Where To Golf Next

Palm City golf courses poised for public play

Three Palm City, Fla., public golf courses – Hammock Creek Golf Club, The Fox Club and Crane Watch Club – have undergone changes in the past year. With restrictions due to the coronavirus lifted, all three courses are poised for a revival

PALM CITY, Fla. — With many restrictions lifted on Florida’s golf courses in the past week, some encouraging developments in one south Florida community came into focus.

Palm City is a town with a population of about 25,000 and sits just off Interstate 95, between the PGA Golf Club — the ``winter home of the PGA of America — to the north and PGA National Resort — home of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic — to the south.
While the PGA Club and PGA National Resort are the golf meccas of the area, Palm City is where new things have been happening since the last days of 2019.

Public golfers should take note now, just as Corey Hamlin and business partner Jon Whittemore did no less than two years ago. Both are members of Advanced Golf Partners and worked at PGA National during its 2007-10 rebirth period.

Now they own a Palm City course, Hammock Creek Golf Club, in addition to two courses on Florida’s west coast — Legacy at Lakewood Ranch and Serenoa Golf Club. On Feb. 21, Hamlin and Whittemore took ownership of Hammock Creek, one of three Palm City public courses that have undergone dramatic changes in the last few months despite the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic concerns.

Crane Watch Club, Hole No. 16
The par-3 16th hole is arguably the best at Crane Watch Club, which was dormant for eight months before new ownership took over in December.

Those restrictions were reduced on May 4, which meant more attention for the good things going on in Palm City — especially at Hammock Creek.

"``We were looking at courses for two years — on the Treasure Coast as well as the Carolinas, Georgia and the west coast of Florida," said Hamlin. ``"We liked the growth in Martin County and Palm City. We’re poised for that growth."

Others liked the possibilities at Palm City courses, as well, and each facility has a story to tell.

The movement all began when The Fox Club opened up for public play in the fall. That was a big deal. The Fox Club opened in 1989 as Cobblestone, the first creation of architect Roy Case. It became The Fox Club after a 2004 ownership change and Darren Clarke, a former British Open champion, and Eoghan O’Connell concocted a redesign in 2017.

As a private club, Fox Club regulars included PGA Tour Champions members Gene Sauers, Fred Funk and Jesper Parnevik. Larry Laoretti, the 1975 U.S. Senior Open champion, has been a long-time member, and the decision to go public opened the way for a new wave of players, including LPGA veteran Christina Kim.

The Fox Club has remained a championship layout — 7,115 yards in lenght with a 148 slope from the tips — despite a series of changes over the years. The 18th hole is the most memorable, a 586-yard par-5 that hooks around a lake and seems to go on and on.

Well-conditioned greens, interesting bunkering, lots of forced carries and lengthy drives from greens to tees are trademarks of The Fox Club layout, and its clubhouse is very much that of an established club.

Meanwhile, The Evergreen Club — another one-time private club — is the best revival story of these Palm City courses. It had been closed for eight months until a group of investors from Pennsylvania took over the ownership in early December.

In two months the course was reopened and had a new name, Crane Watch Club. That’s not all.

Reviving the course required new agronomic practices under the leadership of course superintendent Chris Thatcher. The greens were refurbished, new sand was put in the bunkers and the irrigation system was repaired and upgraded. Though in
hardly ideal condition, the course was playable when players returned on Feb. 3.

The Fox Club, Hole No. 18
The Fox Club's 18th hole is a 586-yard par 5 that is made more difficult by the presence of water along the dogleg left into the green.

The most eye-catching change at the club is the construction of a short-game area in front of the clubhouse. The putting green was resurfaced and a new Club Car fleet of carts was brought in. General manager Dave Salerno put out progress reports several times a week throughout the pandemic, when play was limited almost entirely to Martin County residents. The report reached a new high in the May 4 reduction in restrictions when dining in the clubhouse — including evening dinners — was granted approval.

At Hammock Creek, it’s been a different situation since the ownership change. There weren’t any alterations to the course, designed by the father-son team of Jack and Jack Nicklaus II. It opened in 1995.

"``We love the golf course," said Hamlin. "``It’s very customer-friendly and has no pace of play issues. We had no intention of changing anything with the golf course."

The new ownership quickly signed a licensing agreement with Nicklaus Design and there was no changing of the staff, either. Rod Curl Jr. remained as director of golf with Hamlin becoming the on-site managing partner. Like Hamlin, Curl is a 20-year member of the PGA of America.

Three courses, three tales and now the three public courses are poised to put Palm City squarely on the map.

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