Dave George: PGA of America may leave, but area’s love of golf won’t

Does the “Golf Capital of the World” need a capitol building in order to maintain its priority as a destination for those who love the game?

It feels like a moot point already, whether or not the PGA of America decides to leave its long-established national headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens.

National golf publications are reporting that the organization is being wooed by Frisco, Texas, and it sounds like the talks are far enough down the tracks that it may be too late to turn it all around. If that’s true, losing the PGA of America would be a big loss for Palm Beach County, which has benefited greatly through the years from the major competitions the group has brought here and the beautiful developments that sprouted around its zip code.

[RELATED: If PGA of America leaves area, how would it affect the Honda Classic?]

There is, however, no unplugging when it comes to our area’s magnetism for golfers.

Tourists will continue coming to Palm Beach County and bringing their clubs with them, not because the PGA of America is here, but because there is plenty of sun and green grass and ample opportunity to play some fine courses, private and public.

In the same way, golfers will continue to flood to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Scottsdale, Ariz., and Orlando and all the other self-proclaimed golf capitals of the world even though the PGA of America has never placed its national footprint there.

And dozens of the PGA Tour’s top pros — like Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas — will continue to live in the Jupiter area, flying their private jets to every global destination, even if the PGA of America executives decide that Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport works better than PBIA for the flight connections and shipments their own members have to make.

Truth is, even Jack Nicklaus had his own reasons for establishing his family home in North Palm Beach in 1965, and they included bonuses like a less crowded and more private setting than Broward and Dade counties, and the existence of several top clubs for practice sites, even way back then, and an easily accessible inlet for deep-sea fishing.

That the PGA of America also arrived here at about the same time as the Golden Bear is a happy coincidence, and it led to so many other lovely outcomes. But the bottom line is that all of that golden history has brought us to an entirely different place, one that may not work as well as it once did for an association of 29,000 mostly club professionals.

The PGA of America’s office has been where it sits since 1981, near the front entrance to the PGA National resort’s property. Everything else has grown around it, but the association’s complex of buildings is in a tight little spot compared to the wonderland that the folks in Frisco are offering, with a new championship course suitable for future PGA Championships and Ryder Cups and room for an extensive teaching academy.

[RELATED: Sports-crazy Frisco, Texas, would welcome PGA of America]

If the allure is so much greater, and the chance to play a future PGA Championship at a facility that is actually operated by the association is so much more beneficial, then the move will happen. Some of the 200-plus employees of the PGA of America would relocate, some would stay and start scrambling for jobs in South Florida and all of us would be sad to see it happen.

Can’t blame this group or any other, however, for wanting to feel prized. At different times in the PGA of America’s 53-year history, the association has been housed on the second floor of a bank building in Dunedin on Florida’s west coast and in a plain office building on U.S. 1 in Lake Park, next to a Sweden House smorgasbord restaurant.

The current location is majestic in comparison.

For now, at least until a final decision on a possible move is reached, there is time to celebrate the two major championships — the PGA Championships of 1971 and 1987 — that never would have come to Palm Beach Gardens without the PGA of America. And the 1983 Ryder Cup matches. And a long string of Senior PGA Championships that gathered Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez and so many other favorites here.

My preference is for the PGA of America to stay, and to continue ownership of the heavily used PGA Village golf resort in Port St. Lucie. Even if everything else goes to Texas, it would make sense to keep that nearby center for golf instruction and club-pro education going, not to mention the busy winter schedule of club-pro competitions that wouldn’t work when the ice storms descend on Dallas.

Meanwhile, some of Palm Beach County’s business leaders will continue to cook up proposals to offer land and services that the PGA of America might find more acceptable. Problem is, there’s a ton of difference between an acceptable solution and a Texas-sized solution.

So that’s where it stands. All that’s really left after that is for the organization to decide if Palm Beach County is still home, or just another place with sun and green grass and plenty of good clubs around.

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