Nicklaus Design at Nexus of New-Age Golf Course Development

   As seen in Golf Business September/October 2023   

By Scott Kauffman, Contributor, Golf Business


Palm Beach County bills itself as “Florida’s Golf Capital.” And the marketing moniker is much deserved considering the southeast Florida county used to be the official headquarters of the PGA of America for 57 years, features more than 160 courses and has dozens of famous golfer-residents from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy and golf icon Jack Nicklaus, to name a few.

In fact, the Nicklaus Companies’ official headquarters is still based in Palm Beach Gardens, along aptly named PGA Boulevard just a few miles away from famed PGA National Resort & Spa and the former home of the PGA of America before the organization moved to Frisco, Texas, last year.

Interestingly, it’s from this precise golf-rich Palm Beach County perch where Nicklaus Design finds itself at the nexus of the new-age golf course development boom. Indeed, just a few more miles to the west where PGA Boulevard ends at Bee Line Highway and thousands of acres of preserved natural areas, the renowned Nicklaus Design team has two of the golf industry’s newest projects to its credit: Panther National and The Nest at Sandhill Crane Golf Club.

Though the two developments share real estate boundaries, the clubs couldn’t be more polar opposite, at least by Palm Beach golf parallels. For instance, Panther National is the ultra high-end private residential golf community designed by Nicklaus himself and PGA Tour star/fellow Palm Beach County resident Justin Thomas. 

When the course and temporary Panther Village opens later this year, the community will feature 218 estate homes with prices starting at $2 million for half-acre homesites to one-acre custom homes priced at $15 million. Besides a championship 18-hole layout, Panther National also has plans for a par-three short course, 33,000-square-foot putting course and state-of-the-art golf performance center.

Meanwhile, just to Panther National’s southern border is Sandhill Crane’s more modest 18-hole municipal course, owned and operated by the city of Palm Beach Gardens. But this summer the popular public facility opened the impressive new $17 million Nest, which features an 18-hole par-3 course designed by Nicklaus’s senior design architect,  Chad Goetz, a remarkable double-ended lighted driving range, two-story clubhouse powered with numerous TrackMan simulator bays and the 30,000-square-foot Crane’s Landing putting course. 

In many respects, what Nicklaus Design is doing at both projects epitomizes where the game and future golf course development is going. If it’s not a high-end private club or resort-style destination being built these days, it’s the “gamification” of existing facilities, as Nicklaus Design President Paul Stringer describes it, that is sweeping the private and public golf landscape.

“Anytime we have a chance to grow the game of golf and bring in new players to the game it’s beneficial for everyone,” says Stringer, who’s in his 21st year at Nicklaus Design. “And we’re excited to do that, as we always have. In the past we’ve been involved in growing the game in a lot of different international markets, but to be in a domestic place just down the road from us and be able to work with the municipality in a capacity to do that was even more special.

“What intrigued me, to be honest, was the fact (Palm Beach Gardens) saw where the need was in the golf industry and that is with the gamification aspect of the driving range, to the par-3 short course that has a lot of variety. And then they ended up doing a 19th hole which is a very good concept we’ve done at some other clubs to go along with the large Himalayas putting green and the first-class practice facilities. … For Sandhill Crane to have the vision to offer something like this now alongside their 18-hole championship course is just huge.  Obviously the fastest growing segment in golf is women and juniors, with women leading the way. So we want to make sure that golf continues to grow and continues to be promoted in the right sense and allows people who want to play the game to have access to these type of facilities.”

For Sandhill Crane General Manager Casey Mitchell, a longtime public golf professional and youth golf advocate, to have the Nicklaus brand associated with her facility is immeasurable. And early reviews from all levels of golfers and segments of the community have been nothing but “tremendous feedback.”

“The Nicklaus Design team has been so supportive of this project,” Mitchell says. “Shorter courses, courses with fewer holes and other initiatives that have tried to be more inclusive or cut back on the time it takes to play have been up and coming in our industry over the last decade. Not everyone has four and a half hours of leisure time after work or on weekends to spend away from home or the family. 

“The par 3 has ribbon tees that can be moved forward or back to accommodate any level player, from the true beginners to the professionals. Our lead architect, Chad Goetz, was on property every week while we were under construction and (Nicklaus Cos. Chief Executive Officer) Phil Cotton, Ray Ball, Chris Cochran and several other Nicklaus Design executives, designers and employees have come to visit the project during and after construction. Their support and creative minds have given the City of Palm Beach Gardens something so special that will help shape golf for our residents and all of south Florida for the next 50-plus years.

“We are very grateful to have the partnership and support from their team.”

This article was featured in the September/October edition of Golf Business Magazine.


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