(February 27, 2007 – Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
The Champions course at PGA National, the new home of the PGA Tour's Honda Classic, is one of my favorite courses. And, I say that as someone who has lived at the PGA National Resort for many years and who has played the course many times – but always from the forward Red tees.
Here are my insights on not only how the pros will play it this weekend, but also how you will play it when you come back to PGA National to experience what I call the Champ's "Fabulous Forwards."
The pros will play the course at slightly over 7000 yards, but our forward tees are just a little over 5100 yards. I'll do the math: That means that each hole, on average, is about 100 yards longer from the tips than from our tees.
Given that added distance off the tee, except on the par 3's, most pros will land their drive just a little bit longer than where I would land my drive – that's on a good day. The real difference comes from the fact that the pro can get home from that spot whereas I may need a fairway wood, hybrid or iron and then a chip – that's on a good day.
If you need statistics: my USGA Handicap Index is 19.3 but on the Champ course, I play to a 23 because of its high USGA Rating and Slope. When playing well, I can break 100. But women with higher handicaps will still enjoy this course. Follow me on my Honda Classic for Her hole-by-hole analysis
Hole No. 1 (par 4). It's a beautiful elevated tee for the men. The forward tee is down and only slightly elevated – not as beautiful a vista. But for both of us, the green is almost a straight shot and not all that far away. The water on the left of the fairway will not be a problem for me or most women because we just don't drive far enough to reach it. Unless there is a helping-wind, the pro will land his ball about 50 yards from the hole. That's just about where I am with a good drive and a good fairway shot – leaving an up-hill difficult pitch to the green. But, the green-side bunkers are treacherous if your fairway wood or chip strays.
Hole No. 2 (par 4). This hole is also almost straight from tee to green. It's an easy hole for the pros because they can reach the green in two. Most bogey women golfers, however, will have to play a "smart" second fairway shot to position their approach shot in the neck of the fairway. And, this is a very big green! (Whenever I look at a green like this, I remind myself that it's at least 6000 square feet – bigger than a really big house. No wonder I have to take an extra club if the pin is back.)
Hole No. 3 (par 5). I can par this par-5 sometimes. And so will the pros but their approach shot will be a short one and mine requires a high-risk-high-reward longer iron. I hope that tree on the right side of the fairway doesn't block their shot like it sometimes does mine.
Hole No. 4 (par 4). This is a nice strategic hole with no room for error. The pros will not hit their driver. I will hit everything I have from my forward tee and then play a shorter strategic iron because I usually can't hit over the bunker on to the green and stop the ball on a dime. (Most women I play with can't spin the ball very well so small elevated greens like this postage stamp are challenging.) My lay-up shot has to be very accurate because the opening to the green is like the eye of a needle. A bad shot can put you in the very steep bunker. I really dislike the bunkers on this hole!
Hole No. 5 (par 3). This is a nice par 3 that's relatively easy from the both the back and forward tees. Even with a bad wind and a hard pin placement, most women can reach this green from the tee with a short iron. But, I have been overheard to say as I address my tee shot: "There is no water there… there is no water there… "
Hole No 6 (par 4). The course starts heating up on this hole, which will play as a par 4 for the pros but is a par 5 for women from the forward tee. It will be an exciting second shot for the pros to this well-guarded green. I feel lucky when I get on in three and also lucky when I chip on in four. I hope the cameras show the gallery of beautiful birds perched on the trees overlooking the fairway.
Hole No. 7 (par 3). This is a memorable par 3 and for me, it's a very long tee shot. What I like most is that each time I play it, it's always a new experience. The green is large and layered so the pin placement really matters. And there is so much sand and trouble. This will be a good hole to watch.
Hole No. 8 (par 4). This is the first hole on the course with cross-fairway water. Most pros will be able to carry that water on their second shot. But, most women golfers – even from the forward tees – will have to play a short lay-up on their second shot and then hope for a brilliant 100-yard iron shot to the green and one putt. Bogey is still a good score for me on this hole.
Hole No. 9 (par 4). I love the turn into the 9th hole and the view up that beautiful fairway to the green. It's almost impossible for most women to even think of a birdie on this hole – let alone a par. But watch for the pros as they try to stick their second shot close to the pin and make their birdie putt.
Hole No. 10 (par 4). Turn right and head to the tenth tee. The fairway is wide and forgiving on this hole. The hole plays as a par 4 for the pros but is a par 5 for women. The real trouble is that pot bunker almost in front of the green. It seems like I always have to hit over it.
Hole No. 11 (par 4). This is one of my favorite holes – a signature hole on the course. The drive from the back tees -- as well as the forward, must be accurate. A good drive will put me about 110 yards from the pin but the green is nestled right behind an intimidating large pond and the hole plays much longer for me. A too-strong wood will hit the green and roll into the bunker behind the green. A weak iron will end up in the water. The shot requires perfection, which is why many women choose to lay up on and accept a bogey.
Hole No. 12 (par 4). It's time to relax on this hole. Just keep the ball on the left side of the fairway on your tee shot. The green always looks easy but never is.
Hole No. 13 (par 4). Visually, this hole always intimidates me. There is water on my right, bunkers on my left and an elevated green. I did par it last time I played but I don't think I can hit that perfect 7-wood to the green again and one-putt. (Yes, my drive was poor, and then I chunked my second shot from the tall grass). This promises to be a dramatic hole on TV.
Hole No. 14 (par 4). This hole is deceptive. It plays longer than it looks and the green is difficult. This is the hole where I vow to practice my short game.
Hole No. 15 (par 3). This is another very memorable par 3 and the beginning of the famous three-hole "Bear Trap." The distance is manageable even from the forward tee, but the choice of club is critical. Off the forward tee, there is an easy bail-out shot on the left that takes the water out of play. And, you can still earn a par with a good chip and putt.
Hole No. 16 (par 4). This is considered the most challenging hole on the course, and it plays that way from the forward tee as well. It's one of my favorites. Most women cannot carry the water on their second shot so they lay-up to a very narrow fairway about 100 yards from the green. I hope the aerial shots catch that view. I've over-shot the lay-up and landed in the water running up the left side of the fairway too many times. The only way I could par this hole is if they moved the forward tee up another 50 yards!
Hole No. 17 (par 3). From the back tees this is a very difficult hole but the forward tees often sit 100 yards closer, which makes the hole much easier for us – if you can accurately hit 100 yards over water to a small green. (There is a safe bail-out shot from our tee if you have had enough challenge for the day.) If the pin placement is in the back, watch out; there is steep bank behind the green and my ball has rolled down into that water many times.
Hole No. 17 (par 5). This is one of the most beautiful finishing holes in golf. Every time I walk up that fairway, I feel good. I feel very good when my third shot is on the green. I feel fantastic when I sink my putt!
As the Honda Classic hits the headlines, the men will dominate the photos and the news. After all, it is a PGA Tour event. But, women, this course is very playable.
Over the past few years, the course has been doctored-up in anticipation of hosting the Honda Classic. When you stretch a rubber band, it stretches at both ends. The result is that the tournament tees became longer and better and the forward tees became shorter and better. The Champ's Red tees still earn a Slope of 136, but I think it plays a little easier than that. In addition, the playing experience for women at PGA National is one of the best because it has one of the best female head golf professionals in the business, Jane Broderick – LPGA and PGA Professional.
Have fun watching the tournament on TV, but have more fun when you come back and play the course yourself from the Champ's Fabulous Forwards.