Why do so many PGA Tour players live in one small Florida golf mecca? It started with Jack Nicklaus.

Keegan Bradley was born in Woodstock, Vermont. The perfect spot for his first sports crush: Ski racing.

Bradley, an elite skier, decided to pursue golf as a teen, probably much to the delight of his aunt and World Golf Hall of Famer, Pat Bradley. But an area that sees 82 inches of snow annually with an average high temperature of 37 degrees for five months is not good for a game not meant to be played on the frozen tundra. So Bradley started a slow migration south, spending his senior year in high school in Hopkinton, Mass., attending St. John’s University in New York, before making the big move and deciding there was just one place to settle for a blossoming star on the PGA Tour.

“I don’t think anywhere in the world they have what we have here in Jupiter,” said Bradley, 35, a four-time winner of the PGA Tour, including the 2011 PGA Championship.

This is a story that can be repeated over and over: Golfer grows up in cold country; spends too many late fall and winter days shivering on hard, brown courses; realizes the only way to further the career is to find the perfect spot where greens are, well, green year-round.

Every search leads them back to one area of the country: Palm Beach County.

Whether it’s Jupiter or Jupiter Island, Palm Beach Gardens or North Palm Beach, Delray Beach or Boca Raton, this area is to golf what Silicon Valley is to technology.

This is the mecca for golf royalty.

“All these golfers have the luxury of being able to live wherever they want, and they recognize Jupiter, northern Palm Beach County has the greatest lifestyle,” said Jupiter mayor Todd Wodraska. “(There’s) great golf courses and the ability to have a boat in your backyard. … Those guys recognize it’s pretty spectacular here.”

More than 30 active members of the regular PGA Tour – and many more men and women professionals – call the area home. From Tiger Woods (and soon Phil Mickelson) in Jupiter Island to Gary Woodland in Delray Beach. Half of the top 10 in the current World Golf Rankings and more than 20 in the top 100 live in the area.

Among those is No. 8 and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and No. 16 Daniel Berger. Koepka and Berger are the two most recognizable names who did not need to google the area and arrange for their belongings to be shipped across state lines. Both were raised in Palm Beach County, now live in Jupiter and continue to greet their peers making the move to their hometown.

Then there are the retired legends led by the Godfather of Golf, Jack Nicklaus, along with those on the back nine of their professional careers and regulars on the Tour Champions.

Want to put together an old-timers match? Here’s a list of Hall of Famers/major winners who could jump in their car to join: Ernie Els (the baby of the group at 51), Greg Norman, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Raymond Floyd and Mark Calcavecchia. Nicklaus and Gary Player – both in their 80s – could pick sides. All live in the Jupiter area with the exception of Langer, a longtime resident of Boca Raton.

That’s 81 major championship trophies or jackets on the PGA Tour belonging to golfers either living in the area or planning to arrive soon among the two groups.

Jack Nicklaus started it 55 years ago

Jack and Barbara Nicklaus moved to Palm Beach County in 1966, settling in North Palm Beach. Jack already was 17 PGA Tour wins into his career, including four majors, and that year won the Masters and The Open Championship.

Jack and Barbara founded the Bear’s Club in Jupiter 22 years ago and it has become the hotbed for local professionals. Currently, 30 pros are members of the club.

Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay are among the members who Nicklaus said have sought his advice.

“I don’t go out and seek this, but I am available,” Jack said. “I’ve always felt like I might have some knowledge – you might call it wisdom I don’t know whether it is or not. I might have something to impart to the kids that might help them and I’m delighted to supply that to any one of them.”

Speaking to Jack Nicklaus about golf … that certainly is knowledge. Need proof? Nicklaus said he spoke with Cantlay about playing his course at Muirfield Village two years ago before the Memorial Tournament. What’s happened since? Cantlay won the event soon after that first conversation with Jack in 2019 and again this week, which pushed him to No. 7 in the world.

How many golf courses in Palm Beach County?

As the area was booming around the turn of the century, so too was its reputation for golf. Not only does Florida boast the most golf courses in the country with more than 1,250, but Palm Beach has the most of any county in the country with more than 160.

Add to that the weather, lifestyle and a significant reason that goes unspoken – tax breaks – and the movement has been well underway.

“I knew I needed to come somewhere warm year-round,” Thomas said. “I had a bunch of buddies here. I wanted to be around people that were going to make me better. I wanted to be able to play with great players. That’s been the biggest benefit.

“I can’t see myself living anywhere else at least if I want to continue to play golf.”

Thomas is ranked No. 2 in the world behind Johnson, No. 1 for the past 10 months. Johnson recently sold his Palm Beach Gardens estate for $16.5 million, $11.5 million more than he purchased it for in 2015, and moved to Harbour Isles in North Palm Beach. Johnson won the 2016 U.S. Open and 2020 Masters.

Thomas and Rickie Fowler live on the same street and are as close as any Tour pros in the area. Fowler has lived in Jupiter for more than 11 years and he has witnessed professionals from all levels streaming to the area.

“There’s always guys to play with, there’s always good games, and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed … being around guys that I can compete against and help push each other to be better,” Fowler said.

While the old “iron sharpens iron” theory probably works, it’s not necessarily for everyone. Shane Lowry, the 2019 Open champion and native of Ireland, was hooked on the area after playing the Honda Classic in 2014. After renting for four years, he closed on a home in Jupiter in the spring.

For Lowry, it was not as much his neighbors, but the neighborhoods that attracted him to Palm Beach County.

“It’s Palm Beach … Jupiter literally has everything,” he said. “It’s got good weather, great golf courses, great practice facilities. That’s why we’re here. We’re not here because everyone else is here. It just so happens that everybody comes here because it’s the best weather during the winter, the best practice.”

If Tiger Woods builds it, they will come

Tiger Woods’ connection to the area started 15 years ago, when he was living in Orlando. In 2006, the 15-time major winner (second to Nicklaus’ 18) spent $38 million on a 13,700-square-foot home that sits on a 10-acre parcel stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal on Jupiter Island in southeast Martin County.

“I miss the ocean,” he said at the time. “Being in Orlando … there’s a bunch of lakes, but it’s not the ocean.”

The purchase reportedly was at the urging of his wife at the time, Elin Nordegren. Tiger made Jupiter Island his permanent address in 2011 after the couple divorced.

By then, a smattering of Tour pros already had preceded him, including Luke Donald, Bradley, Johnson and Fowler. But many more would follow. McIlroy, the four-time majors winner, arrived in 2013, first living in Palm Beach Gardens. In 2018, he bought Ernie Els’ 17,000-square-foot estate in the Bear’s Club.

Next up is Mickelson, the recent PGA Championship winner. Mickelson is being tight-lipped about his potential move to Jupiter Island from California but recently said “the plan” is to move here.“ A lot of great things around the area,” was all he would say.

“A lot of the guys went to Orlando first,” said Donald, who was living in Chicago before relocating in 2006. “And then from Orlando they seem to come to Palm Beach County.”

Specifically, northeast Palm Beach County, but with a few exceptions. Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open Champion, was born in Topeka, Kansas, and attended the University of Kansas. He decided about a decade ago a move was necessary. He chose Delray Beach.

“I see everybody every week, I don’t want to see them when I’m home,” he said, smiling. “We always travel together. So I see them all the time.”

Woodland trains in Miami and wanted to be in south county. “We fell in love with Delray,” he said. “I don’t ever see leaving that place.”

‘For golf pros, this is heaven’

Professional golfers will settle for nothing but the best when it comes to facilities. Luxurious clubhouses, pristine fairways and immaculate greens are as important to them as finding the right accountant, caddie and chef.

And part of the lure is area courses.

While Nicklaus has made Bear’s Club a go-to destination, others such as Dye Preserve, Medalist, Turtle Creek and Michael Jordan’s The Grove XXIII, which opened in 2019, could host practice rounds featuring top players in the world any day of the week.

“Any given day, there are the favorable golf courses where games are being played at anytime,” said Jeff Leishman, a PGA Tour coach out of Dye Preserve who coached Berger for 12 years. About 20 pros from the PGA, Champions and LPGA tours are members at Dye Preserve.

Leishman called those games money matches. “We joked we were possibly giving out world ranking points,” he said.

Denny McCarthy, who moved to Jupiter in 2014 after graduating from the University of Virginia, said these practice rounds help “get those competitive juices flowing in an off week.”

“I’m such a competitor, so even for a small money game, I get up to play,” he said.

“Small money” is relative. Locals who continue to play the regular Tour have made nearly $1 billion combined on the course. That does not include outside ventures, which adds up to hundreds of millions more.

With so many world-class venues to chose from, several are members or play out of multiple clubs like Berger (Dye Preserve and Bear’s Club), Thomas (Bear’s Club and Medalist), Bradley (Bear’s Club and The Grove), Fowler (Medalist and Turtle Creek), Johnson (Bear’s Club and The Grove), McIlroy (Bear’s Club and The Grove), Donald (Bear’s Club and The Grove).

Woodland plays out of Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach, which Ben Hogan once called “the best course I have ever seen” and where Sam Snead was once a member.

“Other parts of the country or world, it’s pretty shocking when a tour player is at their course,” Bradley said. “But down here it’s very normal. The practice facilities are set up for us, we get to hit our own balls on the range.

“For golf pros, this is heaven.”

And they not only can be seen on the courses, but dining at restaurants or popping into their favorite Starbucks or watching their kids on a local ball field.

It all happens in Palm Beach County.

“At least once a week,” Jupiter’s Lucas Glover said. “For the most part, we frequent the same places, grocery stores, everything within five, six miles in Jupiter.”

Wodraska has been the Jupiter mayor since 2016. He’s become friends with Ryan Armour, who blends in like any other dad watching his sons’ games.

“In Jupiter, certainly the secret has been out for some time now,” Wodraska said. “I think they’re comfortable being out and about. When they’re here, they’re home. And home is being comfortable and finding your favorite restaurant and finding your favorite place to grab a cup of coffee so you don’t have to be hounded by autograph seekers.”

And no place is more welcoming and comfortable than The Woods Jupiter. Tiger’s flagship restaurant offers privacy and protection from celebrity seekers and has held several celebrations, including Thomas’ 2017 PGA Championship and Fowler’s and Thomas’ Honda Classic titles in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

All of which can be a huge boon to the area. The migration of not just great PGA pros but those from the LPGA tour along with other iconic athletes and entertainers makes the golf phenomenon happening in our area a Chamber of Commerce dream.

Realtor Brian Coffey of One Sotheby’s International has seen the benefits.

“I think it is a selling point,” he said. “If these people that could afford to live anywhere have chosen the Jupiter area and Palm Beach area to live, why wouldn’t I want to be around them.

“They are smart, very successful people. They can live anywhere they want. They’re living here. The homework’s been done for them.”

Active Tour players who live in Palm Beach and southern Martin counties

Active members of the regular PGA Tour who live in Palm Beach County and southern Martin County. (World Golf Ranking in parenthesis)

  • Ryan Armour, Jupiter (261)

  • Daniel Berger, Jupiter (16)

  • Keegan Bradley, Jupiter (73)

  • Patrick Cantlay, North Palm Beach (7)

  • Corey Connors, Palm Beach Gardens (36)

  • Luke Donald, Jupiter (514)

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick, Jupiter (21)

  • Rickie Fowler, Jupiter (87)

  • Lucas Glover, Jupiter (112)

  • Branden Grace, Jupiter (71)

  • Dustin Johnson, North Palm Beach (1)

  • Brooks Koepka, Jupiter (8)

  • Tom Lewis, Jupiter (127)

  • Shane Lowry, Jupiter (40)

  • Denny McCarthy, Jupiter (164)

  • Rory McIlroy, Jupiter (10)

  • Phil Mickelson, Jupiter Island* (31)

  • Joaquin Niemann, Jupiter (30)

  • Alex Noren, Jupiter (93)

  • Louis Oosthuizen, Jupiter (18)

  • Patrick Rodgers, Palm Beach Gardens (228)

  • Charl Schwartzel, Palm Beach Gardens (110)

  • Cameron Tringale, Palm Beach Gardens (74)

  • Justin Thomas, Jupiter (2)

  • Peter Uihlein, Jupiter (250)

  • Erik van Rooyen, Jupiter (88)

  • Camilo Villegas, Jupiter (222)

  • Aaron Wise, Jupiter (98)

  • Matthew Wolff, Jupiter (33)

  • Gary Woodland, Delray Beach (59)

  • Tiger Woods, Jupiter Island (134)

* Mickelson expected to move to the area