South Florida Course Reviews Through the Eyes of a Convert
As a native of north Florida – where visitors get caught off guard by honest-to-goodness hills and real-deal Dixie drawls – I used to turn up my nose at the notion of golf in the state’s pancake-flat southern reaches.
But after living in Palm Beach County for two years, I must confess to being pleasantly surprised by the courses here.
Turns out they’re not all made from the same cookie-cutter mold. Some feature home-free fairways. Water doesn’t encroach on every single hole. I’ve even encountered what could fairly be called hills.
I’ll be serving up reviews of south Florida tracks in the coming months, starting with one of the area’s most venerable public clubs: West Palm Beach Golf Course.
Links Golf, SoFla Style
The original 1947 layout by Dick Wilson, the man behind famed courses like Doral’s Blue Monster and Cog Hill No. 4 outside Chicago, attracted stars including Arnold Palmer to the West Palm Beach Open Invitational back in the day.
But a funny thing happened in the decades that followed: The trees grew. And grew. And grew. By 2009, WPB Golf Course had become a standard-issue parkland affair, with fairways forming corridors between the pines, oaks and palms. Wilson’s routing hadn’t changed, but the course’s character certainly had.
Enter former tour pro Mark McCumber, who got the call to restore the layout’s old-Florida feel. He succeeded brilliantly. McCumber’s 2009 renovation cleared away most of the trees while remaking the bunkers and adding acres of shimmering, unkempt sand between holes. Rough is minimal, water hazards nonexistent.
Naturally, some regulars howled at the changes. I have no before-and-after opinion, personally, since I never played the course pre-restoration. But I can tell you I’m a big fan of WPBGC as it exists today — a wide-open, wind-raked vision of links golf, Florida style.
Measuring 7,002 yards from the tips and 6,506 from the regular tees, WPBGC is highlighted by the short par-4 fifth hole, where a creeping fairway bunker makes club selection delightfully dicey; the big-bending 15th, a 436-yard par 4; and a trio of excellent back-nine par 5s culminating in the sand-packed 18th. My favorite of all is No. 7, a stunning par 3 that plays uphill – yep, uphill – to a severely canted green. I’d humbly rate it a classic.
Thanks to its open nature and lack of water, WPBGC relies on steady wind as its primary defense. It was a virtual fortress the two days I played there, with a constant 15-mph breeze blowing off the nearby Atlantic. Even under tough conditions, though, the course is easily managed if you’re reasonably accurate.
With its flanks free of those Sunshine State staples — trees, condos and water — West Palm Beach GC is certainly unique to this neighborhood. And that’s too bad; I wish there were more courses like it. I very much look forward to playing it again, soon, and recommend the course to anyone who enjoys the challenges that only wind and firm turf can provide.
A final word to the wise: steer clear of the beach-like waste areas. Trust me, you do not want to attempt an explosion shot from there, especially into a bitter gust. Playing with a shirt full of sand can mar an otherwise fine experience.
Daniel Mitchell is a golf writer and Golf-Newz.com 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.