The men’s locker room at Seminole might be the best 19th hole in golf. I haven’t been in another that had a cheese and crackers table along with a nice selection of good red wine.
The cameras probably won’t show the men’s locker room when Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff take part in the TaylorMade Driving Relief match at Seminole Golf Club today. Pity, because this high-ceilinged room with white clapperboard panelling is the understatement of luxury. I could have sat in there for hours reading the names of former winners of the Seminole Pro-member, an event that dates back to 1937. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jimmy Demaret and other legends are on those boards.
Hogan is a former member. He used to spend a month at Seminole every year practising for the Masters. The television pictures of this classic Donald Ross course will tell you why. Seeing this gem that comes as close to links golf as any course in the United States is worth tuning in for.
I count myself among the fortunate few plebs who’ve played Seminole. Hard to describe what a privilege that was. Sometimes life as a golf writer has its perks. My round at Seminole was one of those times.
I need to thank good friend and former Golfweek colleague John Steinbreder for playing Seminole (and Pine Valley). And if you want to find out about the history of this club and a description of the course, then John’s pieces in the current edition of Global Golf Post is the place to go.
A slow drive past the properties surrounding this Florida club tells you you’re definitely not on the wrong side of the tracks. Think palatial mansions and you get the picture. As John notes in his GGP piece, this Juno Beach neighbourhood is home to some of the richest people in the United States. Indeed, Seminole members could probably have a casual whip round and raise as much money as today’s TaylorMade Driving Relief match, and it wouldn’t put much of a dent in their bank balances.
However, the course is the important thing. Today’s live golf, the first live men’s golf since the aborted Players Championship, is a chance to see a Donald Ross classic that hasn’t had much publicity over the years. It will receive more next year when the club hosts the Walker Cup. (Quick aside: what is it with the USGA taking the best team match in amateur golf to ultra-exclusive golf clubs? Seminole follows LA Country Club, the National Golf Links, Merion and Chicago Golf Club. No muni tracks in that quintet.)
I was fortunate to play in a five ball – exclusive clubs like Seminole can get away with such breaks in tradition – with Seminole Club professional Bob Ford, Steinbreder, former Golfweek editor and close friend Dave Seanor and an elderly club member. Playing with Ford as my partner was thrill enough alone. This humble man has qualified for 24 major championships. He’s probably the best club professional I’ve ever played with. (Yes, we/he won the money.)
Seminole’s routing dictates that holes run in every direction, meaning the wind comes at you from a variety of angles over the 18 holes. And there is a lot of wind on this oceanside course. The greens and fairways are well bunkered but, like any Ross course, the greens are Seminole’s best defence.
I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of top courses throughout the world, and Seminole’s greens are among the fastest I’ve ever experienced. They are right up there with Augusta National and Pine Valley. I had an eight foot, downhill putt on the par-3, 8th hole that scared the life out of me. I asked Ford for advice and he said:
“Hit it with the putter’s shadow.”
I managed to yip it into the hole.
The par-3 17th proved to be the crucial hole in my side match with Seanor. I hit my tee shot onto the green about 35 feet above the hole, while he hooked his out of bounds. He conceded the hole. I then gently tapped my downhill putt only to see it gather pace like a runaway train and roll about 15 yards off the green. Seanor said:
“If I’d known you were going to do that, I wouldn’t have conceded the hole so quickly.”
Seminole only measures 7,305 yards off the gold tees. It will be no beast for McIlroy and co, but they shouldn’t tear it up. That’s certainly true if the wind blows.
Ross had a hand in many great American courses – Pinehurst Number 2, Oakland Hills, Oak Hill, East Lake, to name a few. The man from Dornoch was perhaps the epitome of understatement when he said about Seminole:
“I don’t say it is the best I have ever designed. Nevertheless, I like it very much.”
I did too. So will you.