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By Jeff Barr and Bradley S. Klein

Port St. Lucie, Fla.

It started out as a place for PGA of America pros to hang their hats in the winter, giving them a spot to stay limber and enjoy the game of their livelihood. PGA Village, by all accounts, has achieved that goal and much more since it opened eight years ago.

The only public golf club built, owned and operated by the PGA of America, it is the home facility to the organization’s 28,000 members and a model for future PGA projects.

Three public courses, classroom space, and a huge outdoor learning center are some of the golf highlights. Another is the PGA Historical Center, an 8,300-square-foot facility that showcases rows and rows of vintage books and various other memorabilia from the PGA archives.

More than 2,000 homes and vacation villas also complement the 2,400-acre project designed to give PGA pros – and the general public – a home away from home. Increasingly, as the area grows, the Village is becoming a vacation destination. And in many cases, a new permanent roost.

“There is discounted housing for PGA of America members, and if a member makes a referral and the person they referred buys a home, the member gets money put into his retirement plan,” said Bud Taylor, director of golf for PGA Golf Properties. “We welcome the general public, but there are all kinds of incentives and special encouragements for PGA members.”

The Port St. Lucie location isn’t the PGA’s first attempt at providing a central location for members to congregate, live and play golf. But it is the first facility owned and operated by the organization. PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens predated PGA Village, but the PGA name was used via a licensing agreement – the facility never has been owned by the PGA.

“This is the first, and we’ve learned some things,” Taylor said. “We’ve learned what members enjoy, what they’re looking for out of a facility.”

Some of those sources of enjoyment are the Winter Tournament Program at the Village, the Senior Club Pro Championship and many other competitive events for members. PGA apprentices are required to visit the Village, and many members retire to the Port St. Lucie compound.

In other words, there is something for all ages – particularly golf.

With three full-length, 18-hole courses, a six-hole short course, and a 35-acre learning center, the site has everything a player could hope for – including affordability. A golfer can play these courses for anywhere from $33 to $89, optional cart included. The summer rate after 4 p.m. for members is $10.

There still are traditionalists out there who think that the only fine golf courses were built in the 1920s. Of course, the legendary designers (Alister Mackenzie, Donald Ross) wouldn’t have known what to do with the low-lying, wetlands-laden 430 acres that are now home to PGA Village. It took two modern design geniuses, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye, to turn this initially unimpressive land into compelling golf ground. Best of all, their courses are flexible enough so that crack players are tested from the back tees while mid-to-high handicappers are able to get around without having to buy a dozen golf balls at the turn.

Two Fazio courses that opened in 1996 showcase what happens when a sophisticated designer transforms raw land into intriguing golf holes. At PGA Village he pulls off something akin to what he achieved at World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville, Fla.: differently styled courses, sitting side by side.

The North Course has an inland Carolinas feel to it, in large part because of pine trees that adorn the modestly rolling holes. Both nines wrap counter-clockwise, with real estate on the perimeter. The par-72 course measures 7,093 yards down to 4,993 – enough variance so that the only patrons who will find the holes too demanding are the ones who chose the wrong set of markers. Or, as with the 522-yard, par-5 fourth hole, they might simply avoid the smart path left and find themselves in over their heads, literally and figuratively, thanks to a pond running the length of the interior dogleg right.

The South Course has a more primitive feel, acquired through more deployment of wetlands, native marsh plants and palmetto trees. There’s also more elevation, about 20 feet from high point to low, which affords the occasional heightened view and sense of drama to the holes. The two nines swing clockwise, with more real estate than a purist would prefer, but at least it’s kept to the side and not looming behind greens.

The South’s holes also are more varied than those of its northern counterpart, with Fazio indulging himself and the golfer by way of quirkier angles, more crumpled landing areas and more whimsical hazards. It comes off with particular sophistication midway through the back nine. The 545-yard, par-5 13th hole, for example, presents a massive assault of bunkers, including a dunes-like cross hazard 90 yards short of the green that creates a blind approach reminiscent of something creaky and famous in Ireland.

“There is such variety here,” Taylor said. “When you have so much inventory of golf in one

location, there is going to be a course that appeals to you.”

The Dye Course, opened in 1999, is what passes for linkslike in Florida: virtually flat, wide open and windswept, and only scant evidence of real estate. The nonreturning nines wrap around a 90-acre marsh called “Big Mamu” that sneaks occasionally into play.

“I was thrilled when the The PGA of America asked me to design this course,” Dye said. “This is supposed to be a real golf couerse . . . it isn’t lined every hole by homes.”

By keeping his teeing grounds low, Dye makes short carries over wetlands or native grassed areas look deceptively long. He’s not afraid to throw vast waste bunkers on the inside of a dogleg and dare players to skirt them. He also builds short par 4s with football field-wide landing areas and makes you play the proper angle into the green, which can vary markedly depending upon hole placement.

As with so much of Dye’s work, there’s a stark, almost crude look to these features. Yet on closer inspection they all make sense strategically.

Dye also is great at turning up the heat at round’s end. The last four holes twist and turn and call for all manner of shotmaking. Here and throughout the course, there’s loads of room to play safe but not a lot of margin for error for those who choose the bold line of play.

If you would rather spend your time practicing than playing, PGA Village offers an extraordinary 35-acre learning center (site of the biennial PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit, which in 2002 drew more than 1,000 PGA pros from 46 states and 12 countries).

A massive horseshoe tee allows for shots into any wind direction. The short game area is unrivaled, giving players the opportunity to practice bump-and-runs, flop shots and everything in between.

Practice bunkers feature different varieties of sand and run the gamut from deep, greenside pits to low-slung fairway bunkers. The best deal in south Florida golf just might be the daylong pass at the learning center – $15 for individual golfers, with spouses another $5.

“Members enjoy the golf, but I tell you, it’s the camaraderie with other members they enjoy just as much as any part of the Village,” Taylor said. “No matter how old they are, no matter how long they’ve been in the business, they automatically have something in common. Golf is a big part of their lives.”

– For more information on PGA Village, call

866-742-2582 or visit www.pgavillage.com.

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