What should you expect from the new Jack Nicklaus course opening in fall 2017 at Banyan Cay Resort in West Palm? That it will be unlike any other South Florida course you’ve ever played.
The new golf course at Banyan Cay Resort & Golf doesn’t play – or look – like any of the other courses in South Florida. With a layout and features atypical of courses in the area, it’s as unique as the course designer himself: the iconic Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18 PGA majors, and, at age 77, the mind and driving force behind the new course. Opening in November 2017 (followed by the clubhouse in early 2018 and the hotel in 2019), the course at Banyan Cay Resort & Golf also offers a nontraditional membership model, and members can expect smaller entry fees than those required at other top-tier South Florida golf clubs.
We spoke with Banyan Cay’s Director of Golf, Richard Leconche, about what golfers can look forward to when they hit the links at Banyan Cay:
What do Jack Nicklaus–designed courses have in common?
Jack was always the guy who had very undulated greens. He always hit the golf ball with a left-to-right curve, so everyone associates Jack Nicklaus–designed courses with a fader’s idea of a golf course. But he’s changed. This is one of his latest signature golf courses, so if we look at what he’s done in the past versus what he’s doing now, it’s a completely different animal.
How is it so different from his early courses?
For one, the grassing of the course is different. We’re using a new type of grass called Latitude 36. It’s disease resistant, a very vibrant shade of green, and when you lay it down, you’re playing within three months. It’s actually sold out through next year – you can’t even buy it right now. Another thing is the TifEagle greens, which can be cut more frequently and maintain that vibrant green color better. It’s just beautiful. It’s a very good green complex.
Do the differences come down to solely grass?
No. Jack’s philosophy now is that he wants people to have fun. The courses he did early in his career were very difficult and tough to play. Now, his green complexes are more user-friendly, and his fairways – though they may look intimidating on some of the holes – are very spacious. There’s plenty of room to land your golf ball, and he’s very cognizant of giving you a bailout area as you approach the green. But don’t mistake that for easy. The courses he’s making now have a tremendous amount of teeth from the back tees, and we test the best players in the world from those. So while his newer courses are challenging for top players, they’re not monsters for casual golfers.
What else makes this course at Banyan Cay so distinct?
In South Florida, courses tend to be very, very flat. Here, at Banyan Cay, there are more than 20-foot elevations throughout, so the landscape alone makes the course stand out. We also have sod face bunkers sprinkled throughout the course, which you don’t see around here very much. It’s a state-of-the-art course with features and terrain not indigenous to a South Florida golf course, which makes things more interesting for the golfers.
Can you describe some of the signature holes?
Everyone always asks me, “What’s the signature hole on this course?” Every single hole is truly memorable. But if you had to twist my arm, a few that I can call out: the 11th, the 12th, and the 18th. The 11th hole reminds me of Augusta National’s 12th hole. A par-three, it’s not excessive in length – only 175 yards from the back tees – but it’s a nice, kidney-shaped green where you have to hit a quality shot to get there. It’s not long, but the green is thin enough that if you hit it too long, you’ll go in the back bunker, or have a difficult pitch to get on. People will knock it over the green or into the sod face bunker in front, and then have a really difficult hit. It’s deceivingly tricky.
Then, people will definitely talk about the 12th hole – I bet there’ll be a love-hate relationship with that one. It’s a par-four, relatively short, and Jack placed a bunker that splits the fairway 250 yards off the championship tee. Left to right, there’s water on the left, and a bunker in the middle. On the green, there’s a bunker to the center. While it’s only 380 yards from the championship tee, you have to hit two really quality shots.
Lastly, the 18th is just a beautiful way to finish a round. It’s 600 yards, and just a tremendous hole. There’s a large fairway bunker to the right side of the 18th, and the green is basically surrounded by water. The right side of the hole is water all the way up to the green.