- By Sarah Peters Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus said it himself: The PGA of America helped make Palm Beach Gardens the thriving city it is today.
And now the catalyst for growth may be leaving. The PGA of America — short for Professional Golfers’ Association of America — is readying to move to Frisco, Texas, where it has plans to build a new headquarters and two, 18-hole semi-public golf courses, according to a Golf.com story.
Palm Beach County has always been a center of golf, but before the PGA of America came in 1965, “there wasn’t much in the way of golf courses here,” Nicklaus told the Palm Beach Post in a 2015 interview.
“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,” he said.
Palm Beach Gardens officials, including Mayor Maria Marino, who is an LPGA pro, referred all questions to the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
PGA of America acknowledged that it’s interested in developing a new headquarters but disputed that any decisions have been made. Business Development Board of Palm Beach County CEO and President Kelly Smallridge said PGA of America officials asked her to keep working to find a new location in Palm Beach County.
The headquarters for 210 employees is at 100 Avenue of the Champions on the drive up to the PGA National Resort & Spa clubhouse. The organization is sometimes confused with the PGA Tour, which has its headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach. The PGA of America’s purpose is to promote the industry along with conducting major tournaments such as the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and Women’s PGA Championship.
Smallridge could not disclose the details but said the association was offered a “very nice package.”
Companies under consideration for economic incentives are usually identified by a code name until a deal is completed. Even so, the City Council has not discussed or approved any economic incentives for a business that meets PGA of America’s description.
Palm Beach Gardens advertises it’s the host city to the PGA of America and the Honda Classic on its economic development webpage. (Honda Classic Executive Director Ken Kennerly said a PGA of America move would have no effect on the tournament.) Palm Beach Gardens has access to 14 golf courses.
If the PGA decides to leave town, its imprint will still be all over the city, from PGA National to PGA Boulevard to PGA Commons, home of some of the most popular restaurants in the north end.
A slew of professional golfers, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, have homes in Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter and Martin County.
Palm Beach Gardens wasn’t always such a destination, however. City founder John D. MacArthur cut a deal with the PGA of America: He would build two championship golf courses, and the association would build a clubhouse and office building. Eventually, the PGA of America would get the whole property — which eventually became BallenIsles.
MacArthur didn’t satisfy them that he had clear title to all the property, and the PGA of America ended up leasing office space in a clubhouse MacArthur built. The parties later fought over greens fees and their lease, and MacArthur evicted them in 1973.
PGA National developer E. Llwyd Ecclestone Jr. promised to provide the PGA of America a new home three years later, and the association moved into its current headquarters in 1981. Ecclestone offered a 100-year lease for $1 in exchange for being able to use the PGA name on what became PGA National Resort & Spa.
PGA Boulevard used to be called Monet Road, from the time the city was incorporated in 1959 until 1965, according to a 1997 Post story. MacArthur asked the state legislature to rename it PGA Boulevard after PGA of America signed a new lease.
The extension of I-95 to Martin County, the opening of The Gardens Mall and the development of high-end residential and office space followed. More new offices and townhouses are under construction today.