Old Palm Golf Club
The neighbors you meet at Old Palm Golf Club fully live the golf life that so many of us can only dream about. The ultra-luxurious gated community in Palm Beach Gardens has drawn top PGA stars like Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, and Charl Schwartzel with a combination of custom homes ranging from $1.2 to $12 million; amenities like a full fitness center, spa, and concierge service; and a fine golf course coupled with one of the best practice facilities anywhere.
Another neighbor is four-time major winner and Ryder Cup champion Raymond Floyd, who not only designed the Old Palm golf course but owns a house there as well. He’s a regular at the club’s ultracasual “pub night” in the elegant but relaxed clubhouse lounge. He’s a bit more laid back now than he was in his tournament days, although there’s still an intense flash in his eyes that matches the LeRoy Neiman portrait that hangs in the clubhouse.
The golf course Floyd designed takes full advantage of the property’s native foliage and rolling topography. Seven sets of tees make it playable from 4,976 to 7,401 yards, giving every golfer a challenge suitable to his or her skills. Fairway landing areas are generous but reward the strategic player who can position the ball off the tee. Greens were rebuilt in 2012 using TifEagle Bermuda grass, which yields a fast and true putting surface.
The front nine is routed through wetlands and savannah, while the back—which features tighter fairways and less water—winds through indigenous palm and pine trees. On the front, the 379-yard seventh hole presents excellent risk-and-reward options off the tee. It’s a slight dogleg right that can be cut with a 230-yard carry over the bunkers in the curve or played conservatively on the center line. The green on the 11th hole, a 185-yard par 3, has echoes of the 16th at Augusta National, while the 15th, a 166-yard one-shotter, has a VW microbus buried in the green to make for some interesting putts.
Home sites are set well back from the playing areas yet afford fine views of the course—not to mention the lakes and lagoons that wind through the 650-acre property. Old Palm’s Mediterranean-style clubhouse pampers you with fine and casual dining, a resort-style pool, and a luxurious spa and fitness facility. Just steps from the pool and clubhouse, Old Palm’s Casitas are the perfect guest-entertainment venue with charming tropical decor and well-appointed suites.
The 33-acre practice area includes a double-ended range, a short-game area, and a golf studio with covered hitting bays and all the electronics anyone could want or use. Three regulation practice holes—a par 3, 4, and 5—wrap around a lake next to the range, making Old Palm the perfect place to hone your game.
Mayacoo Lakes Country Club
Plenty of golfers think Mayacoo Lakes Country Club is the best golf course Jack Nicklaus ever designed—even though it was one of his first. The par 71, 6,906-yard layout is tough but fair, challenging but enjoyable, and definitely a course you could play every day. Purchase’s Old Oaks CC head pro Bobby Heins and his protégé, PGA tour winner Johnson Wagner, can often be found on the course during the winter months.
One of the biggest attractions at Mayacoo is the variety of challenges faced throughout the course. Thirteen holes feature water; melaleuca, pine, and palm trees line most of the fairways, so shot placement is essential. Six sets of tees allow the course to be played from as short as 4,973 yards.
The first par 5, the fifth hole, is an easy par at 517 yards but a tough birdie if an aggressive approach finds one of the four bunkers surrounding the green. The eighth, at 359 yards, is a tough little bunker fest; while the ninth hole, a short but fair par 5 at 505 yards, offers a birdie to those brave enough to challenge the water in front of the green.
Before you begin the back nine, sharpen up your aiming skills and make sure your driver is on board with your game plan. You’ll need both when you get to the 11th (371 yards) and 12th (386 yards) holes, both of which play over water off the tee—one tougher than the other depending on the wind. The 18th hole makes for a great finish. It plays 402 yards, but the water in front of the green has drowned the hopes of more than one player whose match came tied into the hole.
Members at Mayacoo also enjoy a pool, tennis courts, and dining and grill rooms, as well as newly renovated locker rooms and card rooms for both men and women, with picturesque views. It’s a family-style club that puts golf front and center.
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Emerald Dunes Club
A just-completed multimillion-dollar renovation by Tom Fazio, the original designer, makes Emerald Dunes Club an excellent choice for those second-home owners who don’t live in a dedicated golf community. It’s a challenging but perfectly playable course where there’s plenty of risk and reward to go with the refined landscaping and sense of isolation that comes from the 2,000 trees recently planted along the club’s perimeter.
Emerald Dunes opens with a pair of enjoyable birdie opportunities—a 504-yard par 5 and a 400-yard par 4—but the teeth come out on the fourth hole, the first par 3—168 yards over water and a major bunker with a small bailout area to the left. A delightful rock-ledge waterfall frames the green back right. That’s followed by a double-dogleg 562-yard par 5 with water all the way to the green on the left and bunkers lining the fairway on the right. The back nine offers some birdie opportunities as long as you’re not risk-averse. The 11th hole, a 489-yard par 5, is one of them, especially for the long drivers in the group. The 18th hole, a 433-yard par 4, has a big, inviting fairway but long approach to an elevated green.
Fazio also designed a new short-game practice area with multiple target and chipping greens, sand and grass bunkers (including a shallow-face fairway bunker), and a huge putting green to go with a double-ended range, a learning center with two teaching bays, and a club-fitting area. Members also enjoy a unique yearly dues arrangement that includes absolutely everything—even all food and beverages. The club has an excellent caddie program as well.
Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach
Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach is one of the most visually stunning and competitively challenging courses in Florida. Members of the Palm Beach club enjoy a true championship course that has hosted nine LPGA tour events with winners like Annika Sörenstam, Karrie Webb, and Lorena Ochoa; another nine holes with a daring island green; and a practice facility where many tour regulars work on their game. Lexi Thompson was working on her short game when I was there.
Designed by Jim Fazio (with ample and expert advice from the man whose name is over the door), the course opened to well-deserved acclaim in 1999. Two lakes and elevations as high as 58 feet above sea level dominate the geography, while tasteful landscaping provides colorful accents throughout. The course is par 72 with six sets of tees ranging from 5,314 to 7,326 yards. Check the course rating and slope before you choose a tee box—this course punishes testosterone-fueled foolishness.
The opening hole, par 4 at 475 yards, is relatively benign as long as you avoid the creek that meanders along the right side of the fairway, but don’t rush to the second tee box until you pause to see the entrance to President John Kennedy’s former bomb shelter along the way. The last two holes on the front are stand-up holes. The eighth is a 473-yard par 4 with a big, elevated, well-bunkered green with a false front, while the ninth is simply breathtaking—a 553-yard par 5 with water left and bunkers right.
On the back side, the 13th, a 469-yard par 4, has more bunkers than mortal man (or woman) should ever face on one hole. When you reach the tee box on the 550-yard par-5 15th hole, stop and think before you aim your drive. A creek and a long line of bunkers—which you’ll have to cross twice to reach the green—split the fairway. The signature hole on the course is the par-3 17th, where the $3.2 million waterfall and amazing tropical foliage can easily distract you from your 215-yard tee shot over the lake in front of the green. Quite frankly, the 469-yard par-4 18th hole is just as spectacular, with its elevated tee, water, huge bunkers, and magnificent clubhouse in the background.