Golfers have reason to fear ‘The Bear Trap’ at PGA National course

At the 15th hole on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, the bear’s plaque says, ‘You are now entering The Bear Trap.’
At the 15th hole on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, the bear’s plaque says, ‘You are now entering The Bear Trap.’ For the Miami Herald

Most golf courses have what they call their signature hole, usually the best-looking and most difficult hole on the course.

On the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, there are three holes, taken as an entity, that serve as the course’s defining spot. They are Nos. 15, 16 and 17, and together they are known as the Bear Trap.

There are no bears roaming the course, so why were the three holes given that name?

Because Jack Nicklaus, generally considered the best player in history based upon his 18 major championships, was nicknamed the Golden Bear and also was instrumental in the design of the Champion Course and those three holes at PGA National.

Sergio Garcia, who will play in this year’s tournament that runs from Thursday-Sunday, has said of the Bear Trap, “They are very challenging holes, all of them. Without hitting terrible shots, you can make a double, a par and a bogey, and you leave those three holes 3-over-par and you don’t feel like you’ve hit bad shots.”

Chimed in Robert Allenby, also playing in this year’s event, “On Sunday, when the pin is in the back right on No. 17, this is the hardest hole we play on tour.”

When players approach the 15th hole, they are greeted by an ominous large facsimile of a bear on its hind legs with a plaque saying: “You are now entering The Bear Trap.” The sign goes on to declare, “It should be won or lost here.”

On paper, the Bear Trap holes seem benign enough, two of them being par-3s and the other a par-4. The 15th is a 179-yard par-3, the 16th a 445 par-4 and, finally, the 17th is a 190-yard par-3.

How difficult is the three-hole stretch? Consider these statistics:

▪ Playing the Bear Trap, the Honda Classic fields have been a collective plus-2.571 over par since 2007.

▪ Of the 430 players who have challenged the Bear Trap since 2007, 325 of them — 76 percent — have hit a ball in the water.

▪ Since 2007, there were 974 balls hit by the world’s top pros that found a watery demise in the Bear Trap.

▪ Last year, 48 balls were hit into the water at the 15th and 32 on the 17th.

A year ago, the Honda Classic was decided by the last hole of the Bear Trap.

Padraig Harrington, a long-time tour veteran, and Daniel Berger, playing in only his 12th PGA Tour event, tied in regulation on Monday after stormy weather had pushed the final round back a day from its usual Sunday finish.

The first playoff hole was the 18th, and both Harrington and Berger made their pars on the 580-yard par-5. Then they moved to the 17th, where Harrington had managed (actually, mismanaged) a horrid double-bogey in regulation by hitting into the water. This time, he found the sweet spot with his 5-iron, stopping the ball three feet from the pin. Berger then stepped up and his shot came up short and splashed down into the water.

Harrington went on to close out the playoff and win the title.

And in the process, the Bear Trap — as it so often does — had left its mark once again on the tournament.