Story and photos by Jason Bruno
Some know Seth Waugh as the Chief Executive Officer of the PGA of America, and others know him simply as a successful visionary and a friend to the game. Waugh’s vision of a world-class inclusive community public access golf facility became a reality on April 17th, 2023. Gil Hanse & Jim Wagner executed that vision superbly, transforming the old worn out sandy parcel with ideal bones into a world-class haven for the golf-crazed public of S.Florida. The site once known as the West Palm Beach Municipal Golf Course (from 1947 – 2018) will from here on be known as “The Park”.
The original 1947 Dick Wilson design had a rich history – hosting the West Palm Beach Open Invitational, a PGA Tour event won by several big names including Arnold Palmer, Gardner Dickinson, and Gay Brewer. The city muni was renovated in 2009 by Mark McCumber. At the grand opening event, Arnold Palmer hit the ceremonial first tee shot in a celebration of 50 years since his 1959 victory there. Less than a decade later, due to poor conditioning and a condemned clubhouse, the city course met its demise – closing in 2018. There weren’t many industry locals that thought a golf shot would ever be hit again on that property. . .
Enter the “Kemosabe”, in the form Waugh – who lives in the area and came to the community’s rescue as the one entity that had the desire and juice within the community to galvanize an effort thru private investors to raise $56 million (the PGA of America was not involved in the project) to build the facility and invest in its future (The Park has a 50-year lease with the City of West Palm Beach). The facility is located on a 179-acre parcel on the city’s south side bordered by Interstate 95 to the west, Forest Hill Blvd to the north with the front entry on the eastside at 7301 Georgia Ave (less than a mile from the Intracoastal Waterway). Palm Beach International Airport is just 5 miles north.
Just days before heading to Augusta for the Masters, Tiger Woods came out to the facility on March 31st along with architect Gil Hanse to say a few words and hit a ceremonial tee shot for the donors and employees prior to the public grand opening.
Aside from the main attraction, The Park also includes a lighted nine-hole short course, a one-acre putting course (also designed by Hanse & Wagner), a full short-game area, a state-of-the-art (Darren May designed) driving range featuring Toptracer technology, clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop, gathering/social facilities, and a full caddie program.
Course Architects – Gil Hanse & Jim Wagner
Although Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner (and the Caveman Crew) are widely known in the industry right now as the most “in demand” architecture firm, it’s not a hot take to say that their restoration work on golden age classics has been where the “metal has been forged” in their ascent up the ladder of the design world over the last decade-plus. However, with recent originals added to the portfolio – Ohoopee Match Club, Cap Rock Ranch, Pinehurst No.4, and now The Park, Gil and the team may begin to earn some critical acclaim for their work beyond the genre of doing classic “Cover songs”.
*It should be noted that architecture enthusiast and major donor to The Park – Dirk Ziff had a big part in providing input to the design and creating the actual routing for the golf course as it stands today.
At the opening, Seth Waugh addressed a gathering of media and employees, “We are really proud to be here, what a happy day. When we thought about it, we always had this vision as “The Park”, a place that the citizens of West Palm Beach own. Today is all about giving it back to the citizens, hopefully we’ve left it better than we found it,” Waugh said. “Our mission statement is Open Golf, we think that says a lot in the simplest way. Walk your dogs here, enjoy the amenities, have your kids grow up here, have weddings here. We want this to be the happiest place in golf. From the beginning, the goal has been to make The Park into the happiest, most welcoming, most complete, and most inclusive place in all of golf,” Waugh concluded before handing the podium off to West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James. The grand opening ceremony also honored past Superintendent Joe Sellers (who began his career on the property in 1967), who hit a ceremonial tee shot to signal the official opening of the property.
If landforms were translated to volume, South Florida on the whole would be mute or a whisper at its most deafening pitch. Still, there are a few unique micro-pockets in the region that are exceptions to this largely unvarying topography. The Park is one of those anomalies that sits on a ridge that features a raw exposed sandscape, tied to and somewhat similar to Juno Beach’s Ross 1929 Classic – Seminole (just 15 miles due north). The volume reaches a far greater crescendo at Seminole at its furthest western and eastern edges, as where The Park has constant subtle rolling and tilting throughout its property – sans the feverish extremes of its famed and exclusive neighbor, but certainly a relative nonetheless. The property at The Park does get a bit spicy as you get into the meat of the inward nine, specifically on holes 11 thru 17 – where the land cambers and rolls virtually in every nook and cranny your ball happens upon. There are elements of Seminole’s unkempt raw sand scrub areas throughout the routing, and combined with a few head-turning “Down-Under” MacKenzie vibes, it’s tough to label The Park into any one specific style. Hanse on the evolution of their design at The Park – “We started to move away from the Sand Belt look and go more toward exposed sand areas because of the scale and width that we had.”
The Park plays as a 35-36 par 71 with five sets of tees from 4767 to 7145 yards from the tips – where 2013 Masters Champion Adam Scott came out for a pre-opening day visit and fired a 10 under par 61 a few weeks back (a course record not likely to be bested any time soon).
The best way to describe the golf you’ll experience at The Park is to envision how the ball rolls, bounces and reacts to the contours. South of Streamsong, you won’t find another public access facility that compares. The course instantly is among the rarified air of best in the state. One significant reason is because of the Agronomy team led by the talented Superintendent Frank O’Rourke and his assistants Peter Lavallee and Jake Tieken, who have been on the property since day one. They present some of the finest firm & fast Bermuda playing surfaces you’ll find anywhere.
Like many of the finest public access modern-day minimalist designs (the courses at Bandon, Sand Valley, Streamsong, Chambers Bay, and the Cabot portfolio), at The Park generous fairway widths allow a fair amount of freedom from the tee, but ratchet-up the challenge the closer you get to the target. Tee shot placement is the key to leaving yourself proper angles to approach the well-contoured greens, but the course’s design allows those who get out of position a chance for a skilled recovery. The design also challenges the advanced player who is aggressive, but can figure out where to miss and still have a reasonable short-game-saving opportunity. Local knowledge is king here, I’ve played the course 3 times, and have learned a bit each time about where NOT to be.
Everyone that plays The Park will have their favorite holes, and there’s enough variety in the routing for everyone. We chose not to detail every hole for editing purposes, but several note-worthy designs that are not pictured: The second hole with its long ribbon-like green, the diminutive but tricky 116-yard par 3 third. The longest one-shot hole comes just two holes later at the fifth (260 yards from the tips). Another par 3, a middle-length reverse redan where the kicker slope is actually short left of the surface, arrives at the seventh. There are five par 3’s (of which three come in the first seven holes) that contribute to an unconventional but refreshing cadence early on. The left to right tenth, a sweeper that plays parallel to the par 3 course for the first 260 yards with the green tucked into a lower shelf around to the right. The twelfth, a pseudo punchbowl that plays uphill from the tee and into the prevailing wind and the straightaway short par 4 thirteenth, that features an upside-down bowl green complex that requires absolute pinpoint wedge precision.
Walking is encouraged (and required before 12 noon – caddies are available onsite), it’s a memorable and somewhat untaxing stroll. There is no water or real estate on the property – that’s a unicorn for South Florida golf. This also means it’s highly unlikely to ever lose a single ball during a round. No need to pack dozens of pearls in the bag, or to reload at the turn, bring a sleeve and enjoy the day. The ethos here is “Open Golf”, to be more than just a course, but to be a fun hang with an inclusive community vibe where you can chill with friends, work on your game, listen to music, socialize, or just soak it all in with other like-minded links enthusiasts.
So, what does this new high-quality municipal cost the consumer? If you’re a city of West Palm Beach resident the rate is $60, a good value. If you are a state of Florida resident the price jumps to $169. Out-of-state residents $201.50.
As of 4/17/23 The Park has these stipulations:
- Walking only until 12:00. –
- Golf carts can be purchased at check-in for rounds after 12:00.
- Caddies are mandatory before 9:00
- 9 holes are only available after 3 pm.
For tee times: https://www.theparkwestpalm.com/