Is this Palm Beach muni the best public par-3 course in the world?
This is the latest in our Muni Monday series, spotlighting stories from the world of city- and county-owned golf courses around the world. Michael Bamberger is manning the Muni Monday helm for the Florida Swing, which is good news for us all. Below is his second dispatch.
On the Monday after the Honda Classic, some of the most famous golfers in the world gather at the Seminole Golf Club, the oceanfront Donald Ross masterwork, for a club event called the Member-Pro. That presents an annual issue for Raymond Floyd, as he is both a member and a pro. As the pitching coaches say when you have three good left-handed starters, it’s a nice problem to have.
If you got in a boat on the beach at Seminole and sailed south about 20 nautical miles—past Lost Tree Village, the gated community where Jack Nicklaus lives, past Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s private club—you would eventually see another true oceanfront course, designed by Raymundo himself, which he did at no charge. It’s a muni! It’s owned and operated by the town of Palm Beach.
There’s no other course quite like it. It comprises 18 par-3 holes, representing all the popular wind directions, on 39 acres smack-dab between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. It would be impossible to put a price tag on the property—a half billion? Probably far more, but the town’s not selling, not now, not ever. That would be like Honolulu selling Waikiki Beach.
About 12 years ago, Floyd inherited a 1961 18-hole Dick Wilson course that had become a financial drain on the town. “I took a course that was losing money, changed the routing and everything about it, and now it makes so much money it carries everything the town’s rec department does,” Floyd said in a telephone interview while the fourth round of the Honda Classic was underway. Floyd lives a couple miles south, at a golf development called Old Palm, where there’s a course he designed.
Floyd is a par3ophile. He loves the Par-3 course at Augusta National and for years he and his little gang, on the Mondays and Tuesdays of Masters week, would go straight from the 18th green to the little course to settle their bets. These days, the course is off-limits until the Wednesday afternoon tournament.
But Floyd said he never even thought about the Augusta course when he was doing his work at this Par-3. “You couldn’t have a more different piece of land,” Floyd said. The Palm Beach course is flat as a nickel, windswept, public and busy. Floyd changed the routing so the holes move in a variety of directions, added more slopes to the greens and replaced the Bermuda grass with Paspalum, a thick-bladed grass that can withstand salt-heavy air. Floyd and his late wife, Maria, raised $3 million from private sources for the renovation and the township put up a matching amount.
Residents can play it for as little as $21 for 18 holes. The highest green fee is $57. The tee sheet is often crowded but the course is seldom packed. Most golfers at the PBP3 know when to pick up!
Sam Snead won an LPGA event there. Really. This is from the website Golf History Today:
“On Feb. 7, 1962, Sam Snead prevailed in a 15-player field at the Royal Poinciana Plaza Invitational that consisted of himself and 14 players from the LPGA, including Mickey Wright, Patty Berg, Kathy Whitworth and Betsy Rawls. In a two-day, four-round event at the Palm Beach Par-3 Golf Club, Snead posted a score of 5-under 211 to defeat Wright by five strokes. He was credited with an unofficial LPGA victory—and to this day, remains the only male golfer to claim a title on the ladies’ tour.”
The course has a grass driving range where I’ve hit a thousand balls over the past 35 years. You’d sometimes see Jesper Parnevik and other pros there. Chuck Will, a longtime CBS golf director, lived down the street and played it regularly. That street—South Ocean Boulevard—bisects the course. The restaurant at the course, with a view of the ocean, has the second-best pizza in Palm Beach County. Out of self-interest, I am not sharing the PBC pizza I rank ahead of it.
The holes, from the back, range in length from about 80 yards to 180 yards.
More than once, I’ve gone from the driving range to the ocean. (There’s a lifeguarded beach nearby.) At this point, we all know the mantra of this Muni Monday space, which Beck did not capture but could have: “(Public golf): It’s where it’s at! I got two lob wedges and a microphone.”
One lob wedge will be plenty on this fun course. You really shouldn’t need more than seven clubs. You might need more than one ball, because of the wind, the little ponds, the big beach. A good guess is that Snead played it without losing a ball. How else can you shoot 211 over four rounds!
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected].