BY: TONY L. STARKS CONTRIBUTOR, SALLY J. SPORTSMAN
Over the span of a month, the PGA Tour takes over the Sunshine State for the annual Florida Swing, which includes stops at PGA National Resort & Spa, Trump National Doral Miami, Innisbrook Resort and Bay Hill Club. This important series of events falls early in the season and gives PGA Tour professionals a chance to come out of the gates strong. Or, for those who elect for a slightly longer offseason, it’s a chance to shake off the rust. As they work to round their games into shape, many tour pros spend an abundance of time on the practice range. That’s why this month’s edition of Tour Talk will highlight the Ranges of the Florida Swing.
Tournament: Honda Classic Facility: PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Dates: Feb. 26-March 1
Overview: PGA National houses two dualsided practice ranges, each featuring their own expansive short game areas. The first is adjacent to the Championship Course, the Jack Nicklaus design which hosts the Honda Classic. Torrential downpours and gale force winds terrorized this year’s tournament, causing substantial rain delays that led to a Monday finish. Getting the course in playable condition was the main focus, but the range also needed much attention. “For us, the tee drains well, but the body of the range was a quagmire,” says Jane Broderick, the PGA director of golf at PGA National. “Thankfully, we had lots of volunteers to help us pick, clean and sort the balls to keep things going for the players.”
Tournament: WGC Cadillac Championship Facility: Trump National Doral Miami (Florida)
Dates: March 5-8
Overview: Donald Trump acquired the Doral Resort & Spa in 2012 for the cool price of $150 million. Trump proceeded to start a 18-month renovation project to the tune of an additional $200 million-plus. The renovation included a facelift for the famous Blue Monster course and enhancements to the facility’s practice area. One addition is the new TaylorMade Performance Lab at Doral, which officially opened during the week of the 2015 WGC Cadillac Championship. Here you can see Trump cutting the ribbon and Justin Rose hitting the inaugural shot from the state-of-the-art teaching and clubfitting center out onto the practice range at Doral.
Tournament: Valspar Championship Facility: Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (Copperhead Course), Palm Harbor, Florida
Dates: March 12-15
Overview: The 900-acre Innisbrook property houses four golf courses and three separate practice facilities. The Copperhead course, where the championship is hosted, has a dual-sided range with approximately 40 hitting bays on each side. A month prior to the tournament the backside of the range is shut down to ensure pristine conditions for the competitors. In addition to the Copperhead range, the facility’s Osprey courses (North and South) share a giant dual-sided range with two expansive putting greens, giving competitors more options for when and where to practice. “The PGA Tour posts a list of times when players can practice at the host course. If they’re not playing in the Pro-Am, the tour usually asks them to stay off the range at ‘X’ time,” describes Bobby Barnes, the facility’s PGA director of golf. “The cool thing about our facility is where players normally wouldn’t be able to practice onsite at this time, they can go over and use one of the other driving ranges. In fact, I just got a call from Club Services to ask if it was OK for Charley Hoffman to be on the Osprey range right now.”
On Saturday night of the tournament, the Osprey range transformed into a grand stage as musical guest The Band Perry delivered a free concert for attendees. The concert was open to all guests with a Saturday ticket and was funded by tournament sponsor Valspar. “It was a really unique cool thing that’d happened on our range during the tournament,” says Barnes.
Tournament: Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard Facility: Bay Hill Club, Orlando, Florida
Dates: March 19-22
Overview: Tournament logistics at the Bay Hill Club required a large portion of the teeing area on the practice range to be used for bleachers and tents during the tournament. Because of that, members and guests were asked to use a line of hitting mats more frequently starting six weeks prior to the tournament in order to maintain pristine conditions for the PGA Tour players. All teeing grounds were overseeded and given the same treatment as the course. The short-game practice center, which remains accessible to members and guests leading up to the tournament, was maintained to tournament standards with green-speeds matching the course. One of the most exciting things about the Bay Hill practice range, for both PGA Tour players and members, is that you never know when a visit from the King himself will take place.