Major Milestone for PGA Golf Club
Wanamaker, Ryder courses to welcome 312 PGA Professionals for 2021 PGA Professional Championship on April 25-28
This story originally appeared in the April issue of PGA Magazine
During the past 25 years, PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, has hosted every significant PGA of America Member Championship. The Wanamaker and Ryder courses at PGA Golf Club have welcomed the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship for 24 consecutive years, the Senior PGA Professional Championship on 12 occasions, and the PGA Cup in 2003.
But PGA Golf Club has never served as the venue for the PGA Professional Championship, largely considered the PGA Member’s major championship.
That bit of hallowed history changes in 2021, when the Tom Fazio-designed Wanamaker and Ryder courses at PGA Golf Club celebrate a “major” milestone and complete the “Grand Slam” of hosting PGA Member events April 25-28 during the 54th PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and Rolex.
It is fitting that PGA Golf Club, the flagship property of the PGA of America since 1996, will finally conduct the PGA Professional Championship and reach its major milestone, since PGA Members come to PGA Golf Club year-round and consider it their “home away from home” facility during the winter months.
Major Opportunity for Host Venue
“PGA Golf Club has hosted PGA of America events year after year, but never the one we call the major of all PGA Member championships,” says PGA Golf Club General Manager Jeremy Wiernasz, PGA, who has served at the PGA Village facility midway between Orlando and Miami since 2013.
“We’re excited – it’s a huge opportunity to showcase the property, especially the Wanamaker and Ryder courses under championship conditions. With the Championship being televised worldwide on Golf Channel, this is a huge moment for PGA Golf Club, PGA Village, the community of Port St. Lucie and the Treasure Coast of Florida. Any time you can complete any type of Grand Slam in golf, it’s a special opportunity, and we’re prepared for the challenge.”
As per tradition, the 2021 PGA Professional Championship will feature a field of 312 PGA Professionals, who will play one round on the Wanamaker and Ryder courses before a 36-hole cut to
the low 90 players plus ties (and another cut to low 70 and ties after 54 holes). The final two rounds will be contested on the Wanamaker Course — a 7,088-yard, par-72 layout that has hosted hundreds of PGA Member championships during the past 25 years. The top 20 finishers will earn an invitation to the 2021 PGA Championship in May on the storied Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (South Carolina), while the champion engraves his name on the coveted Walter Hagen Cup, banks a $60,000 check, earns exemptions to six events on the PGA Tour, and secures a spot on the 2022 PGA Cup team.
Hosting a field of 312 PGA Professionals poses a special challenge for most facilities, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. But it is standard procedure for PGA Golf Club, which routinely handles hundreds of players daily on its Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye courses and can accommodate hundreds of players in PGA Village and the surrounding Port St. Lucie area. In a nod to the pandemic, the 2021 PGA Professional Championship will be played without spectators and limited to caddies and player family members.
“Outside of the current challenges we all face in the golf industry because of the pandemic, we don’t
anticipate any problems handling players, family members, caddies, officials and television personnel during Championship Week,” explains Wiernasz, who came to PGA Golf Club after serving at TPC Las Vegas, TPC San Antonio and TPC Scottsdale.
“We already do 500-600 rounds daily out of one clubhouse, so 300-plus players spread over two courses in one day will be a walk in the park, comparatively speaking. We have already had a year of operating under these unprecedented times and have a good process in place to handle any concerns surrounding the pandemic. We’re in a great spot by having the PGA of America Championships team on-site to help us execute every aspect of the championship. We’re ready to go.”
Former Champions Anchor Field
A leaderboard of former PGA Professional Champions, champions from all 41 PGA Sections and several PGA Professionals who have won other events at PGA Golf Club will make up the field of 312 in pursuit of the 2021 PGA Professional Championship. Most are chomping at the bit to return to competition after most national events were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
“Staying in competitive shape has been difficult during COVID,” says two-time PGA Professional Champion Matt Dobyns, PGA Head Professional at Meadow Brook Club in Glen Head, New York, who won the 2012 PGA Professional Championship at Bayonet Black Horse in Seaside, California, and in 2015 at The Philadelphia Cricket Club. “Increased traffic at work, combined with less playing opportunities, has made staying sharp more challenging. I’ve been playing with members as much as I can and doing a little putting practice at night before bed in the basement. I think any PGA Professional who hasn’t regressed during the pandemic as far as playing a lot of golf is ahead of the game.”
Like many PGA Professionals, Dobyns has mixed memories of the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club. He finished second in the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship on the Wanamaker in 2008, which served as a springboard to bigger and better things as a competitive PGA Professional.
“I’ve played both courses many times over the years and, I must say, both courses are better than I have ever seen them,” judges Dobyns, the 2015 PGA Professional Player of the Year. “The conditioning has been great recently and both courses reward good shots and penalize bad ones, which I believe to be the mark of a great course. Both courses will be set up for a major championship, so they will be as challenging as ever.
University of Illinois Men’s Golf Coach Mike Small, who won the PGA Professional Championship in 2005, 2009 and 2010, in addition to runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2007, believes the Wanamaker and Ryder courses at PGA Golf Club will provide robust challenges for the 2021 PGA Professional Championship.
“Both courses will pose a challenge to the players, especially if the Bermuda rough is long and the wind blows,” notes Small. “Over the years, the Wanamaker Course has hosted many PGA of America events. It is well known by a lot of PGA Members, so their familiarity with the courses will be a big advantage. It will feel like a home game for a lot of players who go down to Port St. Lucie every year over the winter. The Wanamaker’s 18th hole is the best hole out there and will provide an exciting finish to the Championship.”
Beach is Defending Champion
Since the 2020 PGA Professional Championship scheduled for Omni Barton Creek in Austin, Texas, was eventually canceled due to COVID-19, Alex Beach is the de facto defending champion for 2021. Beach, the PGA Assistant Professional at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, won the 2019 PGA Professional Championship at Belfair in Bluffton, South Carolina, by fashioning a 3-underpar 69 in the closing round for a 72-hole total of 10- under-par 277, and a two-stroke victory over fellow Metropolitan PGA Section Member Danny Balin.
Beach, 30, has played hundreds of rounds at PGA Golf Club, where he won the 2019 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship on the highly challenging Wanamaker course on the strength of a final-round 67 and 8- under-par 280 aggregate. Like many PGA Professionals, Beach has played the Wanamaker and Ryder courses numerous times in the PGA Tournament Series and PGA Winter Championships each year.
“I’ve always said the Wanamaker Course (at PGA Golf Club) is my favorite course up in the Port St. Lucie area,” assures Beach, who has three of his six PGA Tour exemptions remaining after winning the 2019 PGA Professional Championship, and hopes to compete in a handful of Korn Ferry Tour events in 2021.
“The Wanamaker is more challenging than the Ryder Course from a ball-striking perspective, but both will present interesting challenges. It will be weird playing the PGA Professional Championship on a course many of us have played so many times in the past. As a former champion, I will treat it like I’m defending my championship this year and every year in the future.”
Experience is an Advantage
Experience and familiarity with the two courses being utilized for the 2021 PGA Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club will definitely be an advantage. Among the growing legion of players who compete on the Wanamaker, Ryder and Dye courses at PGA Golf Club once, twice or thrice a year is PGA Professional Champion and Senior PGA Professional Champion Bob Sowards of the Southern Ohio PGA Section.
Sowards, who won the 2018 Senior PGA Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club with a 72- hole total of 275, owns a glittering resume on the three courses with 21 victories – four on the Dye course and 17 wins combined on the Wanamaker and Ryder Courses over the past 20 years.
“I have played a lot of events on those courses – hundreds of rounds over the years – and I have a lot of great memories of PGA Golf Club,” says Sowards, 52, whose latest victory came in January when he chipped in on the 18th hole of the Ryder Course to elevate himself and partner Ben Kern to victory in the PGA Senior-Junior Championship over Beach and senior Brent Studer.
“I’m very happy to see the PGA Professional Championship being played on the Wanamaker and Ryder courses,” admits Sowards, the PGA Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Dublin, Ohio.
“I have already played those courses (at PGA Golf Club) in every conceivable condition, so I will have the proper game plan and mental preparation already in place there. I will be comfortable and confident on those courses.”
Wind Will Be a Factor
Sowards, who won the 2004 PGA Professional Championship at Longaberger Golf Club in his home state of Ohio, agrees with 2019 Champion Beach that the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club plays “two or three shots tougher” than the Ryder Course. They also agree that wind and weather will play a major role in how aggressive players can be on the two PPC courses.
“The green complexes on the Wanamaker Course make it a few shots more difficult than the Ryder Course, but the first thing you have to do on both courses is check the wind speed and direction,” explains Sowards. “The wind is the sole determiner on what the scores are going to be. If the wind is up for four days, I could see the winning score being in the 6-8-under range. But if the wind is down, the scores could be as low as 14-15-under. More so than most courses, these courses are so wind dependent for protection. I’ve never played there in April or May, so I’m not sure what to expect with the wind and weather.”
Challenging Wanamaker Greens
Beach knows how demanding and difficult the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club can be. Embedded among his positive memories of winning the 2019 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship on the Wanamaker Course is a four-putt on the 13th hole en route to a double bogey and a third-round 74 (which was followed by a closing 67 to secure the two-shot victory).
“The greens can be very challenging on the Wanamaker Course, especially if you’re out of position in relation to the hole location,” notes Beach. “The Wanamaker Course is challenging to begin with, and when you add wind, it can change your entire game plan. There are several holes where you can’t be very aggressive with the wind, and there are several holes that will play much longer against the wind. When the wind picks up, it adds an entirely different element to the difficulty of the Wanamaker Course.”
Rich Berberian Jr., who won the 2016 PPC at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, tuned up for the 2021 PGA Professional Championship by playing PGA Golf Club in the PGA Tournament Series and PGA Winter Championships this past January and February.
“I have played both courses many times during the winter. I have also played PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and Canadian Tour qualifying school events on the Wanamaker Course, so I have a lot of memories,” says Berberian. “The Wanamaker is a tough course, especially when it gets windy. Both courses can be scored on, but you have to play smart and miss in the right places. It will be interesting to see how the Wanamaker plays under major championship conditions.”
Golf Channel Broadcast Times
Sunday, April 25 3-6 p.m. ET (live)
Monday, April 26 4-7 p.m. ET (live)
Tuesday, April 27 4-7 p.m. ET (live)
Wednesday, April 28 3-6 p.m. ET (live)