Jupiter, Fla. - The Honda Classic returns this week to the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The golf world’s attention will therefore be focused on an area where more tour pros must live than anywhere else. It doesn’t hurt that Tiger Woods lives on nearby Jupiter Island, and that he’s playing the Honda Classic again after finishing second last year to Rory McIlroy. McIlroy recently purchased a home in the area.
Sightings of tour pros are so common that it’s not a big deal here. I was in the Kee Grill in Juno Beach a couple of weeks ago, and who was there but McIlroy? Nobody bothered him. A while back I ran into Ernie Els at the Hurricane Grill, around the corner from the Kee. We said hello and that was that. No place for an interview, that’s for sure. Jupiter, Juno, it’s all chill. Not chilly, but chill.
Meanwhile, Lee Westwood was meandering around the Old Palm course with his kids a few weeks ago, where the house he’s having built on the course is nearly complete. I was playing when somebody mentioned that Westwood was off in the distance, enjoying a quiet walk, just another club member on the property.
These sightings go on and on. When I met with Jack Nicklaus recently to interview him, he mentioned that tour players like the fact that they’re just part of the golfing furniture. Nicklaus designed The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, where a pro-am is taking place today in advance of the Honda Classic; it will benefit the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. Tour pros such as McIlroy, Els and Luke Donald play and practice at The Bear’s Club. They’re just, well, there.
The same thing goes for the Medalist Club in Hobe Sound, just north of Jupiter Island. Tour pros a’plenty, including Woods, are members and pay only an annual fee. I came in after nine holes during one round to grab a bite at the charming, small halfway house. Woods was sitting there with some Nike people. He was friendly, and in a few minutes he was off to continue his practice.
These chance encounters are nothing unusual. Wander over to the Dye Preserve, a low-key and very good course in the area, and you’ll run into tour players. Two-time PGA Tour winner Will MacKenzie was working on his game at the back of the range there recently when I stopped by; he’s trying to recapture the form that led to his winning in 2006 and 2008. The Dye Preserve, like most of the better courses in the area, is always in top-notch condition, and usually plays fast and firm. No wonder some tour players belong there.
You also run into tour players in various gyms around the area. Last week I popped into the Institute of Performance at PGA National to meet trainer Dave Donatucci. He’s the Institute’s director, and works with a number of players from the PGA and LPGA Tours. LPGA Tour player Meaghan Francella, who defeated Annika Sorenstam in a playoff to win the 2007 MasterCard Classic, was there. Donatucci works with Stacy Lewis, the world’s number-three ranked female golfer, and with 2011 British Amateur champion Bryden Macpherson. He’ll likely be very busy this week, what with the Honda Classic on the property.
The Honda has a field every tournament would crave. Besides McIlroy and Woods, ranked one and two in the world, the field includes Old Palm members and residents Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, each a major champion. Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson of the Medalist are entered. Jupiter resident Keegan Bradley, also a major champion, is in the field. Accenture Match Play Championship semi-finalist and consolation match winner Jason Day is playing. Jupiter resident Tom Gillis is playing; he finished third last year.
Accenture champion Matt Kuchar and runner-up Hunter Mahan are taking the week off. There’s plenty of interest for Canadians. Each of the five Canadians on the PGA Tour is entered. That list, of course, comprises Stephen Ames, Graham DeLaet, Brad Fritsch, David Hearn, and Mike Weir.
The Honda Classic begins the Florida swing. Next week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Doral in Miami, follows, then the Tampa Bay Championship at the Innisbrook Resort, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando.
Clearly, then, there will be plenty of tour players in Florida the next four weeks. And notwithstanding how popular Orlando and Scottsdale, Ariz. are when it comes to where players choose to live, I’d bet that nothing beats the area that stretches north an hour or so from West Palm Beach, encompassing North Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Juno Beach, Jupiter, Jupiter Island, Tequesta, Hobe Sound, and Stuart.
Welcome, that is, to golf central.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein