Loxahatchee Club | Links Magazine | February, 2010

"The Loxahatchee Club"

The former home course of its designer, Jack Nicklaus, this renowned club boasts an immaculate layout and an active, friendly membership

Jack Nicklaus has built about 275 courses during his 40 years as a golf course architect, but he’s only called a few home. The Loxahatchee Club is one of them. Located in the vibrant town of Jupiter, Florida, Loxahatchee is a small residential member community of just 285 homesites that opened in 1985. In the early days, members often caught Nicklaus working with his longtime instructor and father figure, Jack Grout, who belonged to the club.

The two of them spent hours on the range, hitting balls and talking about everything but swing mechanics. Finally, after four or five days, Grout would get around to giving a tip: “Hey, you know, I would like to see your hands in a little different position at the top.”

“Oh, really?” Nicklaus would respond. “What do you think that would do?”

“It will make you hit it better.”

Nicklaus would just smile, perhaps knowing that there weren’t too many lessons left. “OK, we’ll do that,” he’d say.

“When Jack passed away in 1989, I just lost my desire to really go out to a golf course and hit a lot of balls,” Nicklaus said at the course’s reopening in 2005 following a 20th anniversary redesign. “But I’ve got great memories of Loxahatchee. They treated Jack just wonderful here. They opened their arms to him.”

The main dining room is now called “The Grout Room,” but what makes Loxahatchee special is that they open their arms to all members. “It’s not a big, flashy place,” says Dottie Pepper, who joined the club in 1998 at the suggestion of member and former LPGA Commissioner Charlie Mechem. “It’s really just a bunch of very normal people.”

The logo of the club tells you everything you need to know about the lack of pretentiousness. Whereas most clubs have a grandiose coat of arms as their emblem, Loxahatchee’s is a jaunty little tortoise with a feather in its cap and a club over its shoulder. (The name is an Anglicized simplification of two Seminole words that mean “turtle river.”) It’s the kind of place where the CEO of a giant corporation can have a long, animated conversation with a tailor from Brooklyn.

“That’s what makes Loxahatchee,” says the club’s founder and developer Gordon Gray, who still belongs to the club and lives in the community. “Our two main assets are our membership and golf course, but notice I said our membership first. The golf course gets them here, but the membership keeps them here.”

The inaugural “Loxminster Dog Show” in 2008 is indicative of just how much fun everyone has. (A second is planned for sometime this year.) Members Brent Musburger and Bryant Gumbel dressed up in black tie to serve as judges for the event, which attracted 350 people and 90 dogs.

“It was an absolute hoot,” says Gray, who was the master of ceremonies. “We laughed so much we almost got sick.”

Of course, the golf course itself is a daily site of lots of laughs and good times. First and foremost, it’s a walking course comprised of two nine-hole loops. The tees and greens are very close together since there are no interior homesites. Add in one of the best caddie programs around, and it’s core golf at its finest.

“You have to play a variety of shots,” says Pepper, who hosts a charity pro-am at the club each January that has raised more than $2 million over the years. “You need to hit a bit of a draw off the tee and work it the other way into the green, so it’s a golf course you just don’t get bored with. It’s also got some really, really good bunkering. Depending on which way the wind blows, especially during the winter, the golf course can play completely different from one day to the next.”

If you like to feel a little bit scared on the course, then you’ll love the 7,147-yard layout. Both par 3s on the front nine play over water, while the par 5s have lakes running down the entire right sides. The design leaves plenty of safe routes and bailout areas for higher handicaps, while at the same time really challenging better players.

A double green shared by the 13th and 15th holes distinguishes the back nine, and in between is one of the best par 4s anywhere, with water running down the entire right side to a raised, angled green. The 597-yard 16th features an island green that has been more than one member’s Waterloo during one of the club’s many tournaments. With water hugging the left side of the fairway and green, the dogleg-left 436-yard 18th hole gives players a totally different look from what they encounter on most of the previous holes.

The outdoor Turtle Café overlooking the 18th green is the perfect place to settle bets after the round, get a bite to eat and greet fellow members making the turn. The signature salad, “The Loxahatchee,” which is made of diced chicken, sun-dried cherries, grapes, toasted almonds and honey mustard dressing, is outstanding, as is the lobster roll and ever-popular quarter-pound all-beef hot dog.

And you’ve got to love a place that has a frozen yogurt dispenser with all the fixings sitting out for anyone with a sweet tooth to enjoy. The café was refurbished during the clubhouse renovations in 2000, which expanded the West Indies-influenced facility from 21,000 to 34,000 square feet, while also reconfiguring the flow and position of rooms for more convenience.

The clubhouse overlooks a fantastic practice facility. Members can hit to multiple green targets from either end of the expansive range. There’s also an excellent short-game area and temperature-controlled, state-of-the-art learning center.

The genesis for the club came about in 1980 when Gray and Nicklaus played a round together in Naples. Jack expressed an interest in designing a course near his home in Palm Beach County. So Gray, a Canadian developer, purchased an abandoned dairy farm in Jupiter that consisted of 750 acres.

Nicklaus asked, “Where can I put the course?”

“Put it wherever you want,” Gray responded.

“He was thrilled, because generally he’s confined by street corners or property boundaries or waterways or environmental areas,” says Gray, who was impressed by Nicklaus’ work ethic. “He was here every day for hours and hours. I followed him around every inch of the way and marveled at his incredible attention to detail—a bunker side had to be moved a foot here or made six inches deeper there. We removed about a million yards of fill from the lakes to create the mounding and the separations and the big hill we built the clubhouse on.”

Nicklaus has returned over the years to make subtle changes (he also shot Golf My Way II there), but the biggest renovation was in 2004. A re-grassing with paspalum and installation of a new irrigation system turned into a redesign; Nicklaus strengthened a few holes by repositioning greens, adding and removing bunkers and redoing bulkheads. He also softened a lot of the mounding.

“We tried to bring it a little bit more into the framework of what would be a modern golf course,” Nicklaus said at the reopening. “These are just little things that we probably never got right the first time. But I think we got a lot of things right the first time, because the membership loved it.”

When not on the course, many members can be found working out at the Activities Center, which opened in 2007. The 10,000-square-foot facility features 20 Life Fitness machines, a Pilates area and Titleist Performance Institute-certified trainers, as well as spa treatments available in three massage rooms. There are also three lighted Har-Tru tennis courts and a lagoon-style heated pool.

The members treat the dedicated staff like family, so it’s no surprise that Loxahatchee received its third straight Platinum Club of America Award as one of the nation’s top golf clubs. In a nationwide survey of club presidents and managers, the club came in ninth, ahead of San Francisco Golf Club, National Golf Links of America and Sebonack Golf Club, and just behind the likes of Shinnecock Hills, Merion and Cypress Point.

“We like to think that golf at Loxahatchee is played the way it was intended, with sociable foursomes, a competitive spirit, beautiful surroundings and outstanding caddies,” says General Manager Kevin Carroll. “Our staff is among the best in the industry and their pride in the club is reflected in their service to members and guests. Our members are well known for their friendliness, caring attitudes and compatibility. No one is ever a stranger at the Loxahatchee Club and golf is the common icebreaker.”