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Forget about The Bear Trap: Here’s why pros fear PGA National’s 11th hole

March 17, 2021
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Cliff Hawkins

There have always been two timeless elements golf courses could turn to as deterrents to the evolving onslaughts of the professional game. The most effective defense is one they can’t control: The wind. The links courses of Great Britain and Ireland, for instance, can be the world’s sternest and sometimes unforgiving tests when the wind is up, but when it’s down they generally offer little resistance to skilled players. The other, long rough, is controllable. In last year’s U.S. Open, Bryson DeChambeau made Winged Foot, where penalizing rough is inseparable from the club’s championship reputation, look mortal. But no one else in the field broke 280.

March winds, which typically blow 10 to 15 miles per hour or more in south Florida, and wiry Bermuda rough are the recipes that regularly keep PGA National’s Champion course, host of the Honda Classic since 2007, one of the tour’s top 10 most difficult courses (in relation to the par of 70). The other factors are a series of time-bomb holes like the long, par-4 11th that, combining water, wind and rough, are capable of extracting maximum destruction in the blink of an eye.

THE HOLE

There’s nothing frilly or deceptive about the Champion’s 11th hole. It plays straight away to a fairway that’s generous by tour standards, 34 yards in the primary landing zone, though it narrows the farther drives travel. A lake comes into play on a straight line 310 yards off the tee and a second lagoon stretches the length of the fairway beyond the rough on the left. Approach shots, usually played from 150 to 190 yards, must carry over water to a crescent shaped green with no room for errors short.

WHY IT MATTERS

The most statistically difficult par 4 at PGA National is usually the sixth, a par 5 that’s played as a par 4 during the tournament with water running down the left. But the 11th, just a fraction behind it, is more intimidating because there’s no way to hedge away from its defenses. The water fronting the green must be cleared—that’s non-negotiable. But hitting second shots out of the dense rough turns that into a gambling proposition. Many players opt to club down for accuracy but that leaves longer, less-lofted irons played to a shallow green that must also hold the line in the steady crosswinds.

THE GREEN COMPLEX

It’s rare that shots that come up short or roll back toward the water stay dry on the bank, but it does occasionally happen. More common are airballs that fail to reach land, leading to almost certain double bogeys. As the StrackaLine heat map shows, the green is fairly receptive, with several flat areas and a small ridge running laterally through the center that helps keep shots toward the center of the putting surface. But notice the small downturns at the back edge—these rolls push long approaches off the green into a rear chipping area that leaves touchy recovery shots to a putting surface that races away toward the water. Scrambling for par from off the green during the last five tournaments has been a 40-percent proposition.

STATS

The Champion course at PGA National is best known for the collection of holes 15, 16 and 17, known as “The Bear Trap.” Huge numbers can be run up through this stretch, but as a group they have little on the 11th. Since 2016 the hole has notched 123 double bogeys and 31 “others” (compared to 178 double bogeys and 26 “others” at the par 3 15th), including an average of nine balls per round sent into the drink (again, second only to 15).

(Green-reading map: Courtesy of StrackaLine)