Renovated Wanamaker, Ryder courses to highlight challenging, historical experience at PGA Golf Club

This story originally appeared in the April issue of PGA Magazine

Everything about PGA Golf Club at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Florida, reflects the rich history and traditions of the PGA of America. So when the leading 312 club professionals in America convene at PGA Golf Club for the 2021 PGA Professional Championship April 25-28, they will not only compete in a globally televised, 72-hole major championship, but will enjoy a unique, historical experience on and off the golf course.

PGA Professionals will, in fact, take a stroll through PGA of America history simply by touring the grounds and visiting the golf-themed amenities that have made PGA Village one of the nation’s most popular golf destinations. Beginning with the picturesque Tom Fazio-designed Wanamaker and Ryder courses on which the 2021 PGA Professional Championship will be contested, virtually every amenity at PGA Village and PGA Golf Club is named after a famous person or event that has left an indelible imprint on PGA of America history.

Many Historical References

It is not lost on those with a keen eye that PGA Golf Club is located at 1916 Perfect Drive in Port St. Lucie. Of course, 1916 is a direct reference to the year the PGA of America was founded. The Taplow Pub at PGA Golf Club, meantime, pays homage to the Taplow Club in New York City, where a luncheon was held on Jan. 16, 1916, to discuss forming a national organization to promote interest in golf and elevate the vocation of golf professionals – the PGA of America.

The Wanamaker Course, which will host three of the four PGA Professional Championship rounds in 2021, honors department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker, who was instrumental in the founding of the PGA of America. Wanamaker donated a purse of $2,580 and a trophy for the first PGA Championship in October of 1916. The Ryder Course at PGA Golf Club, which will be utilized for the initial two days of the 2021 PGA Professional Championship, is also immersed in history. It is named after Samuel Ryder, the English seed merchant who supported and provided a trophy for a biennial match between United States and British professionals that began in 1927 as the Ryder Cup.

PGA Golf Club completed the first phase of a clubhouse renovation in 2015, and an addition in 2016 by renowned designer Tom Hoch more than doubled the clubhouse footprint to 20,000 square feet. That stroll through PGA history becomes reality at the expanded clubhouse’s PGA Gallery, which showcases iconic trophies and artifacts that trace the 105 years of the Association. PGA Professionals can snap pictures with memorabilia such as the PGA Championship’s original Wanamaker Trophy; the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship; and the Vardon Trophy, with its iconic overlapped hands sculpture. The Captain’s Table wine room is a more formal dining area that pays tribute to past Ryder Cup Captains.

“The primary focus for the PGA Professionals competing in the PGA Professional Championship might be on the two great golf courses they will be playing, but we encourage them to take full advantage of all the facilities and special amenities at PGA Golf Club during Championship Week,” says PGA Golf Club General Manager Jeremy Wiernasz, PGA. “Those who have visited or stayed with us before understand how special it is.”

Two Challenging Courses

The 312 PGA Professionals competing for the Walter Hagen Cup will discover two highly challenging and distinctly different courses at PGA Golf Club for the 54rd PGA Professional Championship. The Wanamaker and Ryder courses were the first Florida courses to participate in the Audubon Society’s Signature Cooperative Sanctuary Program, a conservation effort to protect surrounding wildlife and the environment. Both also have undergone extensive renovations in preparation for this month’s Championship.

The Wanamaker Course, which can stretch to 7,088 yards at a par of 72 for the PGA Professional Championship, underwent a significant re-grassing project in 2015, introducing a new hybrid Bermuda grass (Celebration) on all 14 fairways. In addition, several bunker faces on the Tom Fazio design were sodded with Empire Zoysia. With its slower growth rate and better density than Bermuda, it requires less mowing and fewer inputs.

“The re-grassing on the Wanamaker Course included a very detailed drainage project that will help us control playing conditions year-round, especially during the rainy season,” says Wiernasz. “In addition to the re-grassing and drainage project, we installed a new bulkhead on No. 6 and on No. 18 to help with erosion. The extended bulkhead on 18 will make the water come into play more than it previously did.”

The par-71 Ryder Course, which will play at 6,860 yards for the Championship, saw a new drainage system installed, all bunkers overhauled and fairways re-grassed with Celebration Bermuda in 2017. Each hole was reframed with native and ornamental grasses, tees were re-seeded with Sea Isle paspalum, and greens were re-grassed with TifEagle Bermuda to provide consistency with all other putting surfaces at PGA Golf Club.

Important Closing Stretch

“The Wanamaker and Ryder courses are drastically different, with the Ryder typically playing about three shots easier,” explains Wiernasz. “The fairways are a little wider and there isn’t as much undulation to the greens on the Ryder Course. The three finishing holes on the Wanamaker Course will be decisive the final two days.”

The 16th is a reachable par 5 that plays downwind under normal conditions, according to Wiernasz. “A well-placed tee ball will leave a medium iron into the green and some eagle and birdie opportunities,” he points out.

“The Wanamaker Course’s 17th is a long par 3 that can play over 200 yards. The prevailing wind is left to right, so you have to be careful off the tee, because of a lot of undulations in that green.

“The 18th has proven to be a great finishing par 4. If it’s playing downwind, players will have a short iron into the undulating green. Players will have to be careful with the lake down the righthand side and the new bulkhead that extends all along the fairway and up to the green. The green on 18 has seen the slope toward the pond reduced, but it’s still one of the fastest greens on the course.”

This is the first time PGA Golf Club has hosted the PGA Professional Championship, but a majority of the 312 players in the field are intimately familiar with the Wanamaker and Ryder courses, which prior to 2006 were known as the South and North courses. Hundreds of PGA Member events have been played at the two courses, including the Senior PGA Professional Championship every two years, and the annual PGA Winter Championships and PGA Tournament Series. But this time, the courses will be set up for a major championship.

“There will be no major changes to the fairway widths, but the rough will be up and the greens will be at major-championship speed,” reports Wiernasz. “Our focus will be making the courses as challenging as possible within reason.”

Greens, Wind Important

Bob Sowards, whose 21 wins at PGA Golf Club include the 2018 Senior PGA Professional Championship on the Wanamaker Course, believes the Wanamaker and Ryder courses will serve as a highly challenging venue for the 2021 PGA Professional Championship. He says the Wanamaker greens, the wind (or lack thereof), and the contenders’ ability to conquer the closing three holes on the Wanamaker Course will determine the champion. 

“The Wanamaker Course is difficult because the green complexes are very difficult to chip to if you start hitting loose shots, and there are a lot of penalty areas that are in play as opposed to the Ryder Course where you can get away with a few loose shots,” says Sowards. “Scoring well on Wanamaker comes down to controlling trajectory if the wind is up, and the main thing is to hit greens in regulation.

“The Wanamaker course is very difficult if the wind is up and coming from the wrong direction. If you’re playing well and controlling your trajectory, the course is gettable, but if you’re just a little off, the course can jump up and bite you.”

Does Sowards share Wiernasz’s opinion that the Wanamaker’s closing three holes will separate contenders from pretenders during the 2021 PGA Professional Championship?

“The closing stretch is a great finish at the Wanamaker Course,” notes Sowards, who holed his third shot from a greenside bunker for eagle at the par-5 16th hole in the final round to come from behind and win the 2018 Senior PGA Professional Championship on the Wanamaker Course.

“Obviously, I have some good memories from the 16th hole at Wanamaker, which can be anywhere

from an eagle to bogey,” explains Sowards. “The (par-3) 17th is always a long iron or hybrid, which makes it difficult. Par is always a good score at 17, and 18 is the hardest hole on the course. The 18th on the Wanamaker can be especially tough when the wind comes up.”

Two Course Personalities 

Alex Beach, the 2019 PGA Professional Champion who also won the 2019 National Rental Car Assistant PGA Professional Championship on the Wanamaker Course, characterizes the Wanamaker Course as a Jekyll and Hyde – depending on the wind.

“Everything depends on the direction and speed of the wind on the Wanamaker Course,” explains Beach. “The wind dictates your game plan.” Beach lists the second hole, the 10th, and the 14th holes on the Wanamaker Course as pivotal – in addition to those closing three holes.

“No. 2 is a long, difficult hole that seems to always play against the wind; it has given a lot of people trouble over the years,” says Beach. “No. 10 doesn’t have the length, but the green complex is extremely challenging.

Depending on where they put the hole, it’s a tough birdie hole. Then you have the 14th. It’s long and usually straight into the wind with a challenging green. On any of those holes, if you miss your target or get out of position, you can be in trouble.”

While much of the attention will be paid to the Wanamaker Course, since it will be played three of the four rounds for the PGA Professionals making the cut, the Ryder Course cannot be overlooked.

“The Ryder Course is not as difficult as the Wanamaker Course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great course,” says Sowards. “Most players feel like they can take more chances and go for more pins on the Ryder Course, but when the wind blows it can be tough.”

2021 Championship Course Yardages

Wanamaker Course

Hole - Par - Yardage (Men/Women)

Ryder Course

Hole Par Yardage (Men/Women)

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