FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida – Rees Jones has renovated and restored a number of his legendary father’s golf courses, but no course renovation hits closer to home than Coral Ridge Country Club here in South Florida.
Built in 1954 by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who later bought the club and served as its first president, Coral Ridge CC for several years was home to the Jones family, who controlled it until 2004 (Robert Trent Jones, Sr., died in 2000) when Rees and his brother Robert, Jr., sold the club to a partnership group led by Fort Lauderdale businessman and philanthropist Phil Smith.
But Rees Jones never lost touch with Coral Ridge. In fact, he created the nine-hole, par three course from the American Golfers Club his father built adjacent to the main club.
Thus, when the decision was made to renovate the original 18 holes, there was only one man for the job.
“Rees said he wanted to make his dad, ‘look good one more time,’’’ said Coral Ridge CC General Manager JJ Sehlke, also a partner in the club’s ownership group.
All tongue-in-cheek, of course, because Jones doesn’t need help in looking good. In a career that spanned nearly 70 years, Jones designed and/or redesigned more than 500 courses, including Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta; Spyglass Hill at Pebble Beach; the Gold Course at Colonial Williamsburg; the North Course at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio; and Hazeltine National in Chaska, MN.
The sun, he liked to say, “never sets on a Robert Trent Jones course.’’
Despite all those high-profile courses – and friends such as Bobby Jones and and President Dwight Eisenhower – it was Coral Ridge CC where Jones, known as “Trent,’’ was most comfortable. And it’s where he built the quintessential South Florida country club, complete with golf, a pool, tennis courts and a membership deeply rooted in the growing Fort Lauderdale community.
One of those members was Smith, who was raised in Fort Lauderdale and founded Phil Smith Automotive Group. Smith’s vision was to keep the Jones’ family legacy alive at Coral Ridge, as well as revitalize the club that had been hit hard by the hurricanes of 2004.
“Our journey really began in 2005,’’ Sehlke said. “We wanted to do what’s best for the community and partners and members. At one point were looked at a full $70 million restoration/renovation of the entire property.’’
It was another seven years, however, until the club’s ownership group and enough neighbors shared the same vision. And it was several years after that when the club was able to push through all of the red tape in the approval process.
The course closed this past March and is scheduled to re-open the week before this Thanksgiving.
Smith died of ALS in December 2016, so in effect, the golf course renovation is a tribute to the legacies of him and Robert Trent Jones. The renovation work includes the addition of 35,659 feet of underground drainage pipe to make it easier to move water to catch basins that will empty into the nearest retention areas. The result will be fairways that dry more quickly, as well as more movement in what were basically flat fairways.
Jones’ originally routing remains the same, while bunkers and greens complexes are re-configured. Each of the tee boxes is being restored to Jones’ signature runway style.
“It all brings the character back to what Mr. Jones would want to see,’’ Sehlke said.
The course, which has been played by the likes of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus (two-time U.S. Open Champion Julius Boros lived just off the ninth green) will have Champion Ultradwarf Bermudagrass on its greens; Celebration Bermudagrass on its fairways; and TifGrand Bermudagrass on the tee boxes and collars.
“We wanted a little bit different shading,’’ of green through the course, Sehlke said. “We’re hoping for three or four shades of green.’’
Sitting on only 120 acres, the renovated course will play from 4,700 yards to more than 7,300 yards.
“This is not a typical Florida course – with water right and water left,’’ Sehlke said. “Mr. Jones called it an ‘easy bogey and hard par.’ It’s not extremely difficult, but it’s fun. We have members who play 250 or 300 times per year.
“We think having a higher quality course will make a difference in attracting new members. But at the same time, we want to make this feel like an ‘every day’ club. It’s a community club that everyone can join – and not too big that we can’t support the community.’’