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Course Review: Florida Club is a One-of-a-Kind Delight

The Florida Club

  • Year Opened: 1996
  • Designer: Dick Gray
  • From the Tips: 6,909 yards / par 72 / 72.9 course rating / 134 Slope
  • From the Short Tees: 4,988 yards / par 72 / 70.5 course rating (women) / 115 Slope
  • Walking allowed? No
  • Address: 1380 SW Kanner Hwy., Stuart, FL 34997

Hole 5 Florida ClubAs far as I can tell, Dick Gray counts just a single golf course design to his credit. Then again, one could do a lot worse than having the Florida Club as the centerpiece of the old resumé.

This public course on the outskirts of Stuart, Fla., is one of the most popular in the area, and Gray deserves a lot of the praise. Like too many others, the Florida Club claims its layout “appeals to golfers of all playing levels.” Unlike most, this course lives up to the cliché.

First, a little background on its author, whose pedigree is a bit more impressive than first meets the eye. Gray worked extensively for Pete Dye, serving as project manager at vaunted Loblolly Pines in nearby Hobe Sound and later becoming greens superintendent there. He previously served in a similar capacity at Dye’s Crooked Stick GC in Carmel, Ind., site of John Daly’s epic 1991 PGA Championship victory.

In other words, Gray wasn’t exactly flying blind when he took on the Florida Club.

There’s no denying Dye’s influence here. The extra-long waste areas, pot bunkers and water hazards girded by wooden planks are straight out of Pete’s playbook. Mercifully, Gray left out the sadistic touches that made his mentor infamous.

But enough about Dick Gray. On to the golf course.

Hole 9 Florida ClubThe Florida Club satisfies varying golfer constituencies by virtue of its strategic underpinnings. On the majority of holes, Gray placed hazards on the direct path to the green while leaving plenty of room to steer wide of trouble. The upshot: Better golfers are tempted to go bombs-away over the obstacles – and gain a shorter, easier shot to the green — while the rest of us seek shelter on the safe side.

It’s certainly not a revolutionary concept. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of strategic design. But while every architect professes a belief in classic principles, few implement them as well as Gray did at the Florida Club.

The course is full of highlights. I’m especially fond of the tree-lined, dogleg-left second hole; the water-all-the-way eighth, a reachable par 5; No. 9, an arduous par 4 that curls around a lagoon; and the finale, where you hit the tee shot as close to a pond as you dare, then brave a lengthy approach over water – the clubhouse looming just beyond the green.

But none of them compare with the astounding 12th. Few holes do. A par 4 measuring anywhere from 322 to 457 yards, No. 12 is what design geeks call a “Cape hole.” Never mind the origins, just know that the Cape hole is the essence of heroic, risk-reward architecture.

Hole 18 Florida ClubOn the Florida Club’s 12th, you face a near-90° dogleg right off the tee, with a vast marshy wasteland between you and the fairway. The farther right you play, the more marsh you must clear. Calibrate and execute just right and you’ll face a much shorter approach. You can always chicken out and bail left off the tee, if you don’t mind playing a second shot from 200-plus yards – often into the wind and with a deep pit of sand fronting the green.

Forget that Dick Gray has flown solo on just one golf course design. Most architects go a lifetime without creating a single hole this grand.

Daniel MitchellDaniel Mitchell is a golf writer and contributor who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.

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