Fairway foray

Sports Travel

August 31, 2022

PGA National Resort’s $100 million makeover sparkles, delivering guests a golf paradise from tee to green.

by Michael J. Solender

Matt Denzer steadies his iPad, positions himself at a 45-degree angle and begins filming me, hunched over a golf ball, an 8-iron clenched tightly between my fists. “Try it again, but loosen your grip a bit and take the club back a little further,” says Denzer, a master instructor at Leadbetter Golf Academy, a premier golf school with a global reputation for sharpening the games of top pros and weekend warriors alike. “Great contact. Did you feel the difference? You got this!”

It’s 9 a.m. and already 80 degrees in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. I’m only 30 minutes into a half-day playing lesson, with Denzer as my guide. A few yards down the range, a 13-year-old girl, one of Denzer’s top students, is crushing drives 220 yards out, each with a nice baby draw. I’m perspiring profusely, and I’m starting to wear through my golf glove. 

I arrived at PGA National Resort less than 15 hours ago, and I’m already loving every minute of it. One of the country’s top golf destinations for decades, PGA National recently upped its game with a $100 million reimagination, polishing every facet of this Florida gem. The resort’s new owners — Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management — used the pandemic-induced downtime of the last two years to create a completely new backdrop for the next generation of family vacations, buddies’ golf trips and couples getaways.

Palm Beach nostalgia provides a chic ’60s tropical elegance throughout the property. Upon entering the glistening lobby illuminated by two massive palm-leaf chandeliers, my eyes are drawn to the dark burgundy and black marble lobby bar. A giant sculpted banyan tree trimmed with more than 1,500 lights glimmers, and the bar seamlessly flows outside to a high terrace overlooking a pool deck rimmed with lanky date palms. Hues of gold, pink, green and burnt orange integrate into a warm, beachy haze, where Sinatra and the Rat Pack would feel right at home sipping Negronis and Sazeracs while taking in the scene. 

I make a mental note to come back later for a pre-dinner cocktail. I’ve got some serious golf to take on after my lesson, as the resort’s renovations have extended to the courses as well.


Five 18-hole courses and one nine-hole course are accessible from the same pro shop. The personalized service — from greeting me at check-in and whisking away my clubs, to having my sticks loaded up on a cart and ready to go each morning — are all part of the resort’s high-touch approach. 

PGA National’s main draw is, of course, the Champion Course, home to the annual spring test, the Honda Classic. This course, perennially named one of the best in the U.S., was originally designed by Tom and George Fazio for major tournament play then redesigned in 2014 by Jack Nicklaus, who added the infamous “Bear Trap,” a brutal stretch of three notoriously tough holes. On a calm day, the course plays long and, while a test for high handicappers like me, is more forgiving than when the winds are up. 

Three other classics, the Palmer, Fazio and Estate, deliver scenic and challenging rounds with a bit less difficulty. I focus my attention on the resort’s two newest additions, designed by esteemed course architect Andy Staples. The Staple is a short course with nine holes ranging from 60 to 130 yards. The par-3 course offers a fun, short-game challenge for groups or even solo shooters like me.  

Adjacent is The Match, a challenging yet accessible course with a design that encourages each player to be the architect of his own, individualized round. There are no set tee markers, and players can use the set-up for traditional stroke play with a cumulative score or for match play, engaging in a hole-by-hole competition. 

After a round, guests can get pampered at the resort’s shiny new spa envisioned by Venus Williams’ V Starr interior design firm. Here, 40,000 square feet of pure indulgence awaits: Guests can soak in the Waters of the World mineral pools and choose from more than 100 specialized treatments, from sports massages to facials to a rejuvenating session in the Himalayan salt chamber.


At PGA National, the resort experience includes a culinary program led by two Top Chef alumni. Jeremy Ford, season 13 winner of Bravo’s reality cooking show, brings his chops to the Butcher’s Club, where he serves as the executive chef and culinary director. The Florida native, who was Eater Miami’s 2018 Chef of the Year while at the helm of Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach, delivers a nontraditional steakhouse experience in a retro-cool setting.

Blue crab and pea shoot agnolotti is an unexpected starter, yet here I am very much enjoying the pillows of fresh spinach pasta enveloping a ricotta-tinged filling. Light and springy, the pasta is bathed in brown butter and herbs with a hint of lemon oil, piquing my appetite for the main event to come. 

A 10-ounce wagyu filet accompanied by Ford’s smashed and crispy Potatoes Brava — crunchy, bacony, boiled-then-fried new potatoes tossed in Parmesan and truffle oil, was a knockout. Paired with sautéed wild mushrooms with a peppercorn glaze and accompanied by a glass of bold cabernet, dinner was elegant yet unfussy.

The resort’s Honeybelle offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in an indoor/outdoor beach-like setting. Top Chef veteran and North Carolina native Lindsay Autry is executive chef. A Johnson & Wales University graduate, Autry brings a Southern flair to the menu of elevated comfort-food classics like the lemon- and rosemary-brined fried chicken, along with wood-fired pizzas, burgers, salads, tuna poke bowls and more. Another casual dining option can be found at Birdie’s, a retro Happy Days-style diner with great burgers, fish tacos and old-fashioned milkshakes. 

With more than a half-dozen daily direct flights from Charlotte to Palm Beach International Airport, the Queen City is only 90 minutes away from this golfer’s paradise. With the resort’s rich slate of amenities and sleek new look, all that’s needed is a golf game that’s ready for action. 

Next time, I hope to bring mine.  SP

Photographs by Will Pryce / Getty Images / PGA Tour

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