PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA. -- It's not true that Florida is closed in August. But it should be. Even the alligators are out of town -- gone condo-sharing with the rattlesnakes up at Pinehurst. Lots of folks thought the PGA of America was out of its mind when it chose a monotonous course here in the scorch-and-drench belt to hold its annual showcase event. Now, all doubt has been removed.

If the PGA wants to lose its precarious status as the fourth major golf title, all it has to do is make a few more brilliant decisions like this one. When you see the local lizards and other reptiles lined up at the ticket counters ready to cash in their frequent flier coupons, you know you've come to the wrong place at the wrong time. Palm Beach Gardens is a euphonic name. But don't be fooled. These days, it's been said, the palms are weeping just to water themselves; the beach is suitable only for fakirs who walk on hot coals and the gardens have crawled inside and are curled up by the air conditioners.

It's not just the heat that makes this event the shame of the golf year -- although it was a crisp 109 degrees on the course here on Fry-day. What's the problem? Have all the golf courses in Michigan been condemned? Whatever happened to Oak Hill, Oakland Hills and Oakmont? But, noooooo. Welcome to Jokemont.

When Arnold Palmer wears a hat and sweatbands, that's too hot. "I look like I walked through a lake," Palmer said at the turn Saturday, looking at his drenched slacks. And Saturday afternoon was the comfiest so far: 100 in the shade.

It's not the torrential rainstorms that wade through these drab flatlands almost every late summer day that make PGA officials such excellent candidates for a group flogging. 'Round about the time you're on your knees begging, "Water, water," you're eyewitness to a flash flood. Avoid low-lying bunkers.

So far, this march through a marsh hasn't gotten its legitimate deluge. Old hands say that southern Florida is just saving something special for the final nine holes.

It's not the threat of lightning that makes this event such a shock. The PGA has dozens of golf carts on the course at all times to whisk players to safety as soon as the thunderstorm sirens go crazy. Now, if there were just 10,000 more buggies, the rest of us wouldn't spend so much time watching the sky for gray clouds. That's gray, not black. By the time the clouds get dark, you're already well-done.

It's not just the gawdawful condition of the greens here (on what was a dubious championship track to start with) that has the little Tour world up in arms. This layout really didn't need a chemical spill on its greens. The place was ordinary enough when the PGA Seniors was held here last March -- you know, in spring, the season before summer.

To protect par, the tees have been pushed back and the rough has been allowed to grow to U.S. Open length. The result: a field average of 76.6 the first two days and several local pros who almost shot the temperature. When length and rough -- the characteristics almost any course can have -- are a layout's most distinguishing trademarks, you know that Merion and Pebble Beach have nothing to worry about.

By now, you may be wondering why such a smart bunch of guys as the PGA of America would choose such a joint for their event. Could it be because the PGA owns the 72-hole complex here, of which the so-called National Champions Course is the paste in the crown? Could we be going for the buckerooskis here, just maybe? One thing is sure; the real estate developers who were part of this project wouldn't come on board unless they were assured that they could claim the place had been the site of a PGA Championship.

By the end of the week, fans and players may not be the only ones who've taken a bath. Crowds have been much smaller than organizers anticipated. Guesstimates of 12,000 on Thursday, 14,000 on Friday and 17,500 Saturday are probably generous. Best hopes for Sunday are 25,000. Those would be low figures for a weekly Tour stop and look skinny next to healthy events like the Kemper Open.

In the entire history of golf, only one other major title has ever been held in Florida. Guess who did it. Yup, the PGA put on its sheebang right here in good old Palm Beach Gardens back in 1971 at the PGA National Golf Club.

Jack Nicklaus won that '71 PGA. And he almost lives within walking distance of the National Champions Course. So, you'd think he'd be pretty happy to play at home, right? Well, he's been so peeved that he's been complaining for six months, nagging the PGA about how, with any luck at all, the final round will be rained out until about Tuesday. Out of fear of rain delays, the first 36 holes of this event were played off both the first and 10th tees, like a mixed Scotch four ball at your company's annual golf outing.

Still, PGA officials are defending their choice. "We feel the weather is not a factor," Jim Awtrey, executive director of the PGA, told United Press International. "We've had this tournament in Tulsa {1982}, where it was very hot, and we're gonna be in Edmond, Okla., next year and it'll be hot there, too. We have an August date for this tournament and it's going to be hot almost everywhere in August. As far as moving the date, we like where we are."

The nicest accident of the week is that conditions have been so tough -- make that so unfair -- that the fainthearted have disappeared from the leader boards and plenty of thick-skinned old war horses -- including Seve Ballesteros, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins and Ben Crenshaw -- are in contention. They may yet salvage an event that deserved to be a disaster.