PGA of America, Palm Beach Gardens Celebrate 50th Anniversary

Dan Hauser
Posted by Dan Hauser
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Published in Events & Entertainment

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In March of 1965, the PGA of America was at a crossroads. It was looking for a new place to house its offices but wasn't sure where to go.

John D. MacArthur, wanting to be under the PGA branch invited them to come look at his club. He offered to let them work out of his clubhouse at PGA National Golf Club (now the present day BallenIsles). The PGA of America complied and thus began the now 50 year history of the partnership between the PGA of America and the Palm Beach Gardens area.

The area back then, however, looked nothing like it does today. I-95 ended at PGA Boulevard, known back then as Monet road. Northlake Boulevard was a gravel road west of US 1. Today's PGA National did not exist, and other than MacArthur’s PGA National Golf Club (BallenIsles), the area was largely undeveloped.

Jim Awtrey, who would become the organization’s first executive director in 1987 and served as CEO from 1993-2005, recalled what happened when everyone came down for the 1971 PGA Championship.

"When we came down for the 1971 PGA Championship we had to stay on Singer Island and drive over, because there was nothing in that area."

In fact, at that time, Palm Beach County was nowhere near the epicenter of the golf world that it is today.

“Palm Beach County has always been perceived as a center of golf, but prior to the PGA of America coming here, there wasn’t much in the way of golf courses here,” said Jack Nicklaus, who also moved to Lost Tree Village in 1965. “Since then golf has become the spirit of the area, a catalyst to making things grow. And the PGA of America has had a lot to do with it.”

A majority of that growth has to do with the PGA of America and the roots it layed down in the area. In fact, Former PGA of America staffer Ken Anderson recalled that what would in 1969 become the PGA Tour was run by 40-50 employees out of those offices in the clubhouse on the current day BallenIsles spot.

It wasn't instant success for the area and the PGA of America though. When that 1971 PGA Championship came to town, it drew only about 40,000 customers, less than one-fourth of what the storm-plagued Honda Classic did last month despite Nicklaus, Billy Casper and Tommy Bolt finishing 1, 2, 3.

In addition, the relationship between the PGA of America and MacArthur were starting to sour. During negotiations for an extension on the initial 10-year lease, MacArthur demanded cost-of-living increases in the fees members would pay. The two parties went their seperate ways in 1971, with the PGA of America temporarily moving into a two-story building on US 1 in Lake Park.

The PGA of America was looking at re-locating to Wellington, when they were approached by a gentleman by the name of Llwyd Ecclestone Jr.

Ecclestone was building a property west of the Florida Turnpike that today is the modern day PGA National and offered a 100-year lease for $1 on his property in return for being able to use the PGA name on the complex.

The two sides agreed and the PGA of America moved into their current location in 1981. At that point major golf events started coming to the Palm Beach Gardens area. From 1983 to 1987, the modern day PGA National hosted a Ryder Cup (1983) and a PGA Championship (1987).

Since then, the Palm Beach Gardens area has turned into the epicenter of golf that we know it today. On top of the PGA of America being housed here and dozens of PGA and LPGA pros calling the area home, championship golf returned to the area in 2003, when the Country Club of Mirasol became the host course for The Honda Classic. Since its move across the street to PGA National, the tournament has become one of the premier non-major events on the PGA Tour schedule and kicks off the four week stretch of the "Florida Swing."

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