With three charming public courses, a 35-acre state-of-the-art learning and performance center, and a revered golf museum, Port St. Lucie’s PGA Village packs a powerful punch for golf enthusiasts of all ages.
Miles from Naples: 197
About a 45-minute drive north of West Palm Beach just west off Interstate 95, the behemoth resort provides a serene escape from the business of the real world. After playing 18 holes and soaking in all that PGA Village has to offer, it’s easy to see why it was ranked 51st on Golf Digest’s 75 best golf resorts in North America in 2009. It’s also easy to see why 27,000 PGA professionals call PGA Village their home.
No. 12 on the Dye Course at PGA Village. Designed by legendary golf course architect Pete Dye, the Dye Course takes on a links-style course design.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Dick Gray, PGA Village Director of Grounds. “We’re set up right on I-95. It’s an easy drive and it’s easy to get to.”
Golfers can choose from three public courses to play on: The Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye courses. St. Lucie Trail Golf Club, formerly known as PGA Country Club, will open to the public Nov. 1 to round out the resort’s fourth course. “It’s 72 holes and a variety of holes,” Gray said. “It’s not a bunch of cookie cutter golf courses where the holes substitute for people to go through like a gerbil wheel. Each one of these could stand alone by itself.”
The Wanamaker, designed by renowned golf architect Tom Fazio, features the classic Florida layout with wetlands and palm trees. The Ryder, another Fazio creation, has a more Carolina feel to it and is generally the easiest to play. Tom’s brother, Jim Fazio, designed the narrow-fairwayed and quick-greened St. Lucie Trail Golf Club.
Named for Rodman Wanamaker, who in 1916, inspired the birth of The PGA of America, the Wanamaker Course is a classic Florida layout. Designed by Tom Fazio, the course incorporates native Florida to the T: wetlands, palm trees, and palmettos.
Then there’s the Dye. Masterfully sculpted by legendary architect and World Golf Hall of Fame member Pete Dye, the course doesn’t feature a stone-stepped Swilcan Bridge or a Road Hole bunker found at the Old Course at St. Andrews, but it is chock-full of slope-filled, moor-like fairways and grass-based bunkers that will convince you that you’re in Scotland.
“I’ve had people walk off the 18thth green looking for the Haggis; a couple guys even picked up an accent,” Gray said. “That’s how Scottish it is.”
On a warm June afternoon, I teed off on the Average Joe-friendly Ryder, which was named after Ryder Cup founder Samuel Ryder. As I pulled up to tee No. 1, a knowledgeable course adviser greeted me with a scorecard and an assortment of pencils and tees. My starter, Tom, was courteous enough to show me the proverbial ropes by teaching me the history behind the course and explaining how to use the golf cart’s GPS system that hangs from the ceiling. The gizmo, though high-tech and easy-to-use, eradicates some of the more traditional aspects of golf like keeping score on paper and searching for those evasive yards-to-the-hole markers.
Named for Samuel Ryder, of Ryder Cup fame, the Ryder Course takes on a Carolina-esque feel with gently rolling terrain and plenty of water to play hazard.
One thing I noticed before halting my cart and fishing for a club to tee off is that each hole features a plaque below the hole number in which an anecdote for a single Ryder Cup tournament in history is encrypted. From holes No. 1-18, these plaques present a timeline of the Ryder Cup that acts as a portal to the past.
The course itself is laid out beautifully. Rolling hills and sweeping fairways blanket each hole. Scattered along the sides of nearly every fairway are, tall, thin pine trees that shade little else besides fallen pinecones and pine needles, making for a simmering outing on the links. I suggest wearing light clothing and staying hydrated. The greens, kept short, will send your ball shooting past the cup like a meteor if you aren’t prepared for them.
“That’s the way we think it should be played,” said Gray. “We like terminal velocity on the daily basis as far as green speed goes. That’s as fast as the green can be on that particular day given those conditions. At least that’s my definition of terminal velocity.”
While the dance floors played fast, a trio of even faster redheaded sandhill cranes swiftly stalked me along the cart path for three holes, as if it were part of their daily routine. The long-legged birds provided a small glimpse of the wildlife that calls PGA Village home.
Greens on No. 16 of the Ryder Course.
Around 3 p.m., dark, puffy clouds crept westward from the coast. But even as the wind swirled and the thunder rumbled with the prospect of rain, I continued on to the back nine, which luckily proved to be clear and dry. Moral of the story: set up a tee time in the morning before any unwanted weather strolls along.
Gray said while the best time to golf is in the morning, the courses play the best in the months following the middle of October. “That’s when the fairways are firm and the ball goes the farthest.”
A few holes had gone under the knife this summer in preparation for fall’s busy season. As I whizzed passed the right-hand fairway on No. 9, a long stretch of brown fairway grass was circled with off-limits signs planted around it.
As I wound my way through the back nine of the Ryder course, I finally reached the best and last of the holes—No. 18. This long par 4 is a straight shot toward the long-reaching clubhouse, which stares at you, putting on added pressure to finish your round strong. You can choose a driver and whack your tee shot with all your might, but approaching the green is tricky, as deep bunkers and sand traps flank it from every side. But I’ll caution that there is no green jacket presentation upon finishing.
A full four hours in duration by cart, a round here doesn’t present too many challenges to the run-of-the-mill golfer. The course does a wonderful job of incorporating a balanced blend of doglegs and water hazards.
Beyond the Course
An absolute must of a cool-down spot for your nineteenth hole is the Taplow Pub, which is nestled in the clubhouse on the opposing side of the pro shop. I sat in one of its cozy, leather-seated round booths and watched golf on one of the televisions on the surrounding walls. The bar, which is minimized by a massive TV above it, is the hangout spot for locals; a combination of exhausted golfers and nearby neighborhood dwellers clinked wine glasses and filled the room with light chatter. I ordered a delicious bacon-and-cheese-layered Pub Burger, served with the tavern’s signature PGA logo-pressed bun. For a side, you can’t go wrong with a small basket of salty sweet potato fries, all served on a square-plated wooden slab.
The Taplow Tavern, PGA Village’s 19th Hole and central hub.
If you have time, head over to the PGA Museum of Golf to peruse a spectacular collection of golf artifacts. History buff or not, you’ll enjoy seeing some of the past Ryder Cup and PGA Championship trophies that fill the museum.
The PGA Museum of Golf helps preserve golfing history with artifacts and a showcase of the game’s greats. Displays, like Donald Ross’ work bench pictured here, gives museumgoers a chance to connect with games storied history.
Adjacent to the museum is the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance, a 35-acre enhancement facility that includes 7,000-square-feet of putting greens, a three-hole teaching course, and computerized technology that analyzes and aims to fix your putting and swing strokes, among others. It is here that PGA professionals come to sharpen their skills and perfect their games. The center is open to the public on a daily, weekly, or monthly fee basis.
And if you feel as though there’s not enough time in one day to see everything, PGA Village make it a longer stay in one of the resort’s multiple hotels or golf villas.
PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance’s swing analysis lab.
Despite everything it encompasses, the main draw to PGA Village is still its golf courses, something Dick Gray said he’s the lucky one for being allowed to work on them.
“We’ve got two Fazios and a Dye as far as names go,” he said. “You can’t go many places in Florida where you have that quality of architecture.”
South Floridians may want to hurry out and visit PGA Village soon though, as the golf haven could become exclusive in the near future. “As Port St. Lucie grows, we’ll fill up in the next three, four or five years to the point where we’ll probably be closed to the public,” Gray said. “I’m just sensing that.”
The PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance will cure what ails any golfer. The 35-acre, state of the art facility has more than 100 full swing practice stations, nine bunkers with sand from all over the world, a 7,000-square-foot putting green and a three hole teaching course.