubs packed away in the garage all winter, it's an equation that can make that long-awaited Florida golf escape all the more enjoyable.
"You can't just beat up the guys who are swinging their clubs for the first time in a few months," Coman said. "There has to be a balance at a resort like this."
Haig provides that balance with some style. Just because you can take the easy way out on several holes doesn't mean that they're uninteresting. There's a dogleg with as many curves as Beyonce with a green out on a near peninsula (No. 6).
There's a par 5 that has you shooting down a corridor of trees and houses that could make a gnome feel claustrophobic (No. 17). There's a nice run of two water par 3s in three holes (No. 5 and No. 7).
You're not going to get lost in Florida nature on the 6,806-yard Haig, unless your idea of nature is a retiree's backyard garden. Houses run along a lot of holes. Traffic noise comes through loud and clear on some. Heck, the fifth hole puts you right behind PGA of America headquarters.
It's sort of neat to be putting out with three tall palm trees right overhead and the PGA of America lettering on the building over your shoulder.
Haig is named for Walter Hagen, the 11-time major winner and pro golfer pioneer who once used a Rolls Royce as his dressing room. Hagen is famously quoted as saying, "You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry. Don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way." That flower line is used in the Haig Course's literature and it seems fitting for a track that seems to understand golf is supposed to be fun.
"Most of us aren't playing for a living," McCaffrey said.
Don't hurry. Don't worry. Don't even think of fretting over the wet stuff. You're playing Haig.
PGA National's Haig: The verdict
Haig isn't a golf masterpiece. It's a fun course. It will never win an architectural award or get a glossy layout in a magazine. It's not close too trendy enough for any of that.
Instead it's a good course at a semi-decent price. The $147 high-season greens fee (and $40 extra for a cart you do not need on this walkable track) seems a little high. And it probably is, but it's not crazy high for a course in a Palm Beach region where the rich, richer and richest run around.
This section of South Florida is full of exclusive high-end luxury golf communities such as Frenchman's Creek. That tends to push up the price tag on the public golf too.
On this visit, greens that were in very suspect shape on the first four holes made that price seem even steeper. The grounds crew was already working on the problem, though.
If you're only going to splurge on one course at PGA National, make sure it's Champion. If you're in the area for a while and are looking for a convenient play, turn to Haig.
Palm Beach Gardens dining
Seasons 52 (561-625-5852) is a Florida chain that's spreading, but it's unlike any other chain restaurant you've ever seen before. It's an actual upscale restaurant with good cooking — as opposed to say, your average Cheesecake Factory.
The gimmick here is that no dishes are more than 475 calories. Somehow taste hasn't been sacrificed. The salmon's great, the venison's good and the $1.95 desert shots just scream for sampling.
The catch comes in the wait. At the Palm Beach Gardens location on PGA Boulevard, right near the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, you're talking an hour most weekdays, minimum. On weekends, two to three hours is the norm.
Stay and play
PGA National Resort & Spa (800-633-9150) has four golf courses right outside the resort doors -including Haig — one more course down the road, and a Don Shula's steakhouse. The beds are plusher than you expect and the quiet mornings can relax the most harried road warrior.
The Haig is one the PGA National's four courses that are still open to public play during the week of the annual Honda Classic.
May 18, 2007