Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Bear Trap

Two par 3s and a par 4.

It doesn't sound like much, but this weekend, the best players in the world might find it a little challenging. Well, they did last year - and every year that PGA National has hosted the Honda Classic, actually. At least that's what the hype says.

But are the holes really that hard?

Holes No. 15, 16 and 17 at the PGA National Champion course will be spotlighted, I'm sure, during the 2010 Honda Classic, which begins Thursday. Nicknamed the Bear Trap, they've been called the toughest three holes on the PGA Tour, and that's a pretty bold statement, considering Amen Corner at Augusta, the last three holes on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and 14-16 at Bay Hill.

On paper, the holes don't appear hard at all, except for the fact that No. 16 is the course's No. 2 handicap hole. But 15 and 17 are par 3s that play 179 and 172 and are ranked the third easiest and easiest holes on the scorecard, respectively.

But water and wind play huge roles when you actually get out there and play the holes. You have to carry your tee shots over water on both par 3s, and the 434-yard par 4 16th has water down the entire right side. Yes, that is intimidating.

Originally designed by Tom and George Fazio, it has hosted a Ryder Cup, PGA Championship and 18 Senior PGA Championships. In 1990, Jack Nicklaus redesigned the Champion course, and it's been hosting the Honda Classic since 2007. In honor of Nicklaus, the 15-17 three-hole stretch was dubbed the Bear Trap.

It's interesting to watch the ads for this weekend's Honda Classic. You know, the one with Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els and Y.E. Yang - if I remember correctly - knocking ball after ball into the water during play on the Bear Trap holes.

I played the Champion course at PGA National in November. I hit the greens on both par 3s and two-putted for pars, but I double-bogeyed No. 16. I never hit the water, but I just hit a couple of bad shots en route to my 6. Granted, I was playing from the white tees, which means the holes played 143, 353 and 131, but I still had to hit the shots. After that good stretch of golf, I was smiling. And even after I teed off on No. 18, (see photo to the right), I still was smiling.

Of course, I should have been a little more focused because even if you make it through the Bear Trap relatively unscathed, you have the Champion course's finishing hole with which to contend. For the pros, it has another tee shot over water and plays 556 yards. For me, I got to tee off on the other side of the water hazard, but it still was 507 yards. I carded a snowman on the hole.

But I didn't get caught in the Bear Trap.