Ponte Vedra Inn and Club's Ocean Course was to have hosted the 1939 Ryder Cup; that's how good it was. A recent renovation of the course, which opened in 1928, has restored much of its glory
After a match in 1942, Bobby Jones said it was a course to challenge professionals. Since then, it hasn’t disappointed, and club officials made recent moves to keep it that way.
In mid-September, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club reopened its iconic Ocean Course — one of Florida’s oldest existing layouts — after being closed almost a year due to renovations. The golden age design once tapped for the Ryder Cup in the late 1930s received an $8 million facelift late last year, marking the third major restoration in its 93-year history.
Overseen by architect Bobby Weed, the project led to significant course and practice facility enhancements. Along with The Lodge and Club Ponte Vedra Beach, the Ocean Course hugs 1.5 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline located 30 minutes outside of Jacksonville. Originally designed by renowned British architect Bobby Strong, the course also underwent major renovations in 1947 (Robert Trent Jones) and 1998 (Bobby Weed and MacCurrach Golf Construction).
"It was starting to show its age," said Jim Howard, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club director of golf, about the layout that was supposed to host the 1939 Ryder Cup until it was canceled due to Word War II.
Refurbishment planning started about five years ago, culminating from the previous renovation to the 140 acres. Weed told the club in 1998 that the bermudagrass would likely need to be looked at again in 20 years and to think ahead.
In the spring of 2019, Herb Peyton, chairman of Gate Petroleum Co. — which also owns the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club — made the decision to close the five-time U.S. Open qualifying course in August.
"For more than 90 years, the Ocean Course has been enjoyed by club members and guests from around the world," said Peyton in 2019. "We will restore the Ocean Course to its past glory."
While work began, the adjacent 18-hole Lagoon Course remained open.
"The golf staff is thrilled with the product," Howard said. "We’ve got two really good golf courses in exceptional shape now."
As the project rolled out, the club gave Weed carte blanche to redesign as he saw fit. However, Howard said they did request that he explore the antiquated range since it had been untouched from the original 1932 blueprint. The club had wanted to improve ancillary areas used for instruction due to an industry-wide growth in teaching over the past 20 years.
In that respect, the practice area was expanded into a full-service facility to hone all aspects of a player’s game. Other improvements to the practice areas included the addition of a teeing ground on the north end for PGA professional lessons, with access to double-sided target greens, as well as short-game precision greens. Additionally, a state-of-the-art short game practice facility was constructed just off the new 10th tee.
“The range puts us on a new level with the membership and hotel golf packages, and golf-specific instruction packages, where we can fulfill some of things that we’ve never been able to do before,” Howard said.
In terms of infrastructure, the club updated and modernized its irrigation and drainage. A new pump station also was installed, and almost all its bridges and most of its bulkheads were rebuilt, according to Howard. Expansive swaths of non-turf screening areas were introduced, reducing irrigated and maintained rough grasses.
“He used a lot of shell areas and a lot of areas to kind of promote the beach kind of feel,” Howard said. "And it also gives a great contrast to the green and the grass. We were also thinking of the water savings, too."
As for the prized possession, namely the course, updates to the practice facilities allowed for routing changes and realignment of the back-nine holes. For instance, the former par-4 10th hole was eliminated and paved way for construction of the new par-3 13th hole on the north end of the property. That modification recalibrated the Ocean Course as a par 71, instead of a par 72.
Other design changes included lower green complexes and additional screening areas. The green on the second hole was moved closer to the surrounding lagoon, while the par-5 14th hole offers players a completely new look from the tees and plays longer. The 17th hole now features an enlarged lagoon bordering the right side of the hole.
The par-3 ninth, the signature historic Island Green, has been visually enhanced to provide a better view of the putting surface. That’s because the island level dropped after Weed’s team moved substantial dirt. In the process, the bulkhead and bridge were completely redone.
“Bobby came up with a great idea,” Howard said. “Now, from either sitting in our golf club restaurant or standing anywhere in the first area behind the hotel, from our staging areas with the carts, you can see actually see the ball roll on the green. It really makes theater of it and changes look of the hole.”
Redoing various infrastructure opened the door to rebuilding all 18 greens to meet current USGA standards. All of them were seeded with TifEagle Ultradwarf bermudagrass, which recovers better from wear. Moreover, all tee boxes were redone with TifGrand bermudagrass, while all in-play areas — including its expansive fairways - were revamped with Celebration bermudagrass. It’s a quick-growing, quick-recovery turf, Howard said.
Weed didn’t spare bunkers and hazards, either. He added 20 new bunkers — up to 118 — and reconfigured the rest with an emphasis on strategy, overall aesthetics and maintainability. Weed apprenticed under Pete Dye, so as an ode to the late legendary architect, several pot bunkers were implemented.
“Some of the members did not expect that on the first go-round,” Howard said. “That’s always fun.”
“The Ocean Course has long been a jewel of golf in the area,” said Michael Gordon, Vice President and General Manager of Ponte Vedra Inn and Club at the re-opening, “and these enhancements will ensure that this continues for years to come.”