A view of the “Bear Trap” during last year’s Honda Classic PGA Tour event at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Garden, Fla. (Courtesy Honda Classic)

PGA Tour event looks to keep the party going by beefing up signature area

Tournament organizers at the Honda Classic have set a bigger Bear Trap to capture more patrons and create a festive atmosphere at this week’s PGA Tour stop. They’re gearing up for another record week of attendance at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Structures comprising 2,500 square feet have been added to the area around hole Nos. 15, 16 and 17, which make up the so-called Bear Trap. The nickname is derived from the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, who in 2002 redesigned Tom Fazio’s original layout.

“That has become the nucleus of the tourney for us,” said Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic, adding, ““The 17th hole is totally enclosed (by fan structures). … We have hospitality wrapped around the green except for water.”

It also creates premium sponsorship opportunities for Gosling’s rum and Cobra Puma Golf in the structure that’s between the 16th green and 17th tee box, with unobstructed sightlines across the water to the par-3 17th green now just 175 yards away. The hole was shortened by 15 yards this year to accommodate more fans.

The tournament also added an elevated premium area behind the 17th tee called the Bear Trap Reserve.

Overall, the tournament, which runs through March 3, is adding more than 20,000 square feet across eight venues and several new hospitality offerings. It’s in anticipation of continued record crowds exceeding 225,000. The event posted a 10 percent attendance increase last year over the 2017 weeklong total.

Kennerly says it’s the fruition of his plan to broaden the event’s attendees beyond traditional staid golf fans.

“When I took over the tournament 13 years ago, my focus was on energy and fun — to build one of biggest party places on the PGA Tour. … We’re creating a lot of fun out here. We’re in the entertainment business, not necessarily the golf business.”

The list of sponsors around the course underscores this theme: Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob Ultra, and Moet & Chandon Champagne are among the returning spirited sponsors. Fans can hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is new this year and serving half a dozen of the commonwealth’s bourbons.

Lilly Pulitzer expanded its footprint and offers a limited-edition Honda Classic print in the brand’s trademark bright colors on clothing and accessories.

United Technologies’ Patriot’s Outpost, which overlooks the 17th green, was expanded by nearly a third to 9,750 square feet. It’s an area open to current military personnel and veterans, who are admitted to the tournament free of charge, and their families.

In total, there are 18 public hospitality areas, which Kennerly claims is “unheard of on the PGA Tour. … We’re offering people buying grounds tickets higher-end hospitality.”

Grounds tickets run $60 a day, and admission to the Bear Trap is $135 a day.

Kennerly credits the gallery’s great growth partly on the party atmosphere and varied offerings, including evening concerts and fireworks shows that attract age groups from kids to millennials to retirees.

“Most tournaments end at 6 p.m. when the final putt drops, but we continue on until 10 or 11 p.m.,” Kennerly said. “You have to think out of the box when you’re in the event business. We have one of the largest millennial groups, young people 20 to 35, represented on the PGA Tour. It’s by design, they’re here to have a good time and the older fans come and follow the great golf.”