Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. - Having spent the last 15 winters in Jupiter, Fla., I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of the area's courses and clubs. No wonder so many tour pros, including Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Nick Price and many others live and belong to clubs in the region. Recently I visited the Old Palm Golf Club that four-time major champion Ray Floyd designed, and where he lives on its luxurious and peaceful grounds. Old Palm impressed me from the moment I stepped into the golfing and living retreat 15 minutes inland from the Atlantic Ocean and about the same amount of time north of the Palm Beach International airport.
Now, it’s one thing to visit a club and play its course, it’s quite another to choose to live there. The best players have the means and opportunity to live and join anywhere, so it’s noteworthy when some of them pick one place in fairly short order. Louis Oosthuizen, the South African with one of the sweetest swings in the game, and the 2010 Open Championship winner, has a home at Old Palm overlooking the third hole. His friend and fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, followed him when he purchased a property at Old Palm.
Lee Westwood, the Englishman who has won 39 tournaments around the world and posted five top-three finishes in majors, bought property on the par-four 14th hole. His home was under construction when I played the course recently. He’s going to have quite a view of the course, and, I understand, his home features a fire pit in the swimming pool. Meanwhile, Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open Championship winner, is a member at Old Palm. That’s quite an international foursome and quite an accomplished foursome: Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Westwood, and Clarke.
Golfers of their quality wouldn’t move to a club only for its peaceful environment, lavish clubhouse, and amenities such as a state of the art spa and fitness centre, though. They want a golf course that they can enjoy with friends and family, and, perhaps above all, a first-rate practice area. I’m a practice area geek. I’ve spent many hours working at the fine practice facilities one finds at Bandon Dunes, Pine Valley, Coppinwood near Toronto, the Dye Preserve, McArthur, The Bear’s Club, and Medalist in the Jupiter area. Old Palm’s practice facility is second to none. Floyd, still a shotmaker at 70 years old, knew that if Old Palm were going to become a golfer’s paradise, it would have to include a tremendous practice area. It has just that.
That’s why I wanted to arrive early for my afternoon with three friends at Old Palm. There was no way I was going to just step on the first tee and try to hit a slight right to left shot to work the dogleg on the par-four opener. I wanted to spend quality time working on my game across from the road at the practice area, with its three holes - a par-three, a par-four, and a par-five; with its double-ended range; its short game area that offers not only flat ground but ground that presents a variety of lies - as on the course itself. There’s also the Golf Studio, as it’s known, with the latest in technology, including V-1 and Trackman. I had trouble tearing myself away to the course.
Given what’s available for practice, I wasn’t surprised to see some young golfers working on their games on the tee and in the short game area. These were members of the University of Kentucky’s boys’ golf team. An Old Palm member and University of Kentucky booster had brought the golfers to the club. They’d already played the course and were back working on their games. Later, on the course, I noticed a group of them behind our group. They weren’t about to leave Old Palm, not when they had a chance to spend all day there.
The course itself was a pleasure to play, and plenty challenging. Some golfers thought the course was perhaps a bit too easy when it opened nearly a decade ago. But even better players came to appreciate that the fairways were generous because of the wind that usually blows here, and to offer the golfer the opportunity to think and move the ball around. Old Palm is a pleasure to play precisely because it’s not a one shot fits all course.
Follow us on Twitter: