A test for all at Broken Sound

  • Auckland
    Evan Schiller

    The third is the first of four attractive and varied par threes on the Old course at Broken Sound

  • Auckland
    Evan Schiller

    At the par-four ninth, a pot bunker bisects the approach to provide two distinct entrances to the wide green.

  • Auckland
    Evan Schiller

    Rees Jones with Padraig Harrington, who won the 2023 TimberTech Championship on the newly renovated course

Toby Ingleton
By Toby Ingleton

One good test of a golf course’s ability to accommodate players of all standards is a pro-celebrity tournament. So when the PGA Tour Champions’ new James Hardie Pro Football Hall of Fame Invitational debuts in 2025, we’ll find out whether golf course architects Rees Jones and Bryce Swanson have met their brief for the renovation of the host venue: the Old course at Broken Sound Club in Boca Raton, Florida. 

The opening two days of the tournament will see 78 tour players joined by 26 NFL legends. The course will need to be challenging for the elite golfers and playable for the average for the designers’ work to be deemed a success.  

We already have a good idea that they have delivered. The TimberTech Championship in late 2023 was played over the renovated layout and proved to be a solid test for the pros, with only eventual winner Padraig Harrington managing double digits under par, and nearly half the field finishing at or above par. Members of the private club, however, are finding the course significantly more inviting and enjoyable than before. 

Originally designed in 1975 by Joe Lee (whose remark that the silence was only broken by the sound of a golfer’s swing gave the club its name), the Old course is a relatively rare example of a Florida course with a core layout. Holes wind through stands of large, mature trees and fairways are flanked by lakes rather than housing, eliciting a feel of natural retreat. 

It had, however, become quite difficult. “Like many courses of that era, greens tended to be perched up in the air, requiring golfers to hit a highly elevated shot,” says Swanson. “As members have got a little older, and are taking more long irons and hybrids into greens, the course had become quite punishing.” 

The club wanted good shots to be rewarded, and that became the theme for Jones and Swanson’s overhaul. 

“It was a new design, restored to the original routing,” says Jones. “We’ve given it a classic old style; features on the green are not overly pronounced but by the same token an accurate shot is required for a good chance at birdie. If you play safe, you may have a long breaking putt just to get close.” 

The new greens are designed to suit the length of the hole. “We kept some of the higher elevated greens, on the shorter par fours and even the shorter par threes and fives,” says Swanson. “On the longer par fours, we lowered them to create more of a ramp approach that allows the ball to feed onto the green.   

Before the renovation, several greens were fronted by substantial bunkering, meaning an aerial approach was the only practical option. Jones and Swanson’s design offers more choice. That’s not to say there are no bunkers in front of greens – but there is always the option to play along the ground into the green. On the par-four ninth, for example, extensive bunkering protecting almost the entire front of the green has been replaced by a single, central pot, small enough to allow the green to be accessed along the ground either side of it. The careful placement of that pot now means it will make sense to plan your approach to the hole from the tee, taking into account the pin position to decide the best route into the green and therefore which side of the fairway your tee shot should favour. Small central bunkers have been employed to similar effect at the par-four fourth and eleventh holes, too. 

Overall, the bunkering is a little more restrained than before, with the longer, winding swathes of sand largely removed and each hazard now having a greater impact on strategy. Their depth and pitch provide sufficient challenge to be worth avoiding, while at the same time making a successful recovery at least a possibility for regular members. 

The course is also well protected by water, which comes into play on all but a handful of holes and is a defining characteristic. The lakes provide great visual appeal but with sensible play can be avoided. “We wanted to make sure that the ball would not roll into the water if you did hit your target,” says Jones. This has involved the construction of some retaining walls, including at the tenth and eighteenth, so that ground around greens could be flatter, rather than sloping down to the water. 

The final two holes have been cleverly switched, meaning the course’s previously underwhelming finishing hole is now replaced by a dramatic par four that plays alongside a lake to a green in front of the clubhouse patio. For the best chance of getting on in regulation, the tee shot will need to thread the needle between the lake and a distinctive tree in the centre of the fairway, behind which lies a bunker that will be in play for longer drivers. The final approach will test the nerves, as a large greenside bunker looms for those who shy too far from the water.  

This article first appeared in the April 2024 issue of Golf Course ArchitectureFor a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page