PORT SAINT LUCIE, Fla. - The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy said, "The two most powerful warriors are patience and time." Even if PGA Club Director of Agronomy Dick Gray and his staff may not have memorized that quotation, they have nevertheless exemplified it over the last three years. That period has seen one of resort golf's more impressive whole-facility upgrades, with the Wanamaker and Dye Courses receiving new grass and subtle tweaks in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and the Ryder Course taking its turn in 2017. It opened last month.
Gray and his team didn't need to reinvent the wheel, as the Tom Fazio-designed Ryder, which opened in 1996, was already quite strong. Said Gray, "We really made few adjustments to any part of the course. The great shaping and earthwork were intact and needed nothing. To the earthwork we added a few thousand native and ornamental bunch grasses to hide the ugly areas that we had trouble maintaining and to create a more comfortable look and feel to each hole."
But with an aging strain of Bermuda grass on the greens that was not up to facility standards, Gray and team took the opportunity to put a whole new carpet of green onto the course, as well as make a couple subtle but important strategic tweaks on the front nine.
At the par-4 3rd, what used to be a straightaway bomb-and-gouge hole is now a bit of a thinker, with the addition of staggered fairway bunkers on the right and left that add a level of discomfort on the tee where none previously existed. Now, if the golfer wants the best angle into the slightly right-to-left angled two-tiered green, it is important to challenge the fairway bunker on the right, as well as a stand of palmetto bushes that catches wayward shots. And a tug off the tee is now punished by the left fairway hazard, making a formerly boring driving hole anything but.
At the exciting short par-5 4th, the junk around the previously elusive green has been cleared out and the putting surface has been expanded, with a bulkhead added to the front of the green. This makes a tempting hole even more exciting, because the larger putting surface will make the prospect of an eagle putt more viable, especially for golfers who hit a tee shot that successfully challenges the bunkers up the right side of the fairway. Those bunkers, by the way, along with the rest of the ones on the course, have received brand new, bright-white sand, and stand out strongly.
A look at the short par-4 10th hole reveals a provisional change. Portions of large mounds that used to be on the right side of the hole were flattened and planted with Sea Isle Paspalum, the same grass used for all of the course's tee boxes. It may seem like an odd choice, but it was done in anticipation of the hole being shortened to a medium-length Redan-style par 3 if future plans to expand PGA Village's practice facilities come to fruition. This change would reduce the Ryder's par to 71, but would actually make the course a little tougher, because the current approach to #10 is a short iron or wedge for most golfers.
If the 10th does become a one shotter, it will join an already strong pair on the Ryder's inward half, which fit into the sequence nicely. After a couple gettable holes to open the side, the 12th demands a solid strike; the long, narrow green is undulating and guarded by bunkers and a lagoon. Four holes later, hole 16 ranks as the longest par three on the course, gliding downhill to a broad, tricky green.
Difficulty was not a key concern of the renovation project, and the Ryder remains the tamest of the three main-campus PGA Club courses at PGA Village Golf Resort, at least once the greens settle and become a little softer. You will probably hit a couple more greens in regulation than usual here, making a few extra pre-round putts on the large putting green by the first tee a must.