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Golf in Palm Beach County, Florida

Finally, a logical and highly probable explanation for the lengthy legal maneuvering over the presidential election vote count in Palm Beach County: all of those visiting lawyers and politicians just wanted more time to play the outstanding golf courses located here.

This speculative yearning is easily understandable. As the largest land mass county east of the Mississippi River, Palm Beach County is home to 140 or so golf courses, among them a few of the oldest courses in Florida. With the renovations of some of the area's venerable tracks and the addition of excellent new courses, all within a 30-mile area, this year round destination is worthy of both a first visit and a return trip.

Start your journey in the southern end of the county at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. The Resort Course here, originally designed by William Flynn in 1926, underwent a complete redesign and reconstruction by Gene Bates in 1998.

The terrain now boasts deep swales and high mounds, with water features and floral landscaping that make it one of the more visually exotic courses to be found outside of Hawaii.

Although somewhat short at 6,253 yards from the back tees, the variety of holes and overall character of the course makes it a rewarding play for any level of golfer.

The par five, 528-yard number 16 is indicative of what awaits here. The tee shot requires precision in order to avoid water to the left and an ancient tree with multiple trunks on the right (during the reconstruction of the course, care was taken to preserve the trees). For the big hitters the opportunity to reach the green in two is available, but water crosses the fairway 100 yards in front of the green, making the approach a bit more challenging.

Boca Raton Resort & Club guests also have access to its Country Club Course seven miles to the west, which had its greens reconstructed to USGA standards in 1999. The average green size was increased by half and now checks in at 6,800 square feet. Plenty of water makes this a tougher challenge than the Resort Course.

When Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers and Pro Player Stadium, bought the Boca Raton Resort & Club in 1997, he also invested in the Grande Oaks Golf Club just to the south.

Notable in its earlier incarnation as the site where the legendary golf comedy "Caddyshack" was filmed, Grande Oaks is now used by resort guests who can enjoy a club transformed in 1999 to a championship layout with Raymond Floyd's design contribution.

Now measuring 6,940 from the back tees, it features century-old oak trees throughout the course and not one palm is visible, adding to the un-Florida appearance of the property.

For those guests wanting to enhance their skills before venturing out on the courses, the Resort provides two options.

A Nicklaus Flick Game Improvement golf school is located onsite at the Resort course, and among its offerings is a For Women Only golf program. Over at the Resort's Country Club course, improve your putting and chipping at the Dave Pelz Short Game School.

With major renovations completed in 1997, the Mizner Trail Golf Club in Boca Raton joined the list of the better courses in Palm Beach County. Tee boxes, greens and bunkers were redone, and those efforts still shine today on this Joe Lee layout which comes in at 6,842 yards.

The ninth hole, a par four dogleg right, was especially enhanced with the creation of a pond that comes into play toward the green.

The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, founded in 1896 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the proud home of the oldest 18-hole golf course in Florida. The 104-year-old Ocean Course recently underwent a complete renovation, and the results only enhance the Resort's reputation as a first class destination.

Designer Brian Silva applied a subtle and sure manner in creating a traditional and attractive layout here. The new 440-yard par four sixth hole finishes with a long approach shot over water, one of the new challenges on the course.

Field stone uncovered during the restoration has been used to enhance the appeal of several holes and a crossing bridge over a pond.

To top off all the changes, a new 32,000 square foot golf and tennis clubhouse is slated to open early this year. Located just a few hundred yards from the main hotel, the three-story facility is sure to live up to the Resort's high standards when completed.

Another golf option available owned by The Breakers is The West course, located some 12 miles inland amidst 700 acres of lush foilage and native wildlife.

At 6,893 yards, this track offers another level of challenge for guests of the hotel, who can take advantage of complimentary bus shuttle service provided to the course.

Emerald Dunes is a Tom Fazio design in West Palm Beach ranked 39th on GOLF Magazine's "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" in 2000. In addition to excellent golf, Emerald Dunes features another high point -- literally.

Material from the excavation of nearby ponds was used to form the SuperDune, a large hill on which several tee boxes, greens and even a cascading waterfall now reside. Once considered for bulldozing in the initial planning design, the feature was instead preserved and today provides an unusual elevation change in the otherwise flat landscape of south Florida.

The three finishing holes at Emerald Dunes are especially notable. The 16th is a 181-yard par three all carry over water, bordered at the rear of the hole by thick vegetation that frames the green nicely. The par five, 580-yard 17th hole requires a good carry to the fairway, although a narrow stretch of land leads from the tee box to the landing area. This hole narrows down toward the green and demands both precision and some deliberate strategy to negotiate the dogleg left.

The tee box for 18 is set at the crest of the highest point on the course, with a lake to the right of the tee box. A stream also begins nears the various sets of tees on this hole, providing a soothing soundtrack, if not a safe landing, for tee shots.

Two other courses in the Emerald Dunes Golf Group worth mentioning are Cypress Creek in Boynton Beach (20 minutes south of Emerald Dunes), a Robert vonHagge design with wide fairways and a traditional parkland look, and the Polo Trace Country Club in Delray Beach (five minutes south of Cypress Creek).

Binks Forest, located in the Wellington community of West Palm Beach, meets the true definition of a championship course: two of the annual Florida Southern Tour professional events are held here.

Named after Binks Glisson, the original property owner, this 7,065 yard course was designed by Johnny Miller in 1990 and is one of the tougher tracks in the state. Thickly wooded landscape and the ample space between holes give it the look of a Carolina course. During the winter months the course is overseeded throughout. The course has two appealing sister properties, Greenview Cove, also in Wellington, and The Village in Royal Palm Beach.

Even though the PGA National Resort & Spa attained Silver Medal Award status in 2000 from GOLF Magazine, the property continues to revitalize itself, undergoing major renovations recently of guest rooms, restaurants, and spa. The Professional Golfers Association of America also has its headquarters here, and with five good golf courses the community is a strong attraction for golfers from all over the world.

On the Champion course, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1990, the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes are known as "The Bear Trap," a name acquired after the trio was included in the "Ten Toughest Holes on the Senior Tour" rankings in 1992.

As difficult as it is, the 186-yard par three 17th is one of the most appealing holes at PGA National. The tee shot must carry water all the way, hold a green crowned along the water's edge and avoid receptive bunkers threatening on either side of the putting surface.

The Arnold Palmer design here is named The General, a layout with a links feel, and The Estate Course is used by the PGA of America as the primary site for their Club Professional Winter Tournament Program each year.

The Squire Course, done by Tom and George Fazio, is named after Gene Sarazen. While it is the shortest of the courses here, golfers must negotiate 63 bunkers and 17 water hazards.

The Haig Course was the first to open at PGA National back in March of 1980. Another Tom and George Fazio design, this one uses blooming rose bushes at the 150 yard markers as a tribute to the course's namesake, Walter Hagen, who often advised people to "stop and smell the roses." He probably didn't say that during a competitive round, unless as a matter of gamesmanship to distract an opponent.

The Academy of Golf at PGA National has Mike Adams, one of GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Teachers, as Director of Instruction. His students have included tour professionals such as Michelle McGann, Jim Albus, Rick Fehr, and Bob Estes, as well as celebrities Jim Palmer, Jack Nicholson, and Michael Douglas.

As would be expected of any resort that encompasses five golf course, PGA National also provides many diversions off the links. With over 300 renovated guest rooms and outstanding recreational facilities, this resort provides just about everything a golfing vacation requires. Add to the mix a spa facility that specializes in working with golfers on flexibility, and it's no surprise that your game may improve as much as your tan while staying here.

One of the newest courses in Palm Beach County is Abacoa, located on the western edge of Jupiter near I-95. This Joe Lee design provides plenty of opportunities for long hitters to be aggressive off the tee thanks to broad fairways and minimal rough over its 7,200 yards.

The front nine opens and finishes with two long par fours, number one at 447 yards and number nine at 449 yards, with both par threes on this side measuring 200 yards plus from the back tees. The elevated tee box on the tenth hole presents an appealing vista of the enormous landing area for tee shots on this dogleg left, with the water becoming a factor when this par five, 545-yard hole curves toward the green.

The par three 13th is gut check time from the championship tees, 235 yards and all carry over water. The finishing hole is one of the few with a long forced carry on the drive, not to mention water extending the length of the 457-yard hole along the right side.

All but three of the holes have some sort of water feature, but the overall feel of the course is open because of the width of most of the fairways.

From Abacoa, take Interstate 95 north another exit and make your way to the Golf Club of Jupiter, formerly known as Indian Creek. While not overly long at 6,275 from the back tees, the 12th (a par four at 470 yards) and 14th (par five and 600 yards) holes are as much test as any golfer would want.

The ninth has two greens which alternate in use, one being a straight-forward shot from the fairway, while the other requires a much tougher approach over water to a lateral green.

With something old and something new, there are plenty of options with reasonable rates and interesting layouts to choose from on the golf ballot in Palm Beach County.

To obtain a copy of the state of Florida's comprehensive guide to courses call 1-877-PLAY-FLA. To help navigate your way around, a Golf Road Map for Palm Beach and Boca Raton is available from the Palm Beach Golf Center (800-780-7242).

Keep in mind that the best rates and package deals are available during the summer when it's the hottest. During the more moderate temperature of the winter months, both the crowds and green fees tend to increase.

Also, the warm year-round weather creates a long growing season, which means the conditioning of area courses are usually very good. But no matter what the season, there's little debate about the area's reputation as a premier golfing destination.

In fact, the Palm Beach area is a landslide winner.

John Companiotte is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia.

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