Len Ziehm On Golf

A year later, and the Arnold Palmer spirit still lives on at Bay Hill

ORLANDO, Florida – It’s not unusual for a golf destination to lose its owner or – in Florida, at least – to be hit by a hurricane. That’s just part of life.

When the owner, though, is the legendary Arnold Palmer and the hurricane is one of the most devastating in the history of the state, that changes things. Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge has coped with both challenging developments and – we found out first hand – is now dealing with another.

We visited Bay Hill to see how the club has adapted to life without Palmer, whose consistent on-site presence made the club like no other, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which battered all of Florida and neighboring states in September.

All was well after the first night of our visit. The next day, though, we woke up to the sound of fire alarms. A water main burst caused damage to several rooms in the 70-room Bay Hill Lodge, a dilemma with the tourist season fast approaching but nothing that will have a long-lasting impact.

Palmer died on Sept. 25, 2016, while awaiting heart surgery near his long-time home in Latrobe, Pa. He was 87, and his passing triggered tributes worldwide. The man known by all as “the King’’ or simply “Arnie’’ did a lot more good things besides just winning golf tournaments. He was one of the most beloved sports figures of all time, and six months after his passing a statue in Palmer’s honor was erected at Bay Hill. It was completed in time for the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational – an annual stop on the PGA Tour.

Now, eight months and a hurricane after that tournament, we found Bay Hill still a vibrant place. Palmer is gone, but certainly hasn’t been forgotten. The memories of his good old days in tournament golf were always reflected in the décor at the lodge and more classic photos and memorabilia have been added in the past few months.

Given its history, this recent addition to Bay Hill may be the club’s most interesting piece of artwork.

The most interesting is a piece of artwork in the member’s lounge. (It’s important to note that everyone lodging at Bay Hill is a “member’’ during their stay and is treated as such).

Two Bay Hill members, John and Shirley Horn, commissioned the artwork, which was created by artist Bill Mack. You have to know the history of the piece to fully appreciate it; a casual glance won’t do.

Mack purchased the iconic metal sign that was built in 1923 to welcome visitors to Hollywood. It was located at Mount Lee in Los Angeles before Mack acquired it in 2007. He used the metal from it as a façade to paint portraits of illustrious movie stars, but included Palmer among his subjects. In Mack’s judgment, the 80-year old metal material “gives each painting a heartbeat, a sense of time and place.’’

The Bay Hill Lodge is the perfect place to showcase this unique artwork of Palmer. He’s been the subject of many other forms of art over the years, including the statue that has been a feature at Bay Hill since last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Arnold Palmer statue has found a permanent home among the flowers of Bay Hill.

That statue was moved after the PGA Tour event and is now located behind, instead of in front of, a flower garden. Its present location is better than its former one, though there were some fears that the statue was vulnerable when Hurricane Irma visited. Those walloping winds couldn’t take down “Arnie,’’ however, and Bay Hill – unlike many courses in the area — escaped pretty much unscathed as well. The course was closed only five days for cleanup.

Otherwise, the most notable change at Bay Hill isn’t all that notable. There’s just some new signage on the club’s 27 holes, but the Champion, Challenger and Charger nines were as pristine as ever – even a few days after over-seeding and other maintenance procedures were performed.

Palmer’s love affair with Bay Hill started that day in 1965 when he won a charity exhibition event there that also included Jack Nicklaus and Don Cherry. Palmer immediately told his wife Winnie that he wanted to own the place. In 1970 he took out a five-year lease and became the owner officially in 1975.

The Charger nine isn’t used in the Arnold Palmer Invitational but it has more picturesque holes.

Groundbreaking for Bay Hill actually came in 1960 and architect Dick Wilson designed the original 18 holes, which opened a year later. Palmer’s influence, of course, took the place to new heights. In addition to the golf it now includes three restaurants, three lounges, six tennis courts, a full-service spa, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a marina and seven guest cottages.

Palmer’s presence, as much as the facilities, made Bay Hill the special place it has become. In our first visit, in 2014, he dined and socialized with his visitors. No other golf destination could provide that. It’s not the same with him gone, of course, but the aura continues with his daughter, Amy Palmer Saunders, and her husband Roy overseeing the operation. The spirit of Arnie lives on, as you can see from the scenes below, taken on and off the course.

`Little Copperhead’ upgrade bolsters Packard influence at Innisbrook

Eleven holes on Little Copperhead have water hazards but No. 14 looks different than the others.

PALM HARBOR, Florida – Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hotels & Resorts company, had an extraordinary two days last week.

On Thursday Salamander re-opened its Jack Nicklaus-designed Hammock Beach course in Palm Coast, Fla. It had been closed for a 13-month restoration. The next day Salamander put on a festive celebration to mark the re-opening of the North Course at Innisbrook Resort, located in Palm Harbor – part of the Tampa Bay area.

Innisbrook’s North Course is frequently referred to as “Little Copperhead’’ because of its connection to the PGA Tour layout that’s also on the premises. The big Copperhead is more famous as the site of the Valspar Championship in March.

The renovation at Little Copperhead took about half as long (six months) as the one at Hammock Beach but it may go down as more impactful. Little Copperhead is part of one of Florida’s busiest resorts and it’s going to draw plenty of raves once the tourist season kicks into high gear in the next few weeks.

The work done at Little Copperhead centered on the putting surfaces.

Director of golf Bobby Barnes envisioned an update of the North Course for two years before it became a reality.

“We replaced all 18 greens, and it was a project that was tremendously successful,’’ said Mike Williams, Innisbrook’s managing director. “We finished on time, under budget and have a project well done.’’

Williams has been in his current job only eight months, but he had worked at Innisbrook previously when Hilton was the resort’s manager. Williams spent 25 years working at various locations for Hilton, then was executive vice president for Crescent Hotels for five years before deciding to “retire’’ at Innisbrook. Williams and his wife will soon move into a house they are having built near the No. 10 green of Innisbrook’s Island Course.

His eight months on the job, though, haven’t been the life of a retiree. In addition to dealing with the uncertainly of Hurricane Irma’s October visit that wreaked havoc with the entire state Williams worked immediately to gain approval for the Little Copperhead renovation. That delighted Rob Koehler, superintendent of the North and South courses at the resort, and Bobby Barnes, the director of golf. Koehler and Barnes had dreamed of doing the North Course renovation for two years.

“The greens were over 40 years old,’’ explained Barnes. “We switched to TIFEagle Bermuda, the same as at Copperhead and the Island Course, and we re-sodded all the bunker collars.’’

The new greens on Little Copperhead played like they’d been there for years at the Grand Opening..

Those new greens played during the grand opening round as if they had been there for years. Those who have visited the course in the past will also note three new trees on the first hole, two more on the right side of the No. 18 fairway and three palms that now outline the island green at No. 5. Koehler managed virtually the entire project.

That’s particularly noteworthy, in that no new architect was deemed needed. The original layout designed by the legendary Larry Packard is still very much in evidence. The sizes of the greens were expanded where shrinkage had occurred over the years, and that will allow for additional pin placements now. That’s always a good thing.

Packard designed all four courses at Innisbrook, and Little Copperhead merits a special place in the resort’s history. Nine of its holes were once part of the Copperhead course, which opened in 1972. Packard designed the two Copperheads nine holes at a time and the back nine of the North Course was once part of the premier layout.

The biggest difference between the “big’’ and “little’’ Copperhead is length. Little Copperhead – the North Course – measures only 6,325 yards from the back tees. It has an unusual quirk with back-to-back par-3s at Nos. 15 and 16 and plays to a par of 70. Big Copperhead is 7,209 yards and a par 71.

Though already hosting a professional tournament for 25 consecutive years, both the U.S. Golf Association and PGA Tour have toyed with the idea of bringing a major championship to that layout. It hasn’t happened yet but, down the road, who knows?

No. 18 received two new trees to enhance another of designer Larry Packard’s trademark doglegs.

Packard finished his storied career – he designed over 600 courses — at Innisbrook. Before moving there in 1984 he worked on the courses with his son Roger. Though not achieving the notoriety of his father Roger was a successful course architect as well. He started working with his father in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale and, teaming with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North, designed two of Illinois’ best courses — Cantigny, which has 27 holes in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, and The General, at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena. Roger created three 18-holers at Eagle Ridge.

The first course the Packards worked on together, though, was at Innisbrook. They joined forces on the Island Course, which opened in 1970 as Innisbrook’s first 18-holer. Recently lengthened and renovated, it has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers, the Ladies PGA Legends Tour and the NCAA Championships. The Packards worked on courses together for about 15 years before Roger eventually went out on his own.

In addition to his work in Illinois, Roger designed Sweetwater – a course located on what was then the Ladies PGA Tour headquarters in Sugar Land, Tex. The LPGA later moved from that area to its present location in Daytona Beach.

Larry Packard also created the South Course, which contrasts with the others at Innisbrook in that it is more links-style with 10 water hazards. Larry was an Innisbrook resident until his death in 2014 at the age of 101.

Roger was on hand at Innisbrook to celebrate the 2015 re-opening of the Copperhead course following a major renovation. He had done most of his work in China in recent years before being stricken with esophageal cancer. Roger moved back to Palm Harbor to seek the aid of the same care-giver that his father had in the final months of his life. Roger died on Oct. 14 in Palm Harbor. He was 70.

The island green at No. 5 has been enhanced with the addition of some new trees.

Good golf is more than just another attraction in the buzzing Daytona Beach area

The par-3 fourth is typical of the beautiful holes offered at Sugar Mill, one of Florida’s best courses.

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – It might be difficult to look at Daytona Beach as a golf destination but — without question — you should.

Admittedly the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Beach’’ is the main attraction in the Volusia County area. Or maybe it’s the Daytona International Speedway, the recently renovated world’s largest motor sports stadium and the site of the annual Daytona 500.

Golf, though, is very much a part of the Daytona scene as well. After all, it is the headquarters of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. LPGA International has two courses on its premises, the most prominent being the Jones Course – a Rees Jones creation that re-opened in September after a greens’ renovation during the summer months.

The Jones and its companion Hills Course (an Arthur Hills design) will host the final stage of the LPGA Qualifying School from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 and the Jones will be the site of the Symetra Tour Championship from Oct. 5-8, a season climax that includes pro-ams on the days both before and after the main event.

Those upcoming events will create the highlight of the area’s 2017 golf season, but there are plenty of other playing options for visitors within a 20-mile radius. Our three-day, three-course visit was highlighted by a round at Sugar Mill Country Club, a Joe Lee design in New Smyrna Beach.

Lee, who died in 2003, was a well-respected Florida-based architect who made a rare venture out of the South to design the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 courses at Cog Hill, in Lemont, Ill. The last of Lee’s courses at Cog Hill, better known as Dubsdread, was the long-time home of the PGA Tour’s Western Open.

Sugar Mill doesn’t have the stature of Cog Hill or some of Lee’s other designs, but it is one of the very best courses in Florida, believe me, and it has the added benefit of offering 27 holes. Sugar Mill is a private club, so getting on the course might not be easy. Non-member tee times are frequently available in the summer months and occasionally available on weekdays during the winter, however. I’d recommend giving Sugar Mill a shot. If you’re successful getting on you’ll find it well worth the effort.

Architect Ron Garl’s creative bunkering made Victoria Hills a most challenging layout.

Another, very different, course is more readily available for play in New Smyrna Beach. We’re big supporters of the Florida Historic Golf Trail, a collection of about 50 courses around the state that have been opened to the public for at least 50 consecutive years. You never know what you’re going to get when you test a Historic Trail layout, but you will get a good taste of golf history in the state that has the most courses – over 1,300 of them.

We’ve tried about a dozen Historic Trail courses over the years and the New Smyrna Beach Golf Club is the second-best of the lot (trailing only El Campion, at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills).

Construction of the New Smyrna course was started by the Donald Ross and Associates architectural firm in 1949 but Ross wasn’t really involved. He died in 1951 and the 18 holes weren’t completed until 1956. The present version represents a Bobby Weed re-design and was completed in 2006.

Mounds defined many of the fairways on the Jones Course at LPGA International.

Our three-day tour of the Daytona area concluded with a round at Victoria Hills, in DeLand. The tour turned out a most-interesting one, in that we played three very different courses in three very different weather conditions and all three had their own charm. Victoria Hills, designed by prolific Florida architect Ron Garl, opened in 2000 and was the toughest of the three layouts.

Garl created a challenging course around 104 big, deep bunkers and elevation changes that are most unusual for Florida courses. While LPGA International and Sugar Mill are located in well-established areas, Victoria Hills is in the heart of a construction boom. Houses are being built around the course and clubhouse upgrades are also in the works. When they’re completed Victoria Hills will become one of the most attractive golf options in Volusia County.

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, built in the 1880s, is one of many sites worth seeing in the Daytona Beach area.

Others – particularly Cypress Head and Spruce Creek in Port Orange; Halifax Plantation in Ormond Beach; and Hidden Lakes, The Preserve at Turnbull Bay and Venetian Bay – all in New Smyrna Beach, also come with glowing recommendations. Spruce Creek is noteworthy, as it’s located in a secluded, fly-in gated community.

In reality, the attractiveness of the golf in the Daytona Beach area is enhanced by the other offerings available. They work hand-in-hand in making this area of the world’s most popular golf/vacation destinations because there’s so much to do there.

In July, for instance, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators – 13 industry leaders from Costa Rica to Australia – visited the area for their North American convention and didn’t just play golf. They also took spins around the Daytona International Speedway track, which has been active with a variety of events about 300 days a year since a $400 million 2 1/2 -year renovation project was completed in January of 2016.

The Speedway isn’t just a tourist hot spot during Speed Week in February. Daily tours are also available and the facility’s museum reflects that sport’s rich history. It’s interesting, whether you’re an auto racing aficionado or not.

Dining and lodging options abound and, if you want a quick stop to see something different, try out the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. It’s 175 feet high – the second-highest lighthouse in Florida – and you can climb to the top of it or stay at ground level to check out some replica homes from the 1800s.

The Walk of Fame was just one of the highlights offered at the Daytona International Speedway.

Hanse’s new Black Course adds to what has made Streamsong a special place

There’s lots of good holes at Streamsong, but my favorite is No. 7 — a par-3 on the Blue Course.

STREAMSONG, Florida – There are over 1,300 golf courses in Florida, more than any other state in the nation, but one facility stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Streamsong Resort, located in the central portion of Florida, has three of the very best 18-holers – not only in the Sunshine State but in the entire United States — now that the Gil Hanse-designed Black Course has opened for public play.

“To have three courses is great,’’ said Scott Wilson, Streamsong’s director of golf. “It gives our guests more variety, and it helps us to be considered in the big picture of resort golf. Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Kiawah, The American Club, Pinehurst – they all have four or more.’’

Yes, it’s a big deal that Streamsong now has a third course – and it’s something special thanks to the designer’s innovative touches. But our comprehensive three-day visit also left us wondering more about what will be coming next

Punchbowl greens are a rarity, and this one can’t be seen from Streamsong Black’s No. 9 fairway.

Streamsong had barely opened its doors in 2012 when we showed up unannounced for a quick tour on a get-acquainted mission that didn’t involve the hitting of a single shot. The intentional brevity of that visit underscored to us just how far Streamsong has come in only five years. Then it had two golf courses that – based just on the reputations of the architects – were sure to be well received by early players.

There was no lodge then. Now there’s a big, state-of-the-art one that has 216 rooms. Lodging is also available at the Clubhouse, and there are four upscale dining restaurants plus a rooftop lounge on the property. The resort also offers such amenities as archery, sporting clays and bass finishing, but golf overwhelms the others, and more is certain to come down the road. The Mosaic Company, Streamsong’s owner, has 16,000 acres to create more golf options on what once had been a phosphate strip mine.

How that land will be used remains to be seen but one very dedicated – though admittedly low level – employee told us that the goal was to eventually have nine courses, each with its own clubhouse. Wilson said that won’t happen and is cautious in discussing any growth possibilities.

This windmill is the logo for Streamsong Black, and is also the key point of reference for players on the course.

“Our goal has been to open three courses, make sure we’re doing it right and make sure our guests are having a good time,’’ he said.

That’s already happening and, while the growth of golf overall has been slow in recent years, it’s never lingered at Streamsong. An expansion to at least five courses in a relatively short period of time seems a given. That’s the number of courses at Bandon Dunes, the Oregon golf mecca that – like Streamsong – is managed by Chicago-based KemperSports.

Comparisons between Bandon and Streamsong will be inevitable as more players visit both hotspots. I already have my opinions on that, but will save them for a later date.

For now it’s time to celebrate the arrival of the Black Course. Its formal opening festivities in late September were sold out for months in advance.

Like the Red, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the Blue, designed by Tom Doak, the Black is basically a walking-only course. Carts were available in the afternoons during our visit but walking – either with a caddie or a rickshaw (a basic pull cart) – was much more appropriate and a better way to enjoy the unique Streamsong experience.

Streamsong’s understated logo and masculine decor reflect the resort’s sleek architectural style.

First-time visitors should be aware of two things: Streamsong doesn’t come cheap (it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this kind of quality golf would come with a commensurate price tag) and a degree of physical fitness is a requirement. Our caddies told us that playing the Black Course meant an eight-mile walk and the other two were about a mile less.

For the sake of comparison, a walking round on the Black didn’t seem quite as tiring as similar rounds at either Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open site in Washington state, or Erin Hills, the 2017 U.S. Open venue in Wisconsin.

Considering how much hype the Black opening created in the golf world I didn’t feel the new course overshadowed Streamsong’s other two layouts. For me the hole with the best wow factor on the property was No. 7 on the Blue, a par-3 that could play anywhere from 97 to 203 yards with a walk across a bridge needed to get from the tee to the green.

As for a favorite course among the three I agreed with all of my playing partners from the three-day visit. (They came from Illinois and Virginia, played all three courses during their stay and we had not met any of them prior to our rounds together). All of us liked the Red the best, for whatever the reason.

The Lodge, with its 216 rooms, is the main gathering place for Streamsong’s visitors.

The Black, though, has some features that the others don’t. Hanse’s fame as an architect took off with his creation of the Brazil course that hosted the 2016 Olympics golf competition, and Streamsong Black has been described as “bigger, broader and bolder’’ than that course in Rio de Janeiro.

After playing it for the first time your No. 1 memory will be the highly unusual punchbowl green on No. 9. It’s about 60 yards in width and depth, but you can’t see it from the fairway. There are two putting surfaces at No. 3, another par-4. The bunkers are numerous and eye-catching throughout the course because of their sharp, ragged-shaped edges. Water comes into play only minimally, at Nos. 3 and 18.

The Black, the only Streamsong course that plays to a par of 73, has three par-5s on the back nine and the course – at 7,311 yards from the back tees – has a maximum length about 200 yards longer than the Red and Blue layouts. The Black is built on 300 acres and has 86 acres devoted to fairways and 11 to putting surfaces.

The teeth from prehistoric inhabitants on the land on which Streamsong was built were used in this lobby exhibit at the Lodge.

Hanse’ creativity extended beyond his 18 holes. He included an extra 340-yard par-4 cutoff hole that finishes at the clubhouse for players who want to play just nine holes. It’s part of a state-of-the-art practice facility dubbed The Roundabout. There’s also a two-acre putting green, called The Gauntlet, available and the course configuration allows for play in six-, nine- and 12-hole loops to create a variety of playing options.

The second-highest point on the property is on the Black Course, and you can see the other courses from there. All have their own flavor.

“They’re all a lot of fun to play. You have to use your imagination over all the property,’’ said Wilson, who doesn’t see Streamsong hosting a truly big tournament like a U.S. Open or PGA Tour event despite the obvious golf riches available.

“It’s not that we wouldn’t want the national attention,’’ he said, “but could we handle it with those galleries?’’

Understandably there’s some doubt about that, and the scheduling of any such event would also have to fit into Florida’s weather patterns. Still, the U.S. Golf Association has played one of its national championships at Streamsong and smaller Ladies PGA or Champions Tour events might make for a good fit there, too.

Architect Gil Hanse made good use of rugged terrain in creating Streamsong Black.

Panhandle courses are providing a fresh twist for Florida golfers

Forced carries, like this colorful one on No. 8 at St. James Bay, are typical of Panhandle courses.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida – You would think, given all the years I’ve spent travelling through Florida and now residing there, that the state’s golf scene couldn’t provide much in the way of surprises.

Then we visited two destinations in the Panhandle, the sometimes forgotten section in the northwest portion of the state. That was an eye-opener.

Make no mistake, golf is an amenity in the Panhandle. Fishing and beach life are the most popular attractions that bring visitors there. The golf, though, shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, it’s getting a big boost these days as course operators strive to make it a tourist destination as well, and Chicago-based KemperSports is a major part of that effort.

KemperSports took over the management of the Bay Point Golf Club in Panama City Beach nearly two years ago and most recently assumed a similar role after Chicago-based investors purchased the St. James Bay course in Carrabelle. They’re very different places, but their courses will definitely be of interest to serious golfers.

Bay Point, which has two 18-hole layouts, has an interesting history. Its Lagoon Legends course had been considered the most difficult course in Florida – if not in the entire United States. While a course with a slope rating in the 140s is considered a major challenge, the Lagoon Legends’ number was an astounding 157.

Island greens are one thing, but St. James has two of its women’s tees set off on islands.

Robert von Hagge, a prolific course architect from the 1960s into the 1980s, was the designer. He put severe moguls in the fairways, and they became infamous to the course’s players.

“It must have been really hard. You could hit a drive down the fairway and never find it,’’ said Ryan Mulvey, now the general manager at Bay Point. So, in 2004, the owners of the course made the unusual decision to bring in the Florida-based Nicklaus Design Group to soften the course.

Since the trademark of courses designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus is that they’re always challenging, that must have made players wonder what a Nicklaus “softening’’ might be.

Nicklaus’ son Gary was the lead designer for a thorough renovation that was completed in 2005. The moguls disappeared and the green complexes were toned down. There’s still a touch of the strange – the sharp double dogleg par-4 fifth hole with two forced carries – but the course is certainly playable and the slope is now a more reasonable 143 from the back tees. Water comes into play on 15 of the 18 holes.

KemperSports came aboard on this project when New York-based Torchlight Investors took over the course along with the very pleasant Sheraton Bay Point Hotel in 2015. Bay Point is Torchlight’s only venture into the golf industry. Since then the number of rounds on the two courses climbed from 35,000 in 2015 to 52,000 last year, and the projection for 2017 is 57,000.

St. James head pro Rob Burlison introduces one of his eye-catching statues.

Golfers don’t just come just to play the now renamed Nicklaus Course. They also find the Meadows layout a nice complement. Unlike the Nicklaus Course, the Meadows is very tight with beautiful oak trees, small greens, lots of doglegs and no forced carries. Willard Byrd designed the Meadows Course in the 1970s.

Pricing is also unusual for Florida, in part because the Panhandle doesn’t have many courses. Panama Beach City is about 60 miles into Florida from the Georgia and Alabama state lines. It’s a five-hour drive from Atlanta, four hours from Birmingham, Ala., and New Orleans and eight hours from Nashville. But Tallahassee, Florida’s capitol city two hours to the east, provides the most out-of-town visitors.

Though Florida represents a get-away for golfers residing in cold climates, the golfing price structure at Bay Point doesn’t reflect that. The presence of beach-goers has led to greens fees being higher in the heat of summer than they are in the winter.

General manager Ryan Mulvey shows off the new patio at Bay Point.

“In the winter we have the lowest rates of the courses in our area (roughly $60 for the Nicklaus and $50 for the Meadows) and in the summer we can charge the highest rates (about $90 for the Nicklaus and $70 for the Meadows),’’ said Mulvey. “It’s just the market that we’re in. It’s challenging in that’s it’s not a golf market. There are only three (comparable) courses in our market, but once people get here, they love it.’’

Bay Point has one offering that the other courses don’t have. GolfBoards – eight of them – were offered starting last July and they’ve added to the Bay Point experience.

St. James Bay, the other KemperSports facility in the Panhandle, is two hours to the east and in a different time zone. There are some joint marketing projects in place between the facilities, and getting from one to the other offers a nice drive though small towns along St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

St. James Bay, recently sold by original owner Eddie Clark to the Chicago group (called MJM Carrabelle), was designed by Jacksonville, Fla.-based architect Robert Walker. It opened in 2003 and is the only golf course in Franklin County. Its home base of Carrabelle is a hotbed for tarpon fishing.

GolfBoards are among the new features offered to golfers playing at Bay Point.

The St. James Bay course stands out for its golf offerings from its abundance of forced carries. You get a wake-up call from the very first one, when you arrive at the No. 1 tee, and some of the other holes even have two of them. The forced carries won’t be popular with every player, but the wetlands and plant life throughout the well-conditioned course will be appreciated by all.

Golf Advisors has consistently listed St. James Bay among its most popular courses in Florida and more recently rated it No. 83 among its top 100 nationally. Its staff, headed by six-year head professional Rob Burlison, is a friendly bunch.

Unlike Bay Point, St. James Bay doesn’t consider itself a resort. Though it has comfortable, upscale lodging available, St. James Bay is a stand-alone public golf course.
It doesn’t have as many nearby attractions as Bay Point but St. George Island is 30 miles away and the town of Apalachicola has an unusually nice array of dining and shopping options.

No. 5, a dogleg left par-4, is the most controversial hole on the Bay Point layout.

Florida courses amazingly recovered quickly from Hurricane Irma

PGA Golf Club, in Port St. Lucie, got into the swing of things, hosting Women’s Golf Day on Saturday.

From the standpoint of this hurricane rookie and new Florida resident the damage incurred from Hurricane Irma was devastating – and it was. The entire state was impacted by one of the biggest hurricanes ever to hit the Sunshine State in mid-September – and that’s saying a lot because hurricanes are an annual concern for Floridians.

As big as Irma was, however, the state’s golf courses were spared serious damage based on reports gathered personally as well as from media outlets and golf friends from around the state.

With the Florida tourist season starting to kick in, we’ll be doing further research and will make at least three trips to various parts of the state in the next five weeks. We will provide reports from the scene from golf facilities on both coasts as well as the central portion of the state.

Until then, here’s a sampling of how a cross-section of Florida courses survived Irma’s wrath.

This big tree went down at The Evergreen Club, an indication of how strong Hurricane Irma was.

PGA Golf Club, the designated winter home of the PGA of America’s 28,000 members in Port St. Lucie, resumed normal operations on Sept. 16, just five days after Irma touched down in Florida, and its PGA Learning Center and dining facilities reopened two days before that. PGA Golf Club encompasses four 18-hole courses but one, the Ryder layout, is undergoing a renovation, and won’t re-open until early December.

“We were fortunate in terms of the amount of damage at our facility, and our staff did an incredible job with the cleanup,’’ said Jimmy Terry, PGA Golf Club’s general manager.

The Evergreen Club, a popular nearby public facility in Palm City, had the most eye-catching damage – a huge tree that was uprooted on its fourth hole – but golfers resumed play on nine holes of the course after only two days of cleanup and it’s now completely open though there’s still signs of tree damage.

More than 250 trees went down at Innisbrook Resort, home of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March, but three of the courses re-opened quickly. None of the downed trees landed on a green or a tee box. Innisbrook’s North course was undergoing a renovation when Irma paid her visit, but its re-opening is planned for early November.

With its new greens, the Jones Course at LPGA International is ready those the Symetra Tour Championship Oct. 5-8.

TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, was hit harder though only 200 trees went down. Dye’s Valley was re-opened first and The Players’ Stadium Course opened on Friday.

LPGA International, a few miles south of Sawgrass off I-95, wasn’t hit nearly as hard as the PGA Tour headquarters were. Kate Holcomb, of the Daytona Beach Area Visitors and Convention Bureau, reported the damage throughout Daytona’s 20-plus courses as “cosmetic, requiring cleanup but not long-term recovery.’’

Mike Glenn, general manager of LPGA International, said all that resort’s courses but one were open after only a couple days of cleanup and the well-regarded Jones Course opened last week after a summer greens’ renovation project was completed.

“The courses are in great shape. You wouldn’t know there was a storm,’’ said Glenn.
Sailfish Point, in Stuart – a waterfront community in the southern part of the state, closed two days before Irma arrived and opened a few days after Irma left.

Hurricane Irma couldn’t knock down this tree on No. 7 at The Evergreen Club — but it came close.

The more centrally-located facilities didn’t feel the brunt of Irma. Reunion Resort, which has three courses in Orlando, needed only one day for cleanup before re-opening. Streamsong, near Lakeland, was fully operational on its Red and Blue courses and the new Black Course opened on Friday.

Another of our personal favorites, Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills, had only minimal damage on its El Campeon and Las Colinas courses but was very much involved in the hurricane recovery effort. The resort housed a number of energy company employees and transformed its ballroom into a makeshift shelter for 200 senior citizens forced to evacuate a nearby assisted living facility.

Hammock Beach, in Palm Coast, had its Conservatory course open three days after Irma hit. That resort also provided lodging for over 50 of its employees and their families who didn’t feel safe in their homes during the storm. Hammock’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course, though, remains closed. Last year’s visit from Hurricane Andrew created severe damage there and the recovery plan was upgraded to a restoration, leaving the course closed for a year. It’s expected to open later this fall.

Wisconsin’s Grand Geneva Resort is approaching two milestones

Not many resorts have courses as colorful as The Brute and Highlands at Grand Geneva.

With the big tournaments held recently at Erin Hills and Whistling Straits and the opening of Sand Valley, it may seem that luster could be off the Wisconsin golf destination that started all those good things. Don’t you believe it, though. Grand Geneva is doing just fine, thank you.

Dave Hallenbeck, director of golf at the Lake Geneva resort, has seen it all in his four decades there. He’s impressed with what’s gone on in golf throughout Wisconsin as well as what’s gone on at his home base.

“Blackwolf Run (Kohler), The Bull at Pinehurst Farms (a Jack Nicklaus design in Sheboygan Falls), Erin Hills, Sand Valley. These are world-class golf properties that I never would have expected in Wisconsin. Geneva National has been very successful. They have a wonderful facility over there,’’ said Hallenbeck. “Keeping up was our biggest challenge.’’

But Grand Geneva has more than kept up with what’s been going on around the Badger State, and that goes for neighboring Illinois as well. The resort is an easy drive from all parts of the Chicago area and its courses are well-known to players from that area.

Coming up in 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the resort and the 25th anniversary of its ownership by Marcus Corporation. Both milestones are meaningful, because no Wisconsin destination has the history that Grand Geneva has, and that’s all been beautifully chronicled in a coffee table book, “A Grand Tale: The History of Grand Geneva Resort,’’ published by Nei-Turner Media Group.

Grand Geneva director of golf Dave Hallenbeck has a prize possession — one of the original golf bags from the resort’s days as the Playboy Club.

The building of the Playboy Club-Hotel started it all. It was completed in 1968 and brought visitors by the droves to Lake Geneva. Hugh Hefner was, of course, the man behind that.

Hallenbeck arrived during the Playboy days – for the first time. At age 19 he was a lifeguard at the Playboy Club’s swimming pool – one of the first heated outdoor pools anywhere.

Now 63, he returned after college to work as an assistant under the late head golf professional Ken Judd 40 years ago. Golf wasn’t part of the equation when Hefner started the Playboy Club. Skiing was available when the resort opened. Golf arrived shortly thereafter when architect Robert Bruce Harris designed The Brute – a course way ahead of its time when it opened.

“At the time it was massive, and that’s what Playboy wanted,’’ recalled Hallenbeck. “Big greens, big bunkers, one of the longest courses at 7,300 yards from the tips. In the 1960s that was unheard of.’’

There’s still a mystique about The Brute. It’s always been very near the top of my frequently changing list of favorite courses. The most amazing thing about it now is the fact that the course still operates with its original greens. That’s unheard of. Even Hallenbeck admits that something will have to be done at some point.

“Over 50 years the greens have settled, and we’ll have to address those issues,’’ he said. “We’ve got to tear them up, but that’s a whole year project, and that’s hard to do when you’re packed every day. Overall The Brute has withstood the tests of time, which is amazing.’’

The Brute may be approaching 50 years, but that doesn’t detract from its beauty.

The Brute was built after the resort was under Playboy Club ownership. Playboy departed in 1981, selling the resort to Chicago-basked Americana Hotels Corporation. The resort endured two foreclosures before Chicago’s JMB Realty Corporation took ownership in 1988 and present owner Marcus came on in 1993.

Marcus took a resort that had fallen on hard times and revitalized it with golf a big part of the process.

Grand Geneva’s other course is more historically significant than even The Brute. It opened as the Briar Patch, a joint design effort by legendary designer Pete Dye with a then young Jack Nicklaus functioning as a consultant. Nicklaus was at the height of his storied playing career, having won the 1965 and 1966 Masters tournaments before being brought to the resort before the Briar Patch’s completion in 1967.

The Briar Patch was Nicklaus’ introduction to golf architecture, but won’t go down as one of his premier architectural efforts. Architect Bob Cupp was brought in for a 1996 renovation.

“He redid the whole course,’’ said Hallenbeck. “From a playability standpoint it’s a very nice golf course.’’

The course was renamed The Highlands after Cupp completed his work, which included the development of fescue fields. The end result is a beautiful course, one different from The Brute, with exceptional greens. Both are popular with visitors, many of whom don’t share my clear preference for the older course.

Just what this sculpture is remains a mystery, but it’s a landmark at No. 16 on The Brute.

Unlike Blackwolf, Whistling Straits and Erin Hills, the Grand Geneva courses haven’t made a splash hosting big tournaments. They won’t, either. Instead of being a tournament venue, The Brute and Highlands are popular destinations for charity events, and that’s been great for Hallenbeck.

“My goal was to raise $1 million for charities in my career,’’ he said. “That was my goal 40 years ago. At the end of this year we will have raised $25 million.

Grand Geneva hosts about 25 charity events each year. The Easter Seals Golf Classic and National Italian Invitational celebrated their 40th anniversaries this year. Juvenile Diabetes, United Way, Make-A-Wish – they’ve all benefitted from hosting tournaments at Grand Geneva.

Fescue fields, created by architect Bob Cupp, greatly enhanced the renovated Highlands course.

“I’ve been on up to 20 charity boards,’’ said Hallenbeck. “When I started on them I was the kid. Now I’m the senior member, and I’m working with the grand kids of some of the people I had worked with on some of these charity committees.’’

He calls children’s charities “my passion,’’ and worries that there’ll be no one ready to pick up those projects when he retires in about two years. That’s a concern for later on, plus – with his two children getting married this fall and already settled in the area – Hallenbeck doesn’t plan on straying very far.

For now the immediate issue is what will happen at Grand Geneva as it heads into its second 50 years.

“I suspect the newest thing will be just trying to be as competitive as we are with everything,’’ said Hallenbeck. “Marcus is so good at doing what they do. They’ve already expanded the villas.’’

Grand Geneva also offers more activities and dining opportunities than most Midwest golf destinations, and the views are stunning throughout. That suggests the second 50 years could be even better than the first.

Fountains beside the fairway spice up the finishing hole on The Brute course.

What’s going on at Pinehurst? Plenty, as usual

Pinehurst has offered the best in American golf since 1895, and nothing has changed since then.

PINEHURST, North Carolina – There’s one thing that you can always be sure of when you visit this premier golf destination. There’s always something new and exciting in the works. This time that’s been taken to extremes.

Always looking for something different, our visit this spring provided that in an unusual way. Our two rounds were on courses about to face the wrecking ball. That did two things: it showed what resort owners judged in need of updates and it tantalized us for the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Both the courses we played were created by well-respected designers in the early 1990s. Mid South Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer design, was a favorite of mine off previous visits. Pinehurst No. 4, created by Tom Fazio, provided the stage for a most fun round in our first (and undoubtedly last) tour of the course.

Mid South will be closed on June 5, Pinehurst No. 4 on Sept. 13.

The design for the new par-3 course at Pinehurst has visitors excited about what’s to come.

The greens at Mid South will be changed from bentgrass to Champion Bermuda, the same procedure that was performed on the companion Talamore course across the street last summer. The greens will be enlarged by 20-40 percent by Southport, N.C.-based Shapemasters, a firm that has previously worked with courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Pete Dye, Greg Norman and Tom Fazio.

A hard-packed sand base will be installed as part of a cart path improvement and new condos are being built near the Nos. 9 and 18 greens. Mid South is also adding basketball and pickle ball on one of its tennis courts and putting a new barbecue and hospitality area in near the swimming pool. That’s part of a $6 million capital improvement plan initiated by Talamore’s parent company at its four resorts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

At the Pinehurst Resort, however, the changes will become even more dramatic as soon as this fall. The Pinehurst No. 4 renovation will be a big deal if for no other reason than it’s being directed by the hot architect Gil Hanse, most noted recently for designing the Brazil course that hosted last summer’s Olympics golf competition.

Hanse will be putting in wire-grass, which transformed Pinehurst’s famed No. 2 course for the historic back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Opens of 2014. He’ll also eliminate many of the bunkers from the original design. Both moves will enhance a course that has never been short of players in the past.

Condo construction is underway near the big green serving the Nos. 9 and 18 holes at Mid South.

Pinehurst No. 4 is just part of a bigger transformation at the resort, however. The Deuce, a chef-driven restaurant, is a welcome new addition to the clubhouse and work has already begun at two of its other courses. When everything is done some less frequent visitors might feel they won’t recognize the place.

Already the No. 1 holes on Pinehurst No. 3 and Pinehurst No. 5 have been closed. As soon as next week construction will begin on a par-3 course where those old holes had stood.

A birds-eye view of what’s going on at Pinehurst’s No. 5 course will be revealing.

Pinehurst No. 3 already has a new first hole and two new par-3s. That was required in its transformation to a par-68 course. The new first hole of Pinehurst No. 5 is to open on May 1.

And that’s not all. Thistle Dhu, the popular putting course, is being moved to a much better location. It’ll be in full view of patrons enjoying all that the clubhouse has to offer.

All these changes may not have really been necessary, but they’re all for the good. Pinehurst has always been a trendsetter when it comes to golf destinations, and that’s been underscored by the projects now in the works.

Bunkers were a trademark of Pinehurst No. 4, but they’ll be greatly reduced in the upcoming renovation.

All golfers should celebrate Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday’s Golden Anniversary

The Cherry Grove skyline spices up the view from Tidewater’s No. 12 — a memorable par-3

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina – This is one golf milestone that certainly shouldn’t go unnoticed. Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Back in 1967 Myrtle Beach was by no means the golf mecca that it is today. It had only nine courses then. Now the number of courses on the 60-mile Grand Strand from Pawley’s Island to just across the state line into Brunswick County, N.C., is nearly 90 and every relevant public course in that area is a member of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

Finding they couldn’t market their courses individually, the owners of Myrtle Beach’s courses started thinking about a marketing strategy as early as 1962. Thanks to the support of local hotels they made the Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday a reality five years later and that corresponded to the rise of golf packages, now the most popular way for golfers to find courses while on vacation most anywhere.

The original nine courses were Pine Lakes, The Dunes Club, Conway Golf Club, Winyah Bay, Carolinas Country Club, Surf Golf & Beach Club, Whispering Pines, PineHills Course at Myrtlewood and Litchfield Country Club. Winyah closed in 2005.and Carolinas doesn’t exist under that name. The owners of them all, though, started something that turned out very good.

The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame is part of the ambience at Pine Lakes, the first course in the area.

“It’s amazing what they created,’’ said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. He joined up 19 years ago after working for Golf Digest magazine and never regretted it.

“At the time I arrived in the late 1990s that was the peak of growth here,’’ said Golden. We had a Senior PGA Tour event and an LPGA Tour event. It was a great opportunity for me, and this has been a great place to live. You have a good quality of life.’’

The golf’s been pretty good, too, for one very important reason: just like the Holiday founders, the course owners have been able to work together.

“In golf space we’re very unique,’’ said Golden. “Golf has been so important here, and people have been supportive. The owners are competitive on one level, but if they didn’t work together this wouldn’t have worked out. They’ve taken the attitude that if it’s better for everybody, let’s do it. That’s refreshing, and it’s been a great lesson to learn.’’

Golden readily admits that “it’s never been easy…the golf industry has gotten so complicated.’’

Pine Hills has a beautiful, stately clubhouse that complements a course that was built in 1927.

But, in Myrtle Beach, it’s still been able to become big business. The Myrtle Beach area attract nearly 1 million golfers every year and Golden reports that the area courses together have 3.3 million rounds annually. That’s a lot of rounds.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday has a staff of seven headed by Golden, a former collegiate player at Villanova. Four members of the staff focus on tournaments with Jeff Monday directing that group.

Though the pro tour stops are gone, the Holiday tournament group runs some far-reaching events. The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship has been played for 33 years. This year’s version tees off on August 28 and runs through September 1. It is played on 60 courses in the area and draws over 3,000 players. Every state in the U.S. except Alaska and South Dakota had players in the last World Am and 24 countries were represented in the field.

Founders Club at Pawley’s Island has waste areas on every hole as a substitute for cart paths.

The World Am is biggest event but the staff stages six others and helps with some put on by other groups. The Holiday events started as early as February this year, when the Preseason Classic drew 200 players from 22 states. The March Championship has drawn over 70,000 players in its 32-year history.

Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday also hosts the Palmetto Championship, the nation’s largest high school tournament, and the Dustin Johnson World Junior, which is played at TPC Myrtle Beach – where the world’s current No. 1-ranked golfer has many of his trophies on display.

No area of the country can match Myrtle Beach for the destination’s quantity of quality courses. There are lots of them. Some are part of multiple-course facilities; some stand-alone. Some offer lodging, some don’t. Some are part of resort groups. Some have single ownership. The cost to play each one varies dramatically. Still, the course operators have stuck together and made Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday the sport’s largest non-profit marketing consortium.

Possum Trot’s logo ball stands out.

First course in the area was Pine Lakes, which opened in 1927 to complement the Ocean Forest Hotel, which catered to that era’s rich and famous. Pine Lakes is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2017 and it’s also known, for obvious reasons, as The Granddaddy.

Of all the Myrtle Beach courses Pine Lakes is the richest in history. The original holes were designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, was also the first president of the PGA of America. The facility once had 27 holes but lost nine during the Great Depression.

The existing 18 is pretty close to what White designed. It’s a good walking course and golfers can see the clubhouse from every hole. Not many courses anywhere can make that claim.

Though the course has undergone regular updating, only Nos. 4 and 5 were notably altered during a 2009 redesign by architect Craig Schreiner. The course has certainly withstood the tests of time and its clubhouse reflects its rich past with its history wall adorned with memorabilia photos and newspaper clippings.

Among the artifacts is artwork provided by the noted magazine Sport Illustrated, which was founded at Pine Lakes by a group of executives in 1954. The Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame is also based at the club.

The only alligator we saw in four rounds was this one, at Founders Club.

Pine Lakes may have come first, but the course that really put Myrtle Beach on the map was The Dunes Club, which opened as the area’s second course in 1948. The architect was Robert Trent Jones Sr., who wasn’t famous then but is now looked on as one of the great course designers of all time. His sons Rees and Robert Trent Jones Jr. are now among the world’s foremost course architects.

The Dunes has hosted tournaments on all the major tours as well as many top amateur events. This year it will be the site of the U.S. Golf Association Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Myrtle Beach offers an embarrassment of riches for golfers. Twelve of its courses have been ranked on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses and more than half of the Golf Holiday member facilities have been given 4-star or better rankings in that publication’s Best Places to Play Guide.

As a six-time visitor to Myrtle Beach over a span of about 20 years, I’ve seen how much the area has grown over the years and can appreciated first-hand the variety of golf offered. Every visitor will have a favorite course, but I’ve found mine changing with each visit.

Railroad ties were worked into the design in several places at Possum Trot.

The Caledonia Golf & Fish Club generally stands out with all who have visited but its companion course, True Blue, is a beauty, too.

Our most recent visit took us – in addition to Pine Lakes – to Founders Club at Pawley’s Island, Tidewater and Possum Trot.

Founders Club, among the courses celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pawley’s Island, has perhaps the most unusual design in Myrtle Beach. Once called The Seagull, its redesign virtually eliminated standard cart paths. Waste areas on every hole take their place.

Tidewater is one of the area’s most scenic courses, to be sure. Its location – between the Intracoastal Waterway and Cherry Grove – provides views of the city skyline and marshes as well as the natural beauty of the Grand Strand. It’s now right up there with my Myrtle Beach favorites.

So is Possum Trot, but for different reasons. No doubt this short, sporty well-conditioned layout with 560 palm trees – a surprising number for a course that isn’t in Florida — deserves its claim to being the “Friendliest Course on the Beach.’’ Possums disappeared long ago, but I love this layout’s logo and other special touches as much as the fun golf the course offers.

A fountain at the home hole created a memorable finish at Possum Trot.

A marsh contrasts nicely with the Cherry Grove skyline at one of Tidewater’s best viewing spots.

A tee shot over water on a Pine Hills par-3 hole was just one of the challenges on that layout.

The Founders Club at Pawley’s Island had one of the biggest putting greens I’ve ever seen.

Want to get serious about your golf? Check out the PGA Learning Center

Rain — thanks to a $75,000 movable canopy — can’t stop practice sessions at PGA Learning Center.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida – The PGA Golf Club, with its four courses, has no trouble attracting golfers. There’s more to the place than those four courses, however.

Most notably, there’s the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance. This is where the really serious golfers hang out. Very few golf facilities have anything like it.

“We’re not a driving range. We’re a practice facility,’’ said Patrick Brosnihan, the director of operations. “There aren’t a lot of these facilities.’’

There is only one bigger one than the PGA Golf Club’s Center for Golf Learning and Performance. That’s at Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge in Orlando, FL. It’s spread over 45 acres and features a circular range that is the place to be on Demo Day, the traditional opening of the annual PGA Merchandise Show in January.

The PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance is on just 35 acres but it has something its rival doesn’t have — the official connection with the PGA of America.

Club-fitting, club repair and fitness and video programs are housed in Learning Center headquarters.

“I’m representing what the PGA badge stands for,’’ said Brosnihan. “It’s the biggest sports organization in the world.’’

The PGA of America has 28,000 members and PGA Golf Club is their winter home. They wanted a practice center on the premises and got one about four years after the first two courses – then called North and South and now the Wanamaker and Ryder, both designed by Tom Fazio – had opened for play.

Dedication for the Learning Center was on Aug. 16, 2000, and the third PGA Golf Club course, the Dye, also opened that season. (The fourth, now called St. Lucie Trail, became part of the resort facilities in 2014 after existing as a private club for 26 years).

Many of those PGA members make good use of the Learning Center facilities, but for a variety of reasons. There’s a lot to digest when you visit this place.

Patrick Brosnihan has been the operations director at the Learning Center the past two years.

On one end of the property is the 23,650-foot square foot PGA Education Center. Opened in 2001 as a training forum for PGA apprentice professionals, it can accommodate over 400 students with its nine classrooms and 1,600 square-foot computer testing and club repair laboratory. Budding club professionals must go there to meet their certification requirements.

“You get eight years to finish,’’ said Brosnihan “It reminds me of residency requirements for a doctor.’’

The smaller building next to the Education Center is the Rotunda. It once housed a small museum of golf memorabilia but now is used for social gatherings.

Dominating the complex is the Learning and Performance Center and all that goes with it. Basically it’s a golf park.

The indoor portion is dedicated to technology. There are two monitors devoted to club fitting. They can provide numbers relative to such things as launch and spin-rate. Want to see if the clubs you own – or are considering for purchase – are right for you? This is the place to go. All the top equipment manufacturers have their products available.

“You can’t fit clubs without the numbers,’’ said Brosnihan. “Eighty-five percent of golfers aren’t fitted properly. I can understand why some people don’t want to be inside. They want to see where the ball goes outside, but there’s so much more technology inside. We want to get the (club-fitting) numbers first.’’

The sand comes in all types and colors at the Learning Center’s bunker practice area.

Video equipment as well as the fitness area directed by performance coach Tommey Lyons is also under the roof as is the club-repair operation, which works with between 300 and 400 clubs a week during the heart of the season. A golf psychologist isn’t on the staff yet, but adding a mind coach is under consideration.

There are all sorts of options for instruction and practice options outdoors. Brosnihan’s teaching staff is headed by lead instructor Jamie Fordyce and Billy Ore, who was working on the club-fitting side during our visit. There’s also three independent contractors who teach there, headed by Nancy Quarcelino, rated among the nation’s Top 100 teachers by Golf Magazine.

In addition to giving lessons, they put on a one-hour clinic every day but Sunday, with each focused on one segment of the game – pitching and wedges, driver and fairway woods, irons and hybrids, bunker and lob shots, chipping and putting.

All models of equipment are available for players who want to go through club-fitting procedures.

Their lessons can also be tailored to individual preferences. Individual, group, father-son, husband-wife — you name the type of lesson you want and the staff can fit your needs. There are also a wide variety of golf schools available as well as a Sports Academy that offers an eight-week program of activities that includes other sports as well as golf.

“It’s whatever you want. We can create anything,’’ said Brosnihan.

His mainstay staffers aren’t the only ones giving lessons, though. About 80 PGA club professionals from other areas of the country rent private practice areas, called pods, on the back end of the facility and bring their students to Florida for more focused training than might be possible at their home clubs.

The facility will also be used by 20-25 college teams and six-10 high school teams during the winter months. They come to train and play in tournaments on the nearby courses. The most celebrated of the Learning Center regulars is also the youngest. Jessy “The Rocket’’ Huebner, age 7, has won over 60 age group tournaments, most notably the 7-and-under division of the U.S. Kids Championship in 2016.

Well-regarded teaching professional Nancy Quarcelino gets a daily clinic session underway

If you are looking for tour players, you won’t find any at the Learning Center – with the possible exception of Jim Herman. While most of the many Florida-based tour players are based in nearly Jupiter, Herman worked at the Learning Center for years, still comes occasionally for Sunday games and has been given Lifetime member status.

Brosnihan admits that the Learning Center would be hard-pressed to stay alive without the nearby courses. They have driving ranges, but not the extensive facilities offered at the Learning and Performance Center. A challenge is getting the players using the courses that are just a mile or two away to test it out.

Teaching pods are all set up for professionals who want to bring their students to the PGA Learning Center.

PGA Golf Club is more than halfway through an upgrading program that involves the courses and their clubhouses as well as the Learning Center, which has been somewhat restructured. Director of agronomy Dick Gray, recently named the TurfNet Superintendent of the Year nation-wide, created a new practice chipping area and the other areas were spruced up as well.

They include a 7,000-square foot putting green, built to U.S. Golf Association specifications, and over 100 full-swing practice stations. Movable canopies are available to facilitate practice even in rainy weather.

The bunker practice area once was billed as having specific types of sand in each bunker to accommodate players from all parts of the country. That claim is no more. Now they’re just bunkers, though the color and texture of the sand varies.

“We did have all types of sand in our bunkers, but we couldn’t guarantee what type of sand each one was,’’ said Brosnihan. “We didn’t want to mis-represent.’’

And then there’s the three practice holes at the far end of the facility. They’re not always in operation but can offer an on-course experience for those wanting that after working at the other practice areas. Purchase of a one-day pass will allow you to do that.

Video analysis is just one method that Learning Center instructors use to teach their students.