Lost in the Bear Trap: My Day at PGA National’s 17th Hole
Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I have been to the Bear Trap before. In the past, I might have found my way into the Bear Trap on a Saturday for a few holes to watch some guys I was following play the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champions Course, or to grab a re-fill on a cocktail, or even just to grab a seat and relax for a little. However, as I started to cover the sport more my priorities changed. Well, as I came to find out yesterday, so did the Bear Trap.
A little bit of a back story. For those that don’t know, the Bear Trap is the three hole stretch on the Champions Course of 15, 16, and 17. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the Bear Trap was named after him in a sense and has become one of the tougher three hole stretches on the PGA Tour, and for good reason too. The three hole stretch features two par 3s (15 and 17) that are both long and have water fully in play, while the 16th is a tough par 4. It’s not hard to know that you are entering the Bear Trap, as a statue of a bear and a plaque greet you at the tee box at 15 as seen below:
The plaque reads, “You are now entering the Bear Trap. Three great finishing holes on the PGA Tour” and includes a quote from Jack that says, “It should be won or lost right here”.
The other Bear Trap you hear mentioned plenty during Honda Classic week is the giant hospitality tent that starts at the 16th green and goes almost completely around the par 3 17th hole. In the last few years they have added some additional hospitality tents and suites up by the green at 17 to give it a 16th at Phoenix feel, but my focus here is strictly on the Bear Trap tent. At $125 a ticket to get in during tournament days, you get sweeping views of the 16th green and the entire 17th hole. Over the years it has turned more into party tent and less of a watching golf tent. Think of your favorite bar or club on a Friday or Saturday night and picture that surrounding two holes on a golf course with a tournament being played around it.
Having never really spent more than an hour here or there in the Bear Trap on a weekend, and being presented with the opportunity, I ventured out Sunday to see what an afternoon in the Bear Trap was all about.
I got to the course around 11:30, and after checking out the tee sheet decided to follow a few golfers around for a little. I watched Russell Knox and Sung Kang make their way through the back part of the front nine, before checking out Brooks Koepka start his final round alongside Bronson Burgoon. After watching them play the 4th hole, I decided it was time to make my way up to the Bear Trap and settle in.
I got up there and grabbed a Dark ‘N” Stormy, the signature drink of the Bear Trap and grabbed a seat right over the 17th tee box. It was around 1:30 and the final group of Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia were still about 10 minutes from starting their round. Shortly after I got up there, it started to get more crowded as Phil Mickelson was making his way through the Bear Trap and people wanted to get a good look when he made his way to the 17th hole. From there the party just kept going. While there were a steady amount of people there to watch the golf going on, a lot more people were there to hang out, drink, and have a good time and maybe check a shot or two of golf out here or there. As the afternoon went on, it became almost tough to pay attention to the golf with everything else going on around it.
There were the guys dressed in full suit attire on the top end, but then wearing shorts and golf shoes on the bottom. There were the women dressed like they were headed to the club and not the golf course. There were the guys who were studying the pairings sheet like it was a Kentucky Derby program, picking which guy out of the group that came through would hit it closest to the hole. And, of course, there was the alcohol, plenty of alcohol to go around. With several bars and servers bringing drinks right to your seat, you didn’t even have to leave your seat to continue to enjoy those Dark ‘N’ Stormy’s or whatever your beverage choice may have been.
Even the golfers started to take notice of what was going on around them. After hitting his tee shot in the water on 17, Billy Horschel looked toward a fan sitting above the tee box and appeared to say something in that direction, clearly unhappy with something that was either said or done while he was trying to hit his shot. Many golfers, including Rickie Fowler had to back off their ball after their initial approach in order for the noise to die down. When asked about all the “nonsense” going on at 17 after his win, Adam Scott said while laughing, “On a Sunday afternoon or a Friday afternoon or a Saturday afternoon, it’s the same every time. There are a lot of people having a good time there and I’m happy for them. You absolutely have to block out all the nonsense, like you said, Jim, or whatever it’s called and get on with it.”
I left the Bear Trap after Adam and Sergio hit their tee shots and made my way to 18 to see Scott finish up his victory but many people didn’t. They were enjoying their time and hanging out. While I have never been to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, I imagine 16 there is very similar. There is plenty of exciting golf to be watched, but there is also plenty of other things going on if you want to get away from the golf for a few minutes.
Overall, it was a great experience and brings people out to the course that might not ultimately come, which can only be good for the game. It will be interesting to see with the continued success of both 16 at Phoenix and 17 at PGA National from an attendance standpoint, if the Tour will start doing this at more stops. Either way, it was a fun day. Oh, and I survived it, so that was a plus too.
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About Dan Hauser
As an avid golfer and sports enthusiast, Dan has had a passion for sports starting at a very young age. Dan’s other passion has always been writing. Since the time he could write, he has always enjoyed sharing information with people and telling stories through writing. In middle school he combined his two loves by joining the school newspaper in the sports department.