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Golf World Preview: Beware the Bear Trap

February 28, 2013

From the February 28 issue of Golf World Preview:


Okay, so about the time of the third snowstorm at the Accenture Match Play Championship your bracket in the office pool resembled exit polls from the 2004 Presidential election -- not much was correct. Time to recoup your losses this week by making a wager on how many times holes 15 through 17 on the Champions course at PGA National will be referred to as the Bear Trap during the Golf Channel/NBC broadcast of the Honda Classic. If the over/under is "too many," take the over.

Let's face it, we love to give names to things. I have a tree in my backyard I call Ed. Ever since those dudes were found bugging the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel the word "Gate" has been tacked on the end of any scandal. Football had the Steel Curtain, baseball the Big Red Machine and college basketball the Fab Five. The sad thing about such shorthand is that sometimes it short-changes the subject matter by making the hype newsier than the happening.

That's the dilemma of the Bear Trap. While some may argue about the quality of holes 15-17 from a design standpoint, the difficulty of that stretch is beyond dispute, especially when the wind is up. Since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007, the Bear Trap has accounted for 24 percent of all bogeys in the tournament, 56 of the double bogeys and an astonishing 74 percent of the triple bogeys. Remarkably, 97 percent of annoyed TV viewers are watching the Bear Trap.

What makes that stretch so difficult? Wind. Water. Sand. Contour. Hole location. You know; golf. No. 15 is a 179-yard par-3 that usually plays into the wind with sand left and water right. No. 16 is a 434-yard par-4 that doglegs to the right and slopes toward the water on the right. Bail out left and you have a 220-yard shot over water. No. 17 is another par-3, this one 190 yards. With a bunker long and left and water right, the green is the only place to put the ball, and when the pin is middle-left there is only a 30-foot landing area.

In tournament golf, good things seem to come in threes. Augusta National has Amen Corner, Nos. 11-13 in the Masters. The Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow concludes with the Green Mile. And the Horrible Horseshoe at Colonial in the Crowne Plaza Invitational comes early -- Nos. 3-5. None are more difficult than the Bear Trap, which gets its name from the course's architect, Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear. Get it?

Grab a snack and a beverage and settle in to watch the Honda Classic on TV. And brace yourself for this inevitability: Slow pan of the bear statue (above) at No. 15. Zoom in on the plaque proclaiming the next three holes will kick the stuffing out of you. The announcer's voice takes on a tone both ominous and excited. Then sit back and enjoy as the Bear Trap mauls the field. Cutesy name, annoyingly overused, but great entertainment.

(Photo by Getty Images)