Four Things to Know About The Park, West Palm Beach's Reborn Muni Golf Gem
By Ryan Adams, PGA
The Park in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Trey Wren/Sticks Golf)
If there’s any indication of how prominent West Palm Beach Country Club was at one point, look no further than two of the legendary names that played it.
Babe Ruth, the legendary New York Yankee slugger, chopped it up in his prime on the course with the digintaries who ruled Palm Beach in the Roaring ‘20s and 1930s. Arnold Palmer followed decades later, winning the 1959 West Palm Beach Open at a rebuilt municipal course designed by Dick Wilson in 1947, ushering in a new era of golf the world had never seen.
The course built up a loyal following among locals, but its conditions and upkeep suffered with insufficient funding. By 2018, it was closed.
Good golf course land doesn’t come open often, however, and the West Palm muni’s was truly one-of-a-kind. Recognizing an opportunity, a group of passionate Palm Beach County golfers, which included PGA CEO Seth Waugh and businessman Dirk Ziff, formed an agreement with the City of West Palm Beach to take over the course on a long-term lease by early 2021, subsequently raising over $55 million from 130-plus donors to completely revamp the facility.
What now stands on the property is just downright special. Named, fittingly, The Park, is a sprawling, flowing brand-new course by Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and co-founder Ziff, which opened to the public on April 17. It’s an exciting moment for municipal golf, especially in Palm Beach County, where locals are starving for more accessible options.
They get that, and more, with The Park. Here are four things to know about this exciting new place to play:
The home of “Open Golf”
From the start, The Park was always going to be different. This would be no private playground in the middle of West Palm Beach — instead, it’d be open to everyone. Adds Waugh: “The goal has been to make The Park into the happiest, most welcoming, most complete, and most inclusive place in all of golf. This is 190 acres owned by the residents — and, like a park, it should be open to all.” On The Park property is the 18-hole course, a lighted 9-hole par 3, 18-hole putting course; a two-acre “kids only” golf area; and a lighted two-sided range with a state-of-the-art practice facility featuring Toptracer technology. Free after-school programs for community youth are on the horizon, and as The Park begins to find its footing, more community-based offerings will likely come. Now that’s a win.
A Sandbelt special with West Palm width
From the moment he set foot on the property, Hanse was bedazzled by the sandy, undulating surfaces of where The Park would be designed. The property sits on a coastal sand ridge that runs along the Atlantic Ocean, which its world-famous neighbor to the north, Seminole Golf Club, along with equally impressive Jupiter Hills Club, utilize in their classic designs. Initially, Hanse and Wagner — with routing help from Ziff — saw an Australian Sandbelt-style course similar to Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath. As more trees were cleared, however, there was a different course emerging: wider, more angles, and incredible sightlines that spanned the entire property. While there are certainly some penalizing bunkers and potential disasters lurking on some holes, The Park hammers home opportunity, with most of its greens curvy and undulating, allowing them to funnel balls toward a variety of hole locations.
No. 11 is an early leader for signature hole
To get a sense of what holes golfers can look forward to the most when they’re out at The Park, we asked the PGA Professional staff to give us their favorite hole from a design aspect. The par-3 11th emerged on top, and it’s easy to see why with its postcard-worthy bunkers, unique green, and gorgeous view from the tee.
“Hands down, my favorite hole,” says Bridget Ackley, the PGA Junior Golf Lead at The Park. “Visually, I love everything about it — from the elevated tee boxes where you can see most of the golf course to the tri-tiered green and the bunkers surrounding it. Accuracy to the pin depends on which tier the hole location is positioned, but one can play the ball low and still run it up to the green. It’s a great, challenging par 3 for all levels of players to attack.”
Adds Cody Sinkler, The Park’s PGA Director of Golf Operations: “No. 11’s elevated tee shot gives a dramatic view of possibly the most unique and dynamic greens complex I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the best par 3s I’ve ever played.”
Sinkler’s sentiments are echoed by PGA General Manager Brian Conley, who sees the hole emerging as one of the best in the Sunshine State.
“No. 11 may have the best greens complex in Florida,” says Conley. “It can play hard to a guarded back pin at 200 yards or place a hole location on a small finger of a green to attack with a wedge. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it looks like a magazine cover photo from the tee.”
But don’t forget about No. 5, 13 . . . and a few other design dandies
While No. 11 gets its much-deserved love, The Park is chock-full of good holes. PGA Head Professional Clay Myers sees No. 5 as his favorite — mainly due to its playability.
“It’s long — like 220 up to 250 from the back tees, but you can hit a high or run it up low because there’s about 30-40 yards of room in front of the green to use,” says Myers. “The green slopes from back to front, too, and no matter where you hit it, the surface funnels it back toward the hole. It’s a lot of fun.”
PGA Director of Coaching Justin Martin is a big fan of the 13th hole, adding: “The turtleback green is a shotmaker’s delight. With a reverse camber style feature, you have to be brave off the tee to leave yourself a good look at this green. Hitting the right half of the fairway runs the risk of you being blocked out and having to be much more precise into the green. Don’t miss short and right on the approach — the shaved bank right of the green will carry you away to an almost guaranteed bogey."
Myers also likes two “green light” holes at The Park: No. 9 and 16, both of which present opportunities for birdies.
“The ninth is a birdie hole nine times out of 10,” adds Myers. “It’s always downwind, however, so it’s hard to stop your second shot on the green, which means you need to be precise or just lay it up for an easy chip. No. 16 is the only driveable par 4 on the course, and if you’re going for it, that’s another hole where you need to be precise. If not, you can bail out right, and you’ll have a 70-80 yard pitch where you can hit it high or bump and run it.
“That’s a part of the course where you can build a lot of momentum — 15 is a par 5, then 16 and then 17 is a par 3, followed by another par 5 in 18. It’s an exciting finish for anyone.”