Appeared in 2010 LINKS Premier Clubs
In the pro shop of the Dye Preserve Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, is a large, walnut retail display case with nine staff bags on top bearing the names of PGA Tour players like Mark Calcavecchia, Will MacKenzie and Steve Marino. But the bags aren’t just some ornamental furnishings to spruce up the place and give it some tour polish. They’re there because all nine are members of the club.
“They all pay dues like everybody else,” says Joe Webster III, the club’s president and founder, as he sits in the men’s card room. “They could play for free anywhere else but they come here because this reflects what they have to deal with every day. The greens are equally as fast as on tour. They have to hit all the shots. They’ve got to draw it sometimes, they’ve got to fade it sometimes.”
Calcavecchia came out one day in 2007, played nine holes and asked director of golf Ryan Garrity at the turn: “Hey, how do I join this place?”
“I just loved everything about it,” says Calcavecchia. “They did a great job on the clubhouse and the locker room. It wasn’t crowded and it was in phenomenal shape. As a PGA Tour pro, those are two of the things we look for. They’re probably the best greens in South Florida. They get scary fast, like Augusta fast. And a lot of them are small and elevated so it really sharpens your short game.”
In short, Calc and other players feel at home at the Dye Preserve, but then, all 200 members feel at home here because the club is as comfortable as a round with old friends in 70-degree weather. It just feels right. The welcoming atmosphere starts with the classy and low-key clubhouse that resembles a cozy residence.
Unlike most modern, cavernous clubhouses that have all the charm of a hotel conference center, the Dye Preserve’s 17,000-square-foot design is elegantly intimate. Reflecting a bungalow style popular in the 1920s and ’30s, the single-story building has wide verandahs in the front and back. Soft lighting, handmade furniture and wood floors covered by Oriental rugs complete the warm feel.
The spacious men’s locker room features large, polished-pine lockers and powerful showers, while the women’s has a comfortable sitting room, fireplace and refined lockers made of Costa Rican teak. But the highlight is a gorgeous entryway mural by Marcia Wendel depicting the watery wilderness of the native Florida landscape.
It’s almost as good as the real thing right outside the door. There’s a reason the club has Preserve in its name. Other than a previously existing home visible here and there, the place really is a sanctuary of sorts, comprised of 175 pristine acres.
Bald cypress trees draped with Spanish moss give the course an otherworldly feel. The vibe is more Louisiana bayou than South Florida glitz. Ponds, lakes and wetlands teem with fish, turtles and alligators, as well as wading birds like ibis, heron and egrets. The club’s emblem, the osprey, is often seen circling overhead, while a sandhill crane will occasionally let loose with a loud, siren-like trill as it stands atop a mound. It’s like you’ve stepped into a show on Animal Planet.
With pathways made of crushed coquina seashells and low-profile curved wooden bridges, the 7,149-yard course fits effortlessly into this enchanting environment. It’s infinitely more playable than most Pete Dye courses but still provides plenty of challenge from the back tees, especially with a typical 10 to 20 mile-per-hour wind blowing. Mounding and grassed-faced bunkers nicely frame the greens, while a variety of different grasses give the layout texture and definition. And most of the holes are open in front to allow run-up shots.“The course is great for a wide range of abilities,” says Garrity. “It’s great for a beginner because there are no real forced carries off the tee, but as the tee boxes go farther back, the shot values get a little more daunting where you do have to hit a cut on one hole and a draw on the next. Better players can’t play here with one ball flight because you would not be able to hit it through some of the chutes. The fact that we have so many tour players here speaks volumes about what a great challenge it is from the back tees.”
One of those is Tom Gillis, who earned his 2010 PGA Tour card after finishing fifth on last year’s Nationwide Tour money list. “The condition of the course is always great,” he says. “It’s got wonderful drainage, which is important in South Florida. Dye also did a really nice job on the green complexes. When it gets firm, you’ve got to hit British Open-type shots, little bump and runs in to the banks, because the grass is pretty tight, and I just love that. It’s just a nice test.”
The front nine opens up with three relatively easy holes before golfers encounter the hardest hole on the course, the 469-yard 4th. Most of the trouble is right on the left-to-right hole: waste bunkers and trees down the fairway and a lake by the green, which is open in front, thankfully, and receptive to running up a long iron, hybrid or even a fairway wood.
Garrity’s favorite is the 299-yard 5th, which has water running down the entire left side and a big mound near the green. “It’s one of the best risk-reward holes I’ve ever played,” says Garrity. “You have to hit a great shot to get it on the green but you’re rewarded. A drive between the mound and the right fringe will kick up onto the green. Some of the real long hitters like Steve Marino and Tommy Carter are the only guys that aim right at the pin. Mere mortals try to use the terrain to their advantage. If you hit a bad tee ball you pay for it, but you can always lay up.”
Two par 3s that are as tough as a $5.99 steak highlight the back nine. While the 240-yard 17th is longer and is protected by water down the entire right side, there’s plenty of room left to bail out and get up and down for par. There’s no place to hide on the 207-yard 13th, though. The elevated green leaves little possibility of saving par if you don’t hit it with your tee shot.
“I like the difficulty of it,” says Gillis. “It’s probably the toughest hole on the course to par, just because of the severity of the slopes left and right of the green. You have to execute, especially when the wind’s blowing off the right.”
With closely placed greens and tees and a terrific caddie program, the course is also exceedingly walkable. There’s not a lot of traffic, either. For a lot of members, it’s their second or third club. (The roster of their other clubs reads like a top 100 list.) Although membership is by invitation only, with friends inviting friends, the reach is wide with members coming from 20 different states and five other countries. The average age is 57.
Food service is limited to breakfast, lunch and cocktails, but what a menu it is, thanks to Chef Van Coyle, whose homemade soups are a huge hit with members, as is his lump crab, mango and avocado salad. The decision to forgo evening dining is a huge savings, helping to keep the dues much lower, about $9,000 a year, than other clubs of this stature and quality.
“The concept was to keep it focused on the golf experience,” says Webster. “We’re not asking members to pay for, nor are we providing, ancillary services. For that five-hour period that people are here, we’ve got to give them incredibly good food, we’ve got to give them good caddies, great playing surfaces. That’s all we have to concentrate on.
“We’re just focused on that 175-acre room,” he adds, gesturing outside, “and this basically large house, so that it stays pretty personal."
Home to many PGA Tour pros, this exquisite club in South Florida is pure golf, from the understated clubhouse to the shotmaker’s course
By: Tom Cunneff