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Frederica Golf Club

Perhaps unlike any other course he’s ever built, Tom Fazio had the flexibility to create something particularly special, drawing a celebrated membership to this island enclave

By: Tom Cunneff

Appeared in 2012 Fazio Premier Clubs

Named after a fort just a few miles away that once served as the British military headquarters in colonial America, Frederica on St. Simons Island, Georgia, pays homage to the area’s history with a logo of English and Scottish flags side-by-side. It’s an unusual coupling given the two countries’ historical enmity, but when the Spanish tried to invade Georgia in 1742, a nearby settlement of Scots came to the aid of the Redcoats in St. Simons, helping to defeat the Spaniards in the “Battle of Bloody Marsh.”

Today, the only battles taking place along the marsh are those with a ball and club, but how appropriate that they involve a game invented by the Scots. And nowhere on the island’s 18 square miles are those skirmishes more fun and intense than at Frederica, which is the home club for 10 PGA Tour pros, including Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love, and Brandt Snedeker (a few major league baseball players also are members).

“It’s a special place in that regard,” says Steve Archer, the director of golf and general manager. “The appeal is the practice facility, the course conditions, and the ability to get away and be themselves. They are able to hone their games but also enjoy the atmosphere of the club. They’re just great guys who will play with members, and they go out of their way to get to know the folks here.”

Talk about a tough club championship! But you don’t need to be a major champion to enjoy all that Frederica has to offer, starting with the rolling, 7,217-yard layout. As challenging as it is for the pros to play—with its preferred lines off the tee and into the large, undulating greens—the wide fairways and lack of rough make it enjoyable for higher handicaps, too. The ball really chases on the firm-and-fast fairways so golfers tend to hit it a little farther here than they do elsewhere and can play a variety of fun shots.

They never have to worry about their ball caroming off a cart path either since there aren’t any: For the most part,  players can drive the carts, all of which contain Laser Link rangefinders, wherever they like. “Just keep them outside the leather” is the only admonition. Of course, with tees and greens in close proximity (the 13th green literally bleeds into the 14th tee), the layout is eminently walkable and there’s an excellent caddie program, too.

The course is defined by its wide-open spaces, the result of pine-tree harvesting. The roomy 300 acres was very appealing to Tom Fazio when he first set foot on the property. “One of the struggles as a designer in my career is having enough width for golf,” he says. “But that wasn’t an issue at Frederica, so we had this opportunity to create something very distinct.” That he did. The large scale called for big greens. Fazio is known for creating some of the most interesting complexes in the game, but he outdid himself at Frederica. The greens average 9,500 square feet and have more movement than an ocean in a storm. Each one is like a sculpture that you want to stop and admire, as well as study for all the possible breaks and shot variations.

“There are some substantial elevation changes on the large greens, so there are a lot of alternate pin placements,” says Fazio, who collaborated on the design with Sir Michael Bonallack, former secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. “Club selection is a very big issue. Hitting it to the proper side of the green is important, too, so the slopes funnel the ball toward the hole, or if you’re on the wrong side, away from the hole. There’s a lot of thinking even with these big spaces.”

The elevation changes are also surprising, especially for the generally flat island. Fazio created them with 4.5 million cubic yards of earth generated from digging a 400-acre boating and fishing lake filled with female trophy bass (8 to 10 pounders are common). A visitor to the club would never guess the rolling terrain was manmade. (About 1,800  trees were transplanted from what is now the lake. The biggest oaks couldn’t be lifted so the crew built a trench, then used bulldozers to push and pull them into place at a cost of $30,000 each.)

The trees are as pleasing strategically as they are aesthetically (Fazio even planted some in the range to duplicate real playing conditions). For instance, on the opening hole, a 409-yard, dogleg right, if a golfer plays safe down the left side away from the corner bunker, he or she may have some arbor issues coming into the green, particularly if the pin is left. And on the 525-yard 15th, the lay-up has to be well right or back to avoid a big oak short and left of the green.

Thought-provoking dilemmas like that come up again and again. On the 423-yard 13th hole—situated in the more wooded part of the course—a drive hit down the left away from the marsh on the right leaves an approach as much as 40 yards longer than one that flirts closer to the trouble.

The closing trio is particularly challenging. The 462-yard 16th plays uphill and is probably the toughest hole on the course: The tee ball needs to challenge a big bunker on the left for a better angle into the extra-large green, which is receptive to a long iron or hybrid. At the downhill 443-yard 17th, players really need to step on their drives to have  short irons into the angled, well-bunkered green. Same on the dogleg-left, par-five 18th if a golfer is to have a go at the green, which has a false front that runs off into a lake.

Developed by Bill Jones III under the Sea Island Company umbrella, Frederica was bought by Wayne Huizenga in 2010 and since then he and his wife, Marti, have made a number of enchancements to the club. They recently added five elegant, Lowcountry-style four-bedroom cottages, making it easier for members who don’t own in the community to visit (a variety of homes and homesites with river, marsh, golf, lake, or wooded views are available for purchase). The sports and business mogul, who has developed several clubs himself, including Diamond Creek in North Carolina, also donated his Super Bowl and World Series’ trophies from the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season in 1972 and the Florida Marlins’ victory in 2003: The hardware sits in a glass trophy case right outside the pro shop, located in the comfortable clubhouse that feels more like a home with its tabby exterior, barrel-tile roof, and antique-filled interior.

“Mr. and Mrs. H have brought an incredible new energy and passion to the club,” says Archer. “They’ve become such a part of the community. When they looked at the property, Mrs. H liked it so much she said wanted to live here. So they do have a home here and are great stewards of the land.”

With its beauty and history, this unique golf course community is certainly deserving of the devotion.

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