Palm Beach County, on the Atlantic Coast in South Florida, is so thick with Tour players these days, they can't keep track of each other. A few years ago, young Steve Marino met the great Ernie Els at Yard House, a watering hole--eatery off PGA Boulevard, just down the road from where the Honda Classic is played. The fellas started chatting.
"And what do you do?" Els asked Marino.
"I'm a touring pro," Marino answered.
"Oh," Els said, slightly embarrassed. "What tour do you play?" You know: Nationwide, Hooters, maybe in Europe or Asia.
"I play the PGA Tour," Marino said, "and next week I'm going to pass your a-- on the money list!"
It was the start of a beautiful friendship, PB-style.
Not every Tour player likes to play on his off weeks, but Marino and Els do. Their problems are deciding where to play and with whom. Nice problems to have.
Palm Beach County, along with Martin County to the north, has dozens of courses. Many, like the Everglades Club and Seminole and the Palm Beach Country Club, are bastions of old, genteel wealth. If you do it right, a Tour player will leave these places with lessons in the vagaries of business and life. They're lovely. Palm Beach C.C., for instance, has an old Donald Ross course with good grass, the whiff of the ocean and scrumptious food, but it's 6,200 yards and the range is teeny-tiny. For an Ernie Els and a Steve Marino and their brethren, spots like that are nice places to visit, but they wouldn't want to live there.
Els lives at the Bear's Club, a sparkly development in the town of Jupiter. Michael Jordan is building his newest personal Taj Mahal there, on a beautiful but way hard course designed by Jack Nicklaus where downhill putts can roll off greens and onto the heads of various lagoon creatures. Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy and Camilo Villegas are all paying members of the Bear's Club, which has a driving range big enough to accommodate a Learjet, although the nearby North County Airport is more set up for that. At North County you might bump into Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Gary Player or Nick Price, among other Hall of Famers. Have jet, will travel.
Els plays a lot of his golf not in his backyard but at the nearby Tequesta Country Club, an unpretentious family club where you can carry your own bag to the driving range and nobody will turn you in to the house committee. Despite his fancy wine collection, Els is working class at his core, like a lot of touring pros are, and he doesn't like being fussed over. On the rolls at Tequesta are Marino and Will MacKenzie, Champions tour players Olin Browne and Russ Cochran, and a scad of other good sticks. The golf course architect Tommy Fazio, Tom's nephew, is a member, as is the business-development manager of Els's course-design firm, Piet Pieters. To get a game at Tequesta, all you have to do is show up. That is, if you're a plus-four.