‘I love the challenge’: Players explain what makes PGA National’s Bear Trap so difficult

The Bear Trap at the honda classic.

The par-3 17th at PGA National Resort & Spa.

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There are plenty of nervy, watery and difficult finishing stretches on the PGA Tour, most of which have fancy names you’ve probably heard of. This week’s Bear Trap at PGA National Resort & Spa’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Champions Course is among the most terrifying.

The Bear Trap — the 15th, 16th and 17th — might be a high-handicapper’s worst nightmare. The 15th is a 179-yard par-3, the 16th is a 434-yard par-4, and the 17th is a 175-yard par-3. The 15th green has water short and right and a bunker that gobbles up most shots that go long and forces players to hit a nervy shot back toward the water if they get into the sand. Sixteen plays to a tight fairway where iron is usually needed off the tee, and 17 is another par-3 with water lurking short and right.

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“I think it gets the name for a reason; you know, none of it’s easy out here,” said Adam Scott. “Fifteen and 17 for sure require commitment and precision to the shot. That’s it. You’ve got the green to hit, and that’s all you’ve got. There’s no real bail-out. And 16 becomes very demanding if you miss the fairway. That’s all about the tee shot. There’s plenty of green up there, but once you get in the rough or you get in a fairway bunker, the variables change and a long shot across water, we haven’t seen any horror shows, but a quick trip to the water and a double is very possible. It’s really a matter of survival, and I think it’s probably more so than even last week at TPC [Sawgrass].

“You know, here I can put my hand up and say I’ve made a quad on 15 and I reckon if you went back and had a look, I might have made a quad on 17 in the past as well,” Scott continued. “It can get away from you pretty quick.”

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According to the PGA Tour, The Bear Trap rank as the fourth-toughest stretch among regular Tour stops, playing at an average of +0.644 shots over par since 2007. Only Quail Hollow (Nos. 16-18), Pebble Beach (Nos. 8-10) and Muirfield Village (Nos. 16-18) have been more difficult.

But it’s more than just the design that plays into the challenge.

“I think that probably is what makes the Bear Trap so difficult, the wind direction, even on 16, you’re never 100 percent sure how much you’ve changed direction, how much it’s across or down,” said Padraig Harrington. “So yeah, there’s a little bit of doubt thrown into it, into the mix, and they’re obviously very difficult shots with no bail-out. I would think if you went down to it, I think this is probably the toughest stretch, the toughest three-hole stretch.”

Lee Westwood, who has been the runner-up the last two weeks (and coming off an Augusta National trip), called The Bear Trap “a good challenge.”

“They’re at the end of the round of golf, so you’re thinking about them all day,” he said. “It very much depends on which way the wind is blowing, but certainly when it’s into off the left on 15, 16 and 17, blowing from that direction, they’re beasts of holes, and you’ve really got to have control of your golf swing and your ball flight. If you walk off with 3, 4, 3 on those three holes, you’re delighted.”

This week’s Honda will also have 10,000 fans per day, so there will be some noise during that pivotal stretch.

“Quiet is not good,” Harrington said. “Quiet is tough. You know, you can hear things if it’s quiet or something can jump out if it’s quiet. So I think there would be enough people to create a nice ambient noise, which is exactly what you want.”

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Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining GOLF.com in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.