Dick Sheehan reflects on the development of Jupiter’s Admirals Cove

JUPITER, FL. – Lots of things have changed since Dick Sheehan decided to settle in the Jupiter area in the late 1970s.

“Nothing was here,’’ he said. “When I moved down here my intention was to create a marketing consultancy and focus on real estate. The market wasn’t nearly as sophisticated then as it would become.’’

Sheehan did a lot to make it that way, particularly in his playing a lead role in the creation of Admirals Cove, one of the premier golf facilities in all of Florida. He recalls those days fondly now, but some history is in order first.

John D. MacArthur, one of the wealthiest men in America by the time of his death in 1978, made his fortune first in the insurance business, then he moved into real estate with holdings that included over 100,000 acres of land in Florida.

Just before his death he created the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which received over 90 percent of his fortune including the property in Florida. Palm Beach Gardens and North Palm Beach were created on MacArthur land and in 1985 the MacArthur Foundation put up for purchase two parcels that would become important to the development of Florida’s golf industry.

One was Frenchman’s Creek, which already had two courses. The other was then simply called Project 57. That’s where Sheehan comes into the story.

“I worked with a lot of consultants, engineers, attorneys and developers,’’ he said. “They referred to me as `The Dirt Guy.’’’

One of the engineers was a close friend, Conrad Schaefer. He introduced Sheehan to Ben Frankel, of Philadelphia, and Frankel became the purchaser of the Project 57 parcel with Mutual Benefit Life Insurance as his financial partner. Ben’s brothers, Leonard and William, and other family members also were involved in the project. They had already developed a successful golf project in Boynton Beach, called Hunter’s Run, and they settled on the name Admirals Cove because it embodied the nautical nature of the property. Its waterfront location was a big reason Frankel opted for Project 57 instead of Frenchman’s Creek.

Sheehan headed the marketing and sales segment of the original development team. Working mostly with Ben Frankel, Sheehan was involved in the golf course construction process as well. Texan Robert Von Hagge was the course architect. Work on the courses started in March of 1986 and the first players teed off in late 1987.

The construction process for the projected 45 holes was not without complications. Sheehan envisioned a routing problem Frankel, fearful of conflicts with Von Hagge, was reluctant to alter the plan in the middle of construction but Sheehan persisted.

“Von Hagge was a very colorful guy (he most notably married two golf stars, sisters Marlene and Alice Bauer),’’ said Sheehan. “We got along real well, he was a great guy to work with. I don’t think he got the credit he deserved for the things he did in his architectural career.’’

His work at Admirals Cove, however, was well received and has withstood the tests of time. The club has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers every year since 2009.

Though some updates to the courses were made over the years, Von Hagge remains the architect of record for the 18 holes on the east side of the property. Jupiter resident Kipp Schulties, working with Jan Bel Jan, supervised a renovation on the North, South and West nines on the west side in 2015.

Looking back, the Frankels could have opted to purchase Frenchman’s Creek, the parcel to the south of Admiral’s Cove that already had its two courses. It remains a golf hotbed – though a much altered. Some of that course’s original property was later sold, with the north half now Jack Nicklaus’ Bear’s Club, and the south half forming Trump National.

“We had the opportunity to buy that land and decided to not do it,’’ said Sheehan, who believes he’s the only surviving charter member at Admirals Cove.

While the Bear’s Club and Trump National are Admirals Cove neighbors to the south another well-regarded club, there’s also a respected neighbor to the north in Jonathan’s Landing.

Now called The Club at Admirals Cove, that facility was far ahead of its time. Few clubs had 45 holes at that time. Now the club also has a marina, an inn, a bank, seven restaurants, a poolside cafe, tennis, pickleball and an array of other amenities.

“It’s first and foremost a golf club,’’ said Sheehan, “but most of all it’s a lot of nice people. A lot of clubs are not diverse enough in terms of activities they offer, but you have to have enough golf. We never have a crowded situation except in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. We believe we’ve helped build the game of golf.’’

Over the years Sheehan and his wife Susan have had three homes in Admirals Cove and raised their children in the Jupiter area. Their life is not all about Admirals Cove, however. Sheehan has been involved in youth golf for two decades, starting with his time on the board of a group called the Children’s Golf Foundation.

He later departed that group to help form the First Tee Chapter of the Palm Beaches. Working with the support of such golf luminaries as Nicklaus, Honda Classic director Ken Kennerly and former PGA of America executive director Joe Steranka, Sheehan saw the chapter grow dramatically. It now has its own nine-hole course at Dyer Park in Riviera Beach and partnerships with several other organizations.

“The First Tee is really where my heart is,’’ said Sheehan, who is currently the group’s chairman of the board emeritus. “People think the First Tee is all about teaching golf, but it’s not. It teaches life skills with golf as the vehicle. There are so many success stories of people who improved their lives through their involvement with First Tee.’’