PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - One of the most basic compliments one can give the design of a golf course is that it makes you hit every club in your bag. It's not often that a par-3 course gets close to achieving that distinction, but a brand-new golf course that opened last week near West Palm Beach comes impressively close.
Laid out by Nicklaus Design, with associate Chad Goetz leading the design team, The Nest is the second golf course owned by the city of Palm Beach Gardens. The first, the 6,300-yard Sandhill Crane Golf Club, sits next door.
The Nest flies against some aspects of the recent short-course trend. Unlike many of the 9- and odd-numbered courses sprouting up at resorts and other municipalities, it rolls 18 holes deep, with a bonus island-green 19th for settling bets and acting as a chance to participate in some charitable giving. And while many of golf's smaller new playing fields are meant to minimize the number of clubs you'll need - the easier to carry a beverage of choice while you wander around - The Nest is a more substantial challenge than most of its peers, measuring just over 3,000 yards from the back tees. Most of its holes would feel right at home on most championship courses.
Completely sculpted out of flat, featureless terrain within a new, mixed-use mega-development called Avenir, The Nest ambles up, down and around the ponds that needed to be dug to provide fill dirt for shaping the course. To the routing's credit, forced carries are relatively minimal; when it does come into play, water usually flanks greens, with approach angles becoming friendlier as players move forward on the meandering tee areas. Only the 17th hole forces players to carry a lake (the island-green, bonus 19th does, too). Views across the property add a sense of grand scale, though with considerable tree plantings between many corridors, one wonders if this appealing aspect of the course will fade over time.
Shot variety is important on big and little courses alike, and Goetz and Nicklaus Design's efforts to throw a wide assortment of yardages at players pay off nicely. On a typically scorching-hot afternoon, I used 10 of the 12 clubs that sit between my driver and putter off the tees. Of these, only my 5 wood and 7 wood stayed clean for the duration of my 2-hour loop.
After two relatively benign mid-iron holes to start, things perk up at The Nest's 100-yard 3rd hole, the shortest on the course. Five bunkers ring a green with a pronounced "thumbprint" depression in the middle. As the course matures and the turf firms and tightens, hole locations in that bowl-shaped area will see their share of holes-in-one, while perimeter pins will make for tricky pars. Likewise, all of the greens will come alive over time, leading to a lot of fun and interesting approaches, chips and putts.
From The Nest's shortest hole, golfers proceed to its longest, with those playing the tips going from a 100-yarder to a 256-yard monster. The 4th compensates somewhat for raw length with a huge, bunkerless semi-blind Punchbowl green complex. Many golfers will at least consider hitting driver on this hole, but will be pleased that shots hit slightly off-line will be directed back toward the green.
The rest of the course keeps players on their toes, thanks in large part to the undulating putting surfaces with all manner of waves, humps, bowls and tiers that should help most holes play quite differently one day to the next. As the course matures and the greens firm up and gain some speed, The Nest should be good fun, especially in the winter. A 30,000-square-foot putting course, TrackMan range and pleasant, airy clubhouse with indoor and outdoor hangout areas complete the impressive facility.
The Nest helps add another fun short-course option for snowbirds and vacationing golfers in the Palm Beaches.
Green fees: $49 for 18 holes
1. Palm Beach Golf Course (a.k.a. Palm Beach Par 3)
Laid out on a rectangular tract wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, the Palm Beach Par 3 has been one of the country's most scenic short courses since it opened in 1961. A 2009 renovation by Ray Floyd updated it to its current shine. Like The Nest, it is a full workout, with holes ranging from 81 to 211 yards long. $50-$75.
2. The Park West Palm - Lit 9
The brand-new Park West Palm is both a city-owned muni and a high-end country-club-for-a-day facility for outsiders, and architects Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner added a small but super-fun loop in between the big course and the driving range that reminds of their vaunted Cradle short course from Pinehurst Resort. $20.
3. PGA National Resort - The Staple
When Andy Staples overhauled the old Squire course to turn it into The Match, he devoted the corridor shared by the old first and 18th holes to the creation of a figure-8 loop of nine par threes with borderline-outrageous greens, and an optional "tee box" in a bunker on one hole. $50 for resort guests.
4. Jupiter Dunes Golf Course
A full thousand yards shorter than The Nest, Jupiter Dunes is mostly a wedge workout, though there are seven holes that tip out between 140 and 171 yards as well. The course was built in 1973 and updated in 2005. Its combination of tiny, elevated greens and dependable breezes help give the course the nickname "Little Monster." $29.
What's your favorite short course in south Florida? Let us know in the comments below.