Follow Trump and Kennedy to Palm Beach

The Breakers, Palm Beach, Florida (Image: The Breakers)

The Breakers has been the focus of Palm Beach society for more than a century. (Image: The Breakers)

Renowned as the Florida playground of the fabulously wealthy, Palm Beach is where first John F. Kennedy and now Donald J. Trump have chosen to take their wintertime presidential divots.

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, glamorous Palm Beach has once again become the preferred wintertime retreat of a golf-loving United States president.

John F. Kennedy could often be seen teeing it up on the Ocean Course at The Breakers, the towering Italian Renaissance-inspired luxury hotel that has been the focus of Palm Beach society for more than a century. During his presidency, the Spanish-style Kennedy family compound at 1095 N. Ocean Blvd. served as the unofficial Winter White House.

Trump on the golf course. (Image: Trump Golf)

Trump purchased Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach in 1985. (Image: Trump Golf)

Trump enjoys even fancier digs. In 1985, he purchased Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Mar-a-Lago estate and turned it into a members-only club. The President, who brags of playing to a handicap of three, owns or operates 17 golf clubs around the world. He shoots his local rounds at nearby Trump International Golf Club.

Old Palm Beach is the historic heart of Palm Beach County, stretching from Jupiter in the north to Boca Raton in the south. The county, the largest southeast of the Mississippi River, is home to more than 165 courses, including several of the top resort tracks in the South.

The famed beachfront playground of Rockefellers and Vanderbilts roughly marks the start of the tropics in South Florida. Here, about 100 kilometres north of Miami, the cobalt-blue waters of the Gulf Stream run close to shore, promoting milder winters and an abundance of ficus, Royal Poinciana and banyan trees, species that refuse to grow in the harsher climes to the north.

Gawking at the Mediterranean-style waterfront mansions along Billionaire’s Row and splurging on Chanel, Armani, Gucci and other designer labels in the chic boutiques that line Worth Avenue and its gracefully colonnaded corridors — Via Mizner, Via Prigi, Via Roma — are the top tourist activities.

The Breakers, Italian Renaissance-inspired design (Image: The Breakers)

The Breakers is home to Florida’s oldest 18-hole golf course. (Image: The Breakers)

But for many visitors, the Palm Beach experience isn’t complete without a round of golf on the Ocean Course at The Breakers.

Reputed to be Florida’s first 18-hole layout when it opened in 1897, the Ocean Course sparked the game’s rapid growth throughout Palm Beach County, a winter tourist destination touted as “Florida’s Golf Capital” by marketers.

Many of golf’s biggest names call Palm Beach County home, including Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Justin Leonard, Nick Price and golf architect Tom Fazio. Golf academies and equipment outlets are as ubiquitous as gas stations. Also found here is the headquarters of the PGA of America.

PGA National, Champion course (Image: PGA National Resort and Spa)

The Champion Course at PGA National Resort and Spa. (Image: PGA National Resort and Spa)

Sharing the same address as the PGA in the upscale enclave of West Palm Beach, about 20 minutes north of Palm Beach, is PGA National Resort and Spa, home of the annual Honda Classic (Feb. 23 to 26, 2017) and the scene of numerous past championships, including the 1983 Ryder Cup and the 1987 PGA Championship.

PGA National recently completed a $100-million renovation that included an extensive refurbishing of the hotel and a tweaking by Jack Nicklaus of the Champion Course, the marquee attraction of the property’s five 18-hole layouts. Originally designed by Tom Fazio, the course was first reworked in 1990 by Nicklaus, whose most significant contribution was the infamous “Bear Trap” — holes 15 through 17 — a windswept and watery trio that has broken the hearts of countless golfers.

PGA National’s major rival among Palm Beach County’s golf resorts is Boca Raton Resort and Club, a Spanish-Moorish beachfront palace designed in the 1920s by visionary architect Addison Mizner, famous as the creator of the Palm Beach Style. Rich in golf history, the lavishly refurbished Boca, as the resort is known locally, once employed legends Sam Snead and Tommy Armour as golf professionals.

Though just 6,253 yards in length, the property’s original William Flynn-designed layout, the Resort Course, is sneakily difficult, with rapid elevation changes and numerous water features. A far stiffer test is the Country Club Course, a 6,714-yard Joe Lee design located a short drive from the resort, where water comes into play on 14 holes.

Lee, a native Floridian who was a master at shaping the local terrain, also designed the Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter. Water hazards and sand bunkers are almost constantly in play at this lush and well-conditioned track.

Another must-play course, especially for fans of Donald Ross, arguably the greatest of all golf architects, is Delray Beach Golf Club. This classic and affordable 6,907-yard design features rolling fairways, water on five holes and Ross’s distinctive random bunkering.

By the time Ross unveiled his Delray Beach course in 1923, hotels were springing up throughout the county. Vacationers had been arriving in steadily growing numbers ever since Standard Oil magnate Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway south from St. Augustine in the 1890s.

Flagler built two luxury resorts (Royal Poinciana Hotel and Palm Beach Inn, the precursor of The Breakers) on the 26-kilometre-long spit of land known as Palm Beach. Accessible by drawbridges over the Intracoastal Waterway, Palm Beach quickly attracted the attention of royals, captains of industry and socialites who came for the sun, seclusion and to enjoy a life of privileged luxury among their own kind.

Architect Addison Mizner, Palm Beach style (Image: wikipedia)

Architect Addison Mizner, creator of the Palm Beach Style. (Image: Wikipedia)

Many of Palm Beach’s most opulent waterfront mansions are the handiwork of Mizner, the architect of the Boca Raton Resort and Club. He took his inspiration from the medieval buildings of the Mediterranean, flamboyantly including plazas, courtyards and arcades in his designs to let his clients better enjoy the balmy Florida weather.

Longtime residents sniff that the Golden Age of Palm Beach is long past, blaming the decline on arrivistes such as Donald Trump. Another sign of the changing times was the 1995 sale by the Kennedy clan of their Spanish-style compound, designed by Mizner and purchased from the Wanamaker family in 1933.

Rather than Du Ponts, Dodges and other blue bloods, today’s tax roll is heavy on aging pop singers and fashionistas. Vera Wang, Vic Damone, Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart all own property in Palm Beach.

But even in these recessionary times, there still appears to be enough old and new money, as well as rubber-necking tourists, to keep the cashiers humming at the dozens of boutiques, galleries and upscale restaurants on Worth Avenue and its spider web of courtyards and vias.

Equally reassuring is the steady lineup of golfers seen every day on the first tee at The Breakers, the iconic society hotel that launched Florida’s golf boom more than a century ago.

 

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