PALM BEACH GARDENS – The Honda Classic returned to its normal spot at the start of the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing.
The same will be true for large crowds.
With COVID-19 restrictions not expected to impact the tournament which takes place February 24-27 at the PGA National Resort & Spa – only 10,000 spectators per day were allowed last year when the event opened. is held as a final stop in Florida – Honda Classic officials expect robust crowds and record charitable donations.
“We’ve never felt the excitement and energy that we’re currently building for the upcoming tournament,” Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly said during Tuesday’s media day. “While our new date should reflect an improved field of players, I believe the demand for our product is a testament to what we have built over the past 15 years.”
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Kennerly expects to see not only a lot of familiar fans behind the yellow ropes, but also a lot of new ones. Anyone who has lived in Palm Beach County for the past two years has seen the influx of people moving here largely due to the pandemic.
Many newcomers have only seen the Honda Classic on TV. In two weeks they will have a closer view.
“A lot of new families moving to our area only know the Honda Classic by reputation, but now they’ll have the chance to experience it,” Kennerly said. “You’ve seen it in other events around the community – the interest in getting out and doing something fun is top of mind for a lot of people.”
Not only will the Honda Classic return to its full construction of structures and grandstands on the Champion course, but it will reach new heights. Literally.
For the first time, the tournament will feature a two-story structure on the last hole (#17) of the Bear Trap which will be used as a private hospitality area called Bear Trap Reserve.
However, there isn’t much hospitable to players on the waterside 17th hole. This is one of the toughest par-3s on the PGA Tour. There will be even more eyeballs on the leaders as they try to navigate the tough home stretch.
“The more the better,” said defending champion Matt Jones, who ended a seven-year winless drought last year with a five-stroke win over Brandon Hagy. “It’s not the easiest golf hole. People in Florida understand golf. As long as they are silent and understand, we have no problem.
The Honda Classic was moved three weeks earlier in the schedule after last year’s tournament struggled to attract some of the best golfers in the world as it was sandwiched between The Players and WGC-Match Play Championship. It didn’t help that local stars Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (injuries) and Gary Woodland (positive COVID test) had to miss the event.
Koepka, a four-time major champion, tops the list of debut engagements, along with Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Rickie Fowler, Woodland, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose.
And Brooks won’t be the only Koepka on the court. His younger brother, Chase, was granted a sponsor exemption for the second year in a row. Chase deserved one after finishing 20th last year.
“It was very unexpected, but I’m super excited to come back and try to get another good finish,” Chase Koepka said on Tuesday. “I know the course very well and it suits my game. It’s always great to play in a tournament with my brother. I cannot thank Mr. Kennerly enough.
In addition to Chase Koepka, the Honda Classic also offered byes to two-time champion and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington; Fleetwood, who had a chance to win in 2020, finishing third; Jason Dufner; and Kyle Westmoreland, a member of the Korn Ferry Tour who spent five years serving in the Air Force.
Former Honda Classic champions on the field are Harrington, Sungjae Im, Keith Mitchell, Luke Donald, Camilo Villegas and Rory Sabbatini.
The Pratt & Whitney Patriots Outpost Appreciate Pavilion will also be back this year after being closed last year due to COVID.
Remarks: The Honda Classic has established a college scholarship for minority youth named after 93-year-old Victoria Kingdom of Riviera Beach. Kingdom was the first black woman to work at the PGA National when she was a locker room attendant from 1985 to 1997. She spent most of her adult life teaching and playing golf.