t’s our first day on property at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and my buddy and I are seven holes into a spirited contest appropriately being played on The Match course, a layout conceived by Andy Staples that opened a couple of years ago. As we approach the eighth hole, I’m two up and feeling confident, but my friend has a stroke in hand, so anything is possible.
More importantly, as the winner of the last hole, I have a decision to make: from where are we going to tee off? This isn’t a one-off wrinkle that’s unique to our match; instead, it’s an intentional attribute of the course’s design. Each hole features flowing teeing areas. Some extend in straight lines. Others meander around small creeks and watering holes. Occasionally, these ribbon-like teeing grounds even trundle over subtle mounds, which introduces the prospect of having to hit an opening shot from a challenging side-hill lie. But these continuous tee boxes, which can affect the length of some holes by more than 220 yards, are an integral aspect of the course’s identity. More specifically, they add an extra element of strategy to a golf match, as players can customize the holes as they go.
Staring down the straight, albeit undulating eighth fairway—one that’s flanked by a wide channel of water running the entire length of the hole’s right side—I ultimately pick out a spot on the tee box that positions the flagstick 295 yards away. That makes the hole drivable for me, but not for my buddy. Moreover, it has the potential to negate the stroke that I’m giving him, provided I can hit a good tee shot.
According to Jane Broderick, PGA National’s former (though longtime) director of golf, the course resonated with resort guests from the moment it opened; however, it took the club’s members more time to understand and embrace it. “After about two rounds,” she says, “it dawned on them that every time they play The Match, it can be a different golf course.”
One thing that golfers shouldn’t expect to do at any point during a round on The Match is measure their play against par. It doesn’t exist here. Instead, the competitive aspect of the course is rooted solely in how you stack up against your opponent.
“It’s designed to approach golf a little bit differently,” Broderick explained shortly after the course opened for play. “As I’ve walked the naysayers off the ledge, I’ve told them that when golf originated in Scotland, there weren’t 19 sets of tees, no one had a handicap, and there weren’t course ratings and slope ratings. Everyone just went out and played and had fun.”
That was the vision that motivated the course’s creator, too. “I want everyone who plays The Match, to say, ‘I had the most fun I’ve had on a golf course in years,’” says Staples. “I want it to be about social interaction and doing the things we love about the game of golf with friends and family. I didn’t want it to be a card-and-pencil kind of golf course experience.”
As golf resorts continue to evolve, PGA National Resort is leading the way, which means if you’ve not visited the property since the Palm Beach Gardens staple completed a $100 million renovation in the spring of 2023, you must first forget everything you think you knew about the resort. Yes, PGA National is still home to a Jack Nicklaus–designed championship course, one that continues to welcome an annual PGA Tour event and previously hosted the Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship. Additionally, the property remains a sanctuary for those looking to improve their games, as the resort is home to the Leadbetter Golf Academy, a Dave Pelz Scoring Game Golf School, and Mike’s Honest Golf, a mobile club-fitting operation.
But PGA National Resort is now a holistic golf and leisure resort, thanks to the aforementioned renovation. Most notably, the 360-room property features a 40,000-square-foot destination spa, one that offers a full slate of traditional treatments, as well as therapeutic recovery and restorative offerings including acupuncture, acupressure and cupping. In addition, the spa is home to Himalayan salt rooms and a collection of outdoor mineral pools, branded Waters of the World, both of which utilize salts imported from Israel’s Dead Sea and France’s Salies-de-Béarn—two natural aquatic areas known for their healing capabilities. As an extension of the spa, Groom Guy offers discerning resort guests a chance to relax in an atypical way, namely seated in a barber’s chair. With a Macallan cocktail or whiskey in hand, those guests can take it easy as classically trained stylists offer haircuts, clean shaves, beard trimming and other services.
The menu of services at PGA National’s new spa includes a handful of treatments enhanced by organic honey that is cultivated on site. The resort offers a curated Beekeeping Experience, which allows a select number of guests a chance to peek inside those hives. Led by a professional beekeeper, guests don protective beekeeping uniforms and visit four, on-site hives where they’ll learn more about the existence of the 250,000 honeybees kept at the resort and the important role that such bees play in the planet’s ecosystem. Best of all, guests will enjoy a fresh-from-the-comb taste of the bees’ raw honey.
Memorable tastes abound elsewhere at the resort, too. In fact, some might argue that the resort’s food and beverage program is the amenity that benefited most from Brookfield Properties’ sizeable investment. Nowhere is this displayed better than The Butcher’s Club, a classically inspired steakhouse conceptualized by chef Jeremy Ford, the season 13 winner of Top Chef. Sporting an overall Art Deco–inspired aesthetic, the restaurant’s swanky dining rooms evoke a luxury rail car of a bygone era, while hickory-shafted clubs displayed in the foyer and framed black-and-white golf photos hanging in the main dining room serve as a tip of the cap to the primary lifestyle that has drawn members and guests to the resort since it opened in 1980.
While indulgent offerings such as Tomahawk and Beef Wellington experiences epitomize dinners at The Butcher’s Club, lighter fare is at the ready at Honeybelle—a farm fresh concept that embraces seasonality—while exotic flavors abound during the 12- and 17-course omakase sushi meals served at Sushi by Bou.
Even the resort’s accommodations have benefited from a serious makeover. Every guest room and suite was redesigned and redecorated with nostalgic sensibilities. Those at the resort have coined the aesthetic “1960s Palm Beach chic,” and it’s a fitting moniker. Moreover, the interior design is so sharply executed that guests may do a double-take the first time they see their accommodations. That said, the resort has also recently introduced 21, two-bedroom cottages that are ideal landing pads for golf buddy trips.
“We’ve unbuttoned the top buttons of our golf shirts,” Broderick says, commenting on all aspects of the resort, from its new courses to reimagined restaurants and a superlative spa. “It’s not our grandfather’s game anymore. We’re taking it in a new fresh direction.”