Erik Larsen readies Atlantic Beach for Tour

  • Nemu2

    Atlantic Beach hosts the Tour Championship from 6-9 October

  • Nemu2

    The grass on the bunker edges has been mechanically edged and blow torched to expose steep edgy dirt faces

  • Nemu2

    The faces have been glued into place and sand has been replaced

  • Nemu2

    The model of infield development employed at Atlantic Beach CC has helped rejuvenate the club

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

This article was written and posted before the announcement on Wed, Oct 5 that the Tour Championship would be cancelled due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew

The golf course at Atlantic Beach CC on Florida’s East coast will host the Tour Championship this week, just two years after a comprehensive redesign by golf course architect Erik Larsen.

Based in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach, Larsen worked for Arnold Palmer’s firm for almost 30 years, until starting his own firm in 2011. GCA caught up with him to discuss the renaissance of Atlantic Beach CC since his work there in 2014.

“When we began the work at Atlantic Beach, or Selva Marina as it was, we were given four key objectives,” Larsen says. “The first was to make the course striking and strategic. We wanted to give it its own identity, and due to its location, we decided to give it a ‘duney’ and ‘beachy’ feel, and provide an authentic North Florida style.”

“The second objective was to create a lot of variety in the course’s look and playability, and the third objective was to make sure the members embraced the golf course and had fun on it.”

“The fourth objective, due to the high calibre of courses in the area, such as TPC Sawgrass and Sawgrass Country Club, was to create a course that was comparable to those. There are a lot of professionals and tour players living in the area, and we wanted Atlantic Beach to appeal to them as well as to the members.”

Larsen believes all four objectives have been met.

“It’s full of variety, which helps give it interest,” Larsen explains. “The members love it, but what substantiated the quality of the course was when the local tour guys said to the owner ‘you have to check out Atlantic Beach, maybe there’s an opportunity for the championship there.’ They jumped on it, and have moved the tournament there this year. It wasn’t the club saying ‘come and play it’, but the local pros themselves.”

In preparation for the Tour Championship, Larsen returned to the course this year to make some small tweaks. 25 yards have been added to the par-four 16th hole, which now plays around 470 yards, and an extra 10 yards to the par-three 12th.

Changes have also been made to the bunkering. “The bunkers are the key character builder of the golf course, so we paid special attention to these,” Larsen explains. “The grass was mechanically edged, then blow torched to expose steep edgy dirt faces. These faces were then ‘glued’ into place, and the sand was replaced. It really gives an awesome look.”

A series of intermediate collars are also being added around the greens throughout the course.

“As TifEagle [used on the putting surfaces] is an Ultra Dwarf and Celebration is a Dwarf, we’re adding a regular Dwarf or Tif Grand collar around the putting surfaces,” Larsen says. “This creates more options around the green. When you’re on the Celebration, you can flop it or putt it or pitch it – any one of the three. The Tif Grand is shorter than the Celebration obviously, so the ball kind of rolls off it, or will roll on.”

Larsen adds that the story behind Atlantic Beach Country Club’s renaissance is a good one for golf.

“Three years ago, this club was trying to survive – it was in the tank,” he says. “By carving out a development plot in the middle of the course and selling that land, building homes and then mandating the memberships that reside with those new homes, the club got capital to redo the course. It also got new revenue from members, and turned its fortunes around.”

According to Larsen, the adoption of a model such as this can act as a catalyst for the rejuvenation of a golf club.

“Many clubs are going backwards, but Atlantic Beach is not,” he says. “And it’s because this model of infield development was employed. It’s brought new vibrancy, young families, and has saved the club.”

For more on the redevelopment of Atlantic Beach, see page 6 of the design excellence special edition of By Design.