St. Johns (Fla.) Golf Club Experiences Successful Reinvention

A model public golf course project has been opened at the St. Johns Golf Club in southern St. Johns County by versatile golf course architect Erik Larsen (ASGCA). Following an extensive renovation, the course reopened late in 2022, continuing Larsen’s trend of creatively bringing golf back to life when renovations are popular.

In months since opening, St. Johns Golf Club’s longtime Director of Golf/General Manager Wes Tucker said the county course has excelled in both rounds played and annual memberships.

Larsen, a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, formerly held the position of Executive Vice President at Arnold Palmer Golf Design Company. He was part of the St. Johns Golf Club project for seven years, participating in the feasibility study, planning, and design process. Furthermore, he worked with Tucker’s team and liaised between St. Johns County and Wadsworth Golf Construction Company. This follows his success story as the driving force behind the 2015 reinvention of Atlantic Beach Country Club (east of Jacksonville) course and infrastructure – which went on to host the Korn Ferry Tour Championship between 2016 till 2018.

More Larsen projects are expected to be announced in the first quarter of 2023. Larsen’s course portfolio includes 17 courses hosting professional Tour events globally and 25 receiving various annual top-course ratings via Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, and Golfweek. Recent recognition includes Atlantic Beach among Golf Digest’s 2014 best new courses and consideration for St. Johns among major publications for 2023. His work includes private, public, short course, and master planning.

The 18-hole layout at St. Johns Golf Club is designed to be both fun and challenging.

According to Larsen, St. Johns Golf Club is an exemplary instance of public availability and stimulating structural design complementing one another to enhance the players’ enjoyment. The primary focus was to repair the course adversely impacted by flawed drainage, broken sprinkler system, old features, and polluted grass. This led to the successful restoration of St. Johns, additionally, the starting and finishing holes, the practice facility, and an additional ‘wee-links’ concept were brought nearer to the clubhouse, allowing people to interact more. Moreover, an unconventional ‘throwback’ style was implemented, all of which helped create a pleasurable environment with improved socialization opportunities.

Henry Dean, the St. Johns County Commission chair, described this course as one of the County’s jewels. The public has demonstrated that it is a wonderful amenity, with 35 percent of rounds coming from outside the county. By using the 7 million visitors we see here, we could fund this rather than the general ad valorem tax that affects homeowners. It would be irresponsible for me as a commissioner to walk away from this golf course.”

Larsen and Tucker utilized “traditional throwback” design principles to make the most of three oversized holes, drastically rearranging others for a new routing for this highly popular course; it receives up to 70,000 rounds annually. To emulate early-twentieth-century architects C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor from UK links-style layouts or Northeast US, Biarritz, Punchbowl and Redan green designs paired with square, low maintenance “coffin” bunkers are used throughout.

They’ve also added an expansive short-game area with finishing/beginning holes closer to the clubhouse as part of a completely overhauled complex. TifEagle bermudagrass greens, TifTuf bermudagrass fairways & Zoysia bunker faces adding to the par 71  course.

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