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Looking back at storied history of Honda Classic in South Florida

Palm Beach Gardens has hosted tour stop every year since 2003
Tiger Woods tees off on third hole at Honda Classic in 2018
Posted at 11:26 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 11:26:32-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Honda Classic has been a South Florida staple since 1972, but its roots in Palm Beach County are relatively new.

When the PGA Tour first settled on a location to replace the National Airlines Open Invitational in Hialeah almost 50 years ago, it was decided that Broward County would be a more centralized spot to attract South Florida's golf afficionados from the north in Palm Beach County and from the south in what was then known as Dade County.

South Florida's longest-running PGA Tour stop began in 1972 as Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Classic in Lauderhill, where the "Honeymooners" actor owned a home at the time.

Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope and President Gerald Ford at Inverrary in 1975
Reactions to a long putt skillfully put in by Jack Nicklaus on the fourth green at Inverrary Country Club are captured on the faces of Bob Hope, President Gerald Ford and Jackie Gleason, left to right, during the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, Feb. 27, 1975, in Lauderhill, Fla.

Outside of Fort Lauderdale's spring break scene and being the spring training home of the New York Yankees, Broward County was largely unknown back then, but the PGA Tour's partnership with Gleason helped to change that.

Gleason boasted of his namesake tournament's $260,000 purse -- the richest of any tournament on the tour.

The tournament attracted the likes of golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, as well as celebrities like Bob Hope, who was Gleason's usual pro-am partner.

Arnold Palmer with Jackie Gleason at Inverrary in 1972
Golf great Arnold Palmer grins to the delight of spectators during a break in play at the pro-amateur event with Jackie Gleason, left, Feb. 23, 1972, in Lauderhill, Fla. Gleason and Palmer teamed up, along with several other pros and celebrities, in this preliminary golfing event to the $260,000 Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic.

Eventually, though, Gleason fell out of graces with tour officials in a well-publicized split after American Motors came aboard as a title sponsor in 1981, much to Gleason's dismay.

Honda took over as the title sponsor a year later and has remained a fixture ever since.

In 1984, the tournament parted ways with Inverrary Country Club after an 11-year stay and relocated to TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs.

The tournament bounced around between Broward County courses beginning in 1984, when it moved to TPC Eagle Trace.

After an eight-year residency in Coral Springs, the tournament spent the next four years at Weston Hills Country Club before returning to TPC Eagle Trace in 1996.

Its final six years in Broward County were spent at the TPC at Heron Bay, which tournament organizers believed would be its long-term home. However, by that time, the Honda Classic had a reputation as a rootless tournament that struggled to attract the top golfers. The result was waning attendance and discussions of its demise.

Casey Martin followed by fans on golf cart at 2000 Honda Classic
Casey Martin is followed by fans onto the ninth fairway, Friday, March 10, 2000, during the 2000 Honda Classic at the TPC at Heron Bay in Coral Springs, Fla.

But then came a lifeline in Palm Beach County.

The nomadic tournament moved again in 2003, this time to the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens. The Honda Classic's penultimate stop was just four years, but it didn't have to go far.

Luke Donald putts on 17th hole at Honda Classic in 2006
Luke Donald makes a putt on 17 in the final round of the Honda Classic golf tournament Sunday, March 12, 2006, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The tournament is moving from the Country Club at Mirasol to PGA National next year.

In 2007, the Honda Classic moved just across PGA Boulevard to PGA National Resort and Spa.

Now entering its 15th season at PGA National, the Honda Classic seems secure at its current venue. PGA National has hosted the tournament longer than any other site and is convenient to the many professional golfers who call northern Palm Beach County home. The fact that the area has become an enclave for some of the world's best golfers (Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Greg Norman and Justin Thomas, who just won The Players Championship, among them) serves as a testament to the Honda Classic's viability in Palm Beach Gardens.

Rickie Fowler on 17th green during Honda Classic Pro-Am event at 'Bear Trap' in February 2020
Rickie Fowler walks on the 17th green during the Pro-Am of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. PGA National's signature test is a three-hole span on the back called "The Bear Trap," named for Jack Nicklaus and touted as one of the most demanding stretches in all of golf.

Perhaps its most flattering seal of approval came in 2014 when Nicklaus, another nearby resident who twice won the tournament in its Inverrary days, redesigned the Champion course at PGA National and its trifecta of holes on the 15th, 16th and 17th, affectionately known as "The Bear Trap," which has become one of the signature three-hole stretches at the Honda Classic.