More often than not, golf in Florida is a contrived experience. Man-made lakes and cloned palm trees dot flat bermuda-grass fairways that twist methodically through planned residential golf communities. Spray a tee shot errantly off-line and you’re liable to hit a sunbather floating in their pool or break a window of a house precariously situated on the edge of the fairway. For years, many of the world’s best designers have struggled to create something unique from an ordinary and uninspired landscape. So, with over 1000 golf courses already in existence in the state you would think it would be next to impossible to create something different that would stand out from the crowd. That’s what I thought until recently when I was invited to play two new golf courses that proved to be unlike any of the other designs I had seen in my previous travels to the sunshine state.
In hindsight, had I done my homework, I wouldn’t have been so surprised. My invitation was to visit two new WCI Communities Inc. properties around the West Palm Beach area. For those unfamiliar with WCI Communities Inc., the company was named “America’s Best Builder” by the National Association of Home Builders in 2004. But WCI builds more than just homes. This is a company that builds residential golf communities. The company was established in 1946 and has since built 40 distinctive communities for over 170,000 individuals featuring homes ranging in price from $200,000 to over $10 million. After experiencing a taste of “WCI living”, I can attest that their corporate motto of “lifestyles beyond expectations” is certainly true. I was so impressed by this company that I even contemplated applying for a job. Too bad it’s so difficult to get a green card.
My first stop on my tour of decadent golf course living was to the new Parkland Golf and Country Club, a Greg Norman design minutes south of Boca Raton. Measuring 7,118 yards, the golf course is the first collaboration between WCI and Greg Norman on Florida’s east coast. The entire community encompasses 790 acres and will eventually be the home to approximately 800 families. While I enjoyed my day on the golf course, I was more intrigued by all of the amenities the club had to offer. Had I more time, I would have certainly indulged in the club’s 43,000 square-foot recreation and fitness facility or enjoyed a leisurely swim in the club’s “aquatic playground”. I was told that I could have a small slice of this desirable golf lifestyle for a mere $85,000. Problem was that I was going to need a place to live and that was going to set me back another $1.5 million.
My next two days were spent at the Old Palm Golf Club, WCI’s soon-to-be flagship property, in Palm Beach Gardens. As the name suggests, Old Palm smacked of opulence and wealth. To put things into perspective, Old Palm is one of those places that if you have to ask about the price of anything you probably don’t belong. But since I’m on the topic, I will tell you that golf memberships cost $275,000 and house prices start at $1.6 million for homes ranging in size from 3,400 to 6,500 square feet. If you’re looking for a little more space, for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $8 million you can own a 14,000 square-foot “house” on a 1-acre lot overlooking the golf course.
Old Palm is not your average residential golf course community as every amenity imaginable exists for its residents and club members. I remember driving up to the wrought iron gates in my very ordinary rental car telling the guard I was here to write a story about the golf course. After a routine security check, I was permitted to proceed and make my way toward the clubhouse. I don’t think I exceeded 10km/hour along the winding road as I was distracted in all directions by the perfectly manicured golf course and surrounding million dollar mansions. The 43,000 square-foot clubhouse was no less spectacular. Inside, intricate millwork, hand-painted Portuguese tiles, elaborate moldings and luxurious furnishings were found in every room of this exquisite clubhouse that was designed to resemble an unpretentious country estate home.
Equally impressive was the golf course, a Raymond Floyd design measuring a formidable 7,401 yards. From the outset, Floyd’s design philosophy was simple – bring back traditional golf. In addition to a very playable layout, golfers are accompanied by well-trained caddies and Old Palm’s no tee time policy provides members with unrestricted access to the first tee. “This is a place that celebrates golf,” says Floyd. “Its not about your handicap, it’s about your passion for the game. The goal is for the game to be enjoyable no matter your skill level. I’d like to hear a foursome say at the end of their round, ‘That was great fun! I can’t wait to play that course again’.”
I’m sure this is something Mr. Floyd will hear many times as he and his wife Maria live on the property in a 4,000 square-foot villa overlooking the 19th hole. In addition to being the Floyd family residence, Old Palm is Floyd’s newly adopted home course and onsite office. WCI Communities Inc. was so thrilled with Floyd’s decision to stay that they decided to designate him as Honourary Club Chairman.
Once the news got out about Floyd’s decision to relocate to Old Palm, it didn’t take long for other sport legends to join the club and purchase a home in the 650-acre community. PGA professionals Hank Kuehne and Bruce Fleisher are both Old Palm residents as are former Miami Dolphins head coach, Don Shula and baseball Hall-of-Famer, Jim Palmer.
Although my trip to the southeast region of Florida was brief, it certainly was memorable. It was exciting to witness how the world’s rich and famous live even if it was only for a few days. Next time I’ll be more careful about how I characterize golf in Florida. WCI, in collaboration with designers Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd, has certainly found a way to create residential golf communities that takes their corporate motto, “lifestyles beyond expectations”, to a totally new level.