Apogee Club: an interview with Mike Davis

  • Apogee West
    Apogee Club

    The West course at Apogee Club in Florida has opened for play

  • Apogee West
    Apogee Club

    Architect Gil Hanse wanted an at-grade experience

  • Apogee West
    Apogee Club

    The course looks like it has been there for 100 years, says Mike Davis, who is currently working on the club’s second layout

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

The Gil Hanse-designed West course – the first of three planned for Apogee in south Florida – is now open for play. GCA spoke with former USGA CEO Mike Davis, one of the key figures behind the club’s development, to find out more.

“The concept at Apogee was started by Tom [Fazio II] and me around five years ago,” says Davis. “When I finished at the USGA, we decided to formally join forces. I have had a house in Jupiter and even before Covid this area was underserved for golf – getting into private clubs was a challenge and all the public courses were busy. We came up with a high-end, multi-course private club concept that was nothing to do with real estate home sales. We quickly took the idea to Michael Pascucci, founder of Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, who loved the idea and quickly became a principal.”

The newly opened West was designed by Hanse and his design partner Jim Wagner. The second, the South, will be a Fazio & Davis design, and a third, the North, is being designed by Kyle Phillips.

Financing (and the ownership) for the club is coming from Pascucci and Stephen Ross, who owns the NFL team Miami Dolphins. “Both of them love the game of golf and they’ve done very well in business,” said Davis. “They wanted it to be a legacy project. The land they ended up buying was over 1,200 sandy acres, with many mature native Florida trees. Additionally, it is right up against a great water source – the St Lucie River.”

The designers for the three courses are aligned with the club’s vision that the layouts need to be fun, playable for all skill levels and walkable. “The courses will have wide corridors and not a lot of forced carries,” said Davis. “Angles still matter. All the people I have talked to that have played the West have really enjoyed the experience.

“While we are not building the courses for the elite touring professional, we will have some from the PGA and LPGA Tours as members. We will make sure the courses and practice facilities are suitable for them, too. Gil’s course is over 7,500 yards and the other two will be over 7,700.”

Davis points out that Apogee already has a high number of female members and is also aiming to be welcoming to beginners. All three courses will have forward teeing grounds around 4,000 yards.

“During my years at the USGA, including being involved in the creation of the World Handicap System and the ‘Distance Insights’ initiative, I saw a lot of data that showed golfers’ hitting distances, from the beginner to the elite men,” said Davis. “The thing that struck me was that there is a distance problem on many golf courses at both the short and long end of the game. At Apogee, we worked hard to make the forward tees more welcoming. Even though we have a few wetlands on property, the shorter hitters will not have to carry a wetland – although you might have to play around them.”

Short green-to-tee connections are also beginner-friendly, helping with pace of play and walkability.

All three courses, the two practice facilities, including a Fazio & Davis-designed 360-degree range, and two short courses will be built by an in-house team led by Fazio II and Davis. Given the magnitude of the project, the owners have bought all the heavy machinery required to construct the golf, rather than hire in a contractor.

“The site is dead flat and is about 20 feet above sea level,” said Davis. “When Gil built his course, he wanted a low-profile experience. There might be 12 feet of movement with virtually no water in play, which is unusual for Florida. There are a lot of very mature trees and Florida native vegetation. This course looks like it has been there for 100 years. It really is a neat look and great fun to play.

“When building Gil’s course, once we dug down 12 to 18 inches below the surface to strip out organics, we reached a wonderful quality of vein of tannish and orangish sand. We have mined that, creating these giant piles, which have been used to sandcap the entire golf course.

“It’s important to Gil, Jim, Tom, myself and Kyle to have the ground game as a key part of the design. We want to be able to bounce balls into greens. Golf is a much more interesting experience when you have to think about what happens when your ball lands, and where it might run to. It makes it more strategic for the good player, but it also makes it more enjoyable for the higher handicapper too, because they get a little more distance off the tee, and they can bounce balls onto greens.”

Fazio & Davis is currently excavating roughly three million yards of material and overseeing bulk shaping on the South, with the aim of getting the course complete and open around this time next year. The plan is for the North to be ready in December 2025.

“When we master-planned this piece of property we said there’s going to be one golf course here, one there and another there,” said Davis. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t deviate a little from that because we wanted each design team to be able to have what they needed, since we have 1,200 acres to play with.

“I was in the vehicle when Gil went out to tour the property. We gave him first choice and I suspected he’d pick the site he ultimately chose, and the same thing happened with Kyle. Tom has grown up designing and building golf courses, so he knows how to transform a site into a top layout. He knows how to move dirt and make it look natural.”

Each design is to be noticeably different from the others. The South, for example, is to have more elevation change in comparison to the West.

“With Gil’s site being such a sandy piece of property, the colour contrast is aesthetically very nice,” said Davis. “Tom and I are going to have a lot of that for ours. Gil has his playing areas elevated a little bit and then they tend to fall to the sides into natural sandy native areas. In the spirit of each course having its own look and personality, the South will have both sandy ravines and elevated dunes in between holes. Kyle has recently visited Apogee to see Gil’s course and see what Tom and I are building – he’s done design and grading plans, and he’s working his style for green and bunker design. He said, ‘I want to see what you guys are doing so I can do something different’.

“Assuming we get this right, we’d love for someone to show up at Apogee saying they don’t care which course they play on that day. That is the goal – three distinct golf courses that all are all fun experiences. Some may like one course more than the other, which is natural, but we’re aiming to have three top-class courses.”

A full report of the West course at Apogee, written by Brad Klein, will appear in the January 2024 issue of Golf Course Architecture. Visit our subscription page to sign up for the free digital edition.