Breaking Down the ‘Bear Trap’ at PGA National

Golf is hard enough without water. But it only gets tougher when lakes or rivers reside next to the fairways and/or greens. To some, it’s like the water acts as a magnet to attract golf balls.

Even the pros, who shape shots like it’s their job (because it is), get a little timid around the wet stuff. That’s precisely why the “Bear Trap” at PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic, ranks as one of the toughest stretches of holes on the PGA Tour. The trio – Nos. 15, 16 and 17 – gets its name from Jack Nicklaus, a.k.a. The Golden Bear, who redesigned the course in 1990.

So intriguing is the action in this area of the course that the tournament sells $100 day passes for Gosling’s Dark ‘n Stormy Bear Trap. It’s a party area with a prime view of the 16th hole and all the action on the 17th hole, and sponsored by Gosling’s Rum.

Here are some fun facts about a stretch of holes that may be exceeded in toughness by only Augusta National’s Amen Corner and Quail Hollow’s Green Mile:

15th Hole
No. 15 is a 179-yard par-3 that’s especially tricky when it’s windy. Though there is a small bit of fairway to the front of the diagonal green, players will carry water all the way to the putting surface. Too short or too right and they’re wet, too long and they’re in a bunker that’s not easy to escape. Missing left is the only place tee shots will stay on grass.

Nobody has ever sunk a hole-in-one on the 15th in a PGA Tour event, but Mark Wilson in 2012 came within four inches. And since 2007, according to the PGA Tour, no player has played this hole better than Back9Network ambassador Padraig Harrington, who has shot 4-under in 12 rounds. Last year’s Honda Classic winner, Michael Thompson, parred this hole all four times. En route to his win the year before, Rory McIlroy played No. 15 at 2-under.

16th Hole
A 434-yard par-4, No. 16 is a dog-leg right with water all along the right. The narrow fairway doesn’t encourage players to grip it and rip it, so most are happy to play irons off the tee and for their second shot, which carries water to the green. Per the PGA Tour, five players have needed four putts to get off the 16th green since 2007, more than any other hole on the course. Last year, scores of double-bogey or worse were had four times on 16, the same number as on 15.

This was the Bear Trap hole that gave Thompson the most trouble last year, as he bogeyed it both days on the weekend, but did manage a par and birdie in the first two rounds. McIlroy parred it all four rounds in 2012, and Ernie Els is the best here since 2007, with a 5-under score in 24 rounds.

17th Hole
Another par 3, No. 17 is 190 yards with a small green. There’s no choice but to carry water off the tee, and the green is protected with a bunker on the left. The PGA Tour says 65 balls found water here in 2011, but players seemed to get a grasp for their clubs after that, as only 30 balls got wet in 2012 and 2013 combined. Harrington and three others (Rich Barcelo, Bart Bryant, and Derek Lamely) are 2-under overall on No. 17 since 2007, but that includes 12 rounds for Harrington and eight for the others.

McIlroy managed only one birdie on 17 in 2011, during his first round. Thompson last year made par each of his four times through. That made Thompson 1-over-par in his 12-hole journey through the Bear Trap last year, while McIlory was 3-under with this trifecta in 2012.

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