A few months ago I was enjoying lunch at the St. Regis during a private equity conference when a young man from Kansas struck up a conversation on golf. We went back and forth on our favorite courses, the clubs we use, and the granddaddy of them all – golf course architecture. After mutually praising Alister Mackenzie, he asked if I wanted to join him for a round at Seminole Golf Club. Yup…just like that…I punched my ticket to a Donald Ross masterpiece.
Candidly, I didn’t take his offer seriously as I responded with, “Sure, why the hell not? And afterwards we can swing by the Bath & Tennis for lunch.” Let’s be honest, there are more connected guys who go a lifetime without checking this course off their list.
I called every golf nut I knew with the news, “Hey numbnuts, I got on Seminole, talk to you later!” I’d hang up and call the next guy, and the next guy, until I sufficiently annoyed every last one of them. I fell asleep that night dreaming of smoking a cigar in the famous locker room.
Here’s where I’ll throw some of you a curveball. The rest of this piece won’t be a hole-by-hole analysis. Instead I’ll tell a story of what a day at Seminole is like; from arriving at the gate to wrapping up with a Merion-esque shower.
Seminole is a fifteen minute drive from Palm Beach with the entrance off an unassuming stretch of A1A. You pull up to the gate, tell the guard who you’re a guest of, and off you go. The anticipation builds as you drive down Seminole Boulevard; a manicured two-story tall privacy hedge gives glimpses of what’s to come.
As you finally get to the end of the road you take a left and you’re immediately greeted by the famous Spanish pink clubhouse. Your eyes can’t help by fixate on the Seminole Indian head sculpture in the circular driveway. A valet greets you, he knows your name, and takes your clubs to the driving range. It’s perfectly choreographed and welcoming.
As you walk into what appears is the clubhouse you realize you’re not technically inside – you’ve merely begun the experience that is Seminole. You start with signing the guest book at the bottom of an ancient staircase that is covered, yet exposed to the elements. As you ascend up the stairs you’re left wondering what you’re about to see – and then it happens! You arrive in a beautifully shaded courtyard with massive views of the links style course. I couldn’t think of a better way to start a Monday morning.
So first things first – I had to see the infamous swimming pool and visit the locker room. The pool couldn’t be more inviting. It sits below the terraced courtyard with views of the entire course, but no one has ever swam in it, which adds to the lore and mystique of Seminole. Across the courtyard is the entrance to the locker room. Bill Jones III of Sea Island told me he modeled the Ocean Forest locker room after this one, so for an architecture and history buff, this was almost as exciting as playing the course. We’ll get back to it later, but trust me, it’s all that and a bucket of chicken.
There are no tee times, so after warming up on the range we enjoyed a leisurely stroll to the first tee box where you can pretty much see the entire lay out. Seminole is singlehandedly the most beautiful course I’ve played. Palm trees are manicured like the pines at Augusta National, I didn’t see a single divot the entire day, fairways were emerald green, and we played under blue skies with a touch of wind in the mid-seventies. Add in views of the Atlantic from 5, 6, 11, 12, 17, and 18…and well, it’s a dog and pony show for the ages.
Now to the course – it’s insanely challenging, but an absolute blast. It didn’t help that a member tournament was being played later in the week, so pin placements and impeccably manicured greens added to the insanity. Imagine sand dunes so massive you need a GPS to find your way out, elevated greens that mimic the curves of a turtle’s back; which necessitate Seminole’s very own acronym (GVR – Greens Visited in Regulation – meaning you miraculously landed your ball on the turtles back, but the son-of-a-bitch rolled off because gravity has a way of always doing that), and arguably the most intelligent routing in the history of the game. On the back nine alone 10 and 11 play north, 12 and 13 east, 14 west, 15 south, 16 north, and 17/18 south. Add in the wind coming off the ocean and it’s murderers’ row. And the bunkers…my God the bunkers! Every par 3 is surrounded with them; like medieval moats guarding the postage stamp greens. Not only do you need the accuracy of a Navy SEAL sniper, but when (not if) your ball rolls off you’re in a bunker that’ll take the life out of you.
Thank God for the caddies. There’s no way a first timer is finding his way around the course without one. My caddie had been at the club for 24 years. He knew every nook and cranny and had the patience of an Egyptian Anchorite; who, topographically speaking, would have been all too familiar with the sandy terrain. OK, that’s a bit much, but you get what I’m saying. A high handicap mortal is a lost soul without his caddie.
Back to the locker room. After walking eighteen in the Florida sun you’re ready for ceiling fans, cold drinks, and a shower; and the locker room graciously provides all three. The walls are adorned with tournament plaques in gold lettering with names like Sean Connery, Sam Snead, and Arnold Palmer. They sit high above the cypress lockers and next to taxidermy of days gone by. It’s a quiet and elegant space full of comfortable furniture and genteel attendants. No one is in a rush. An antique backgammon table sits stoically next to a small library. The bartender comes to you for a drink order. Unbeknownst to me my shoes where cleaned and shined. You cannot find a reason in the world to move once you sit down. And the idea of “wintering” in Palm Beach becomes immediately intoxicating.
I eventually made my way to the shower. Merion and Seminole are often in the same sentence when it comes to world class routing, but they share something else in common – massive shower heads. Just like I couldn’t find a reason to move once I sat down in the locker room, I couldn’t find a reason to get out of the shower. The manhole cover shower heads drop what feels like a million gallons of water every second. It’s so much your shoulders feel like they’re getting a massage.
After begrudgingly leaving the locker room refreshed and clean shaven, I visited the pro shop to pick up a few hats. It’s similar in size to Peachtree Golf Club, which is how I like them. A college kid tends the till and by the smile on his face you know he has the best gig in his fraternity.
So there it is – a day at Seminole with your average golfer. From driving down Seminole Boulevard, to taking the same shots Ben Hogan did practicing for the Masters, to relaxing in golf’s best locker room – well, let’s just say I’m grateful to have met Rick from Kansas.
Contributor Brad Evans is a good buddy, a UGA grad, and an idea guy. We’re luck to have his thoughts here at RCS…more to come.
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