Looking back at storied history of Honda Classic in South Florida

Tiger Woods tees off on the third hole during the final round of the Honda Classic golf...
Tiger Woods tees off on the third hole during the final round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)(AP)
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 11:25 AM EST
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The Honda Classic has been a South Florida staple since 1972, but its roots in Palm Beach County are relatively new.

When the PGA Tour first settled on a location to replace the National Airlines Open Invitational in Hialeah almost 50 years ago, it was decided that Broward County would be a more centralized spot to attract South Florida's golf aficionados from the north in Palm Beach County and from the south in what was then known as Dade County.

South Florida's longest-running PGA Tour stop began in 1972 as Jackie Gleason's Inverrary Classic in Lauderhill, where the "Honeymooners" actor owned a home at the time.

Outside of Fort Lauderdale's spring break scene and being the spring training home of the New York Yankees, Broward County was largely unknown back then, but the PGA Tour's partnership with Gleason helped to change that.

Gleason boasted of his namesake tournament's $260,000 purse -- the richest of any tournament on the tour.

The tournament attracted the likes of golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, as well as celebrities like Bob Hope, who was Gleason's usual pro-am partner.

Eventually, though, Gleason fell out of graces with tour officials in a well-publicized split after American Motors came aboard as a title sponsor in 1981, much to Gleason's dismay.

Honda took over as the title sponsor a year later and has remained a fixture ever since.

In 1984, the tournament parted ways with Inverrary Country Club after an 11-year stay and relocated to TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs.

The tournament bounced around between Broward County courses beginning in 1984, when it moved to TPC Eagle Trace.

After an eight-year residency in Coral Springs, the tournament spent the next four years at Weston Hills Country Club before returning to TPC Eagle Trace in 1996.

Its final six years in Broward County were spent at the TPC at Heron Bay, which tournament organizers believed would be its long-term home. However, by that time, the Honda Classic had a reputation as a rootless tournament that struggled to attract the top golfers. The result was waning attendance and discussions of its demise.

But then came a lifeline in Palm Beach County.

The nomadic tournament moved again in 2003, this time to the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens. The Honda Classic's penultimate stop was just four years, but it didn't have to go far.

In 2007, the Honda Classic moved just across PGA Boulevard to PGA National Resort.

Now entering its 17th season at PGA National, the Honda Classic seems secure at its current venue. PGA National has hosted the tournament longer than any other site and is convenient to the many professional golfers who call northern Palm Beach County home. The fact that the area has become an enclave for some of the world's best golfers (Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Greg Norman and Justin Thomas among them) serves as a testament to the Honda Classic's viability in Palm Beach Gardens.

RELATED: Brooks, Chase Koepka recall early memories of Honda Classic, WPTV

Although Saudi-backed LIV Golf has plundered many of the world's top golfers — and some of the aforementioned names, like Koepka — and threatened the quality of competition at future PGA Tour events, holdouts like Tiger Woods provide reassurance that the sentiment for the "gentleman's game" remains the preferred choice for those golfers who call the area home.

Perhaps its most flattering seal of approval came in 2014 when Nicklaus, another nearby resident who twice won the tournament in its Inverrary days, redesigned the Champion course at PGA National and its trifecta of holes on the 15th, 16th and 17th, affectionately known as "The Bear Trap," which has become one of the signature three-hole stretches at the Honda Classic.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. This will mark the final year that the Honda Classic is, in fact, called the Honda Classic. The PGA Tour's longest-running uninterrupted title sponsorship is ending after this weekend's champion hoists the trophy.

A new title sponsor hasn't yet been determined, but the tournament will return to PGA National in 2024.

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