By Vickie Mitchell
As a day’s play ends in early March at the 2011 Honda Classic golf tournament, buzz is the word that best describes the lobby bar at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Golf fans and players pour off the resort’s Champions course and gather five deep around the lobby’s iBar as the soulful sound of a bagpipe rises above the din of conversation. It is the happiest of happy hours in “the heart and soul,” of the hotel, as Iris Acosta describes the lively lobby.
With 40,000 square feet of meeting space to the right and 350 guest rooms to the left, the lobby and iBar are “right in the middle,” said Acosta, the resort’s director of sales.
“It is physically perfect for getting people to congregate and to network. If you have a group of 200 here, you would sort of own the lobby. The lobby becomes your living room; it is where they [groups] can operate from.”
The iBar also is central to PGA National’s $65 million renovation, a commitment made by Walton Street Capital, which began pouring money into the now 30-year-old resort after buying it in late 2006.
The renovation has been termed a “reinvention,” an apt description for the changes at the sprawling 2,340-acre resort, best known for five championship golf courses.
Round two begins
After a three-year break, round two of renovations is about to begin. Guests rooms will shift from sedate Southern to comfortable contemporary, bringing them into agreement with the rest of the resort. Two existing restaurants will be reworked to make them more useful to group business. The resort’s original golf course will be closed until November as it is improved.
The buzz about PGA National goes beyond its makeover. Months after it was sold, the resort snagged the Honda Classic. It was a return to prominence on the golf circuit for PGA National, which had hosted no major tourneys since 2000 after being the site of the 1983 Ryder Cup, the 1987 PGA Championship and, from 1982 to 2000, the PGA Seniors Championship.
This year’s Honda Classic saw its biggest crowds ever as Tiger Woods played the tourney for the first time. Honda also announced it had signed on for another four years at PGA National.
Business beyond golf
Although the resort has 90 holes of golf, two golf schools — the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and the Dave Pelz Scoring Game School — and a club-fitting lab, its business is not all tied to the sport.
Acosta, who joined the staff 18 months ago, was surprised to learn that about 60 percent of group business at PGA National does not involve golf. Still, the importance of golf and the visibility the Honda Classic provides cannot be discounted, she said.
“It is tremendously invaluable. It gives the planners and our guests an opportunity to see our capability to run and host such a world-class event. It demonstrates our capability to take care of their groups as well.”
On par for meetings
There’s no question that PGA National is a property aimed primarily at meetings and other group business. Some 70 percent of its business is defined as group; about 40 percent of those groups are repeat clients, according to Acosta.
So it is fitting that in the first round of renovations, existing meeting spaces were upgraded with Bose sound systems, zone lighting, built-in screens and, of course, new decor and furnishings.
Two small ballrooms — the Bella Lago and the Vista — were added in a separate wing that is adjacent to the conference wing. The 2,310-square-foot Vista has views of the resort’s iconic zero-entry pool, which are the same views guests enjoy from the lobby and iBar.
The conference wing is easy to navigate and all on one floor. A covered drive makes it easy to drop off attendees at a separate entrance that leads from a 3,200-square-foot prefunction area into the nearly 10,000-square-foot PGA Ballroom.
Along long hallways that connect the ballroom to the hotel lobby are a number of varied meeting spaces, among them the 4,410-square-foot British Open Ballroom, a 58-seat tiered amphitheater, a boardroom and a meeting room adjacent to an atrium courtyard where meals and breaks are often taken, and a number of smaller meeting and breakout rooms.
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