Hanse course for new High Grove club in Florida to enter construction in 2024

  • High Grove Hanse Golf
    High Grove

    The site for the 150-member High Grove club in Venus, Florida, spans 1,200 acres of citrus groves on undulating sand dunes

  • Hanse Golf High Grove
    Hanse Golf Design

    Hanse Golf Design is creating an 18-hole course along with an 11-hole short layout that can be played as a nine-hole loop

  • Hanse Golf High Grove
    High Grove

    “The property is one of the most unique we have seen in Florida,” says Jim Wagner of Hanse Golf Design

  • Hanse Golf High Grove
    High Grove

    Cavemen Construction will begin construction in December 2024

  • Hanse Golf High Grove
    Hanse Golf Design

    Greens on holes six, nine and eighteen are defended by expansive bunkering

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Construction of a new course by Hanse Golf Design for the 150-member High Grove club in Venus, Florida, is scheduled to begin in December 2024.

The private club, which will have a limit of 150 members, is the vision of co-founders Ryan Hanks, Colin Sheehan and Bert Guy. The project includes an 18-hole course, a par-three layout, practice facility, clubhouse and cabins, all on a 1,200-acre site at the southern end of the 100-mile-long Lake Wales Ridge.

“About 15 years ago, I first visited Mountain Lake, a 1916 Seth Raynor course in Lake Wales, Florida – about an hour north of High Grove – and I have been fascinated by the Lake Wales Ridge ever since,” said Sheehan, former coach of the men’s golf team at Yale and an advisor or founder to several projects including Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia and Tree Farm in South Carolina. “It defied the expectation of the interior of Florida being flat pastureland. In 2021, I began scouting potential properties and in December of that year, I toured a listing of a grove in Venus.

“While that site was interesting – it had decent movement, but it was a little too close to Route 27 – I then spent a few hours driving around the area, during which I discovered a large ridge that was tapering northeast through groves on the east side of Route 27.”

Sheehan and the development team pinpointed a 1,213-acre parcel with Valencia orange groves as the ideal location to build their golf destination. The site rises in elevation from 105 to 175 feet above sea level and has a 40-foot ridge running along the eastern side.

“The property is one of the most unique we have seen in Florida,” said Jim Wagner of Hanse Golf Design. “It is not only the dramatic elevation change of the ridge but also the light-to-moderate sandy ‘chop’ throughout that defines the property. The entire property helped us set up an interesting routing that allows the sharper elevation of the ridge to be the showcase.”

Gil Hanse adds: “The property’s overall movement, along with pure sandy soil entirely among orange groves, provides a unique canvas on which to create this golf course. Outside of being along the ocean, we cannot think of a better natural site for golf in Florida.”

Once the clubhouse was assigned a central position, Hanse and Wagner began creating a routing that would take advantage of the site’s ridge. The par-four fourth rides along the ridge and the fifth, a drop shot par three, plays off it. The par-five sixth climbs back up to a green defended by expansive bunkering. The par-four seventh plays back off the ridge. The eighth is on lower lying land and the short par-three ninth plays uphill over a massive waste bunker to a green close to the seventh tee.

“The front nine is about anticipation and surprise,” said Wagner. “There is the anticipation of playing through the citrus and unique ‘chop’ seen upon arrival, while wondering what the property and golf course has to offer. And then there’s the surprise of the 30- to 50-foot elevation changes of the main ridge running through the property that will not be experienced until the middle of the front nine and not seen again until the finish of the back nine. The blend of these property characteristics helps to create the moments that will separate High Grove from most Florida golf experiences.”

Holes 10 to 16 wind their way through a section of orange groves, ridge lines and valleys. “The contours were so good that we changed holes many times before settling on this final set,” said Hanse. “All routings are like puzzles, and this one had many pieces that could have fit in various directions – we were truly spoiled with this site. We also knew that we wanted to build up to a crescendo and play back along the ridge for the final holes.”

The ridge gets much steeper on the back nine and Hanse and Wagner wanted to avoid punishing walks at the end of the round. Their plan is for a par-three seventeenth and a par-five eighteenth that hug the ridge line. “We wanted to showcase the unique property features to create fun, interesting golf,” said Wagner. “With the finish, it was about bringing the players back to the ridge, which is really the theatre of the property.”

Faced with a site that has a lot of undulation and sand, Hanse and Wagner have been allowed to be quite creative with course features. Wagner said: “The key word for both greens and bunkers will be ‘unpredictable’. Our goal is to create interesting situations for the golfer to overcome while keeping them guessing. There will be a variety of greens shapes and sizes that will complement one another especially in the recovery shot game where the player will have numerous options.

“The bunkers will take on the personality of the site sandscape and be used to match the property character as opposed to competing against it. The existing exposed sand and native grasses will be utilised and expanded upon to create natural challenges for the players to navigate. There really isn’t a ‘style’ of greens or bunkers we are looking to create, other than matching the beautiful setting of the property while allowing for fun playable golf.”

High Grove’s identity will be complemented by the developers’ plan to maintain groves within the out of play areas and along the property perimeter. Sheehan says: “We are excited to incorporate the citrus trees as a buffer to the exterior and interior of the golf. While there are countless golf courses in Florida, not one of them, as far as we know, plays among citrus groves. We will also be introducing an attractive texture of flora native to the Lake Wales Ridge, which we have seen as precedent at the nearby nature refuges.” He also notes that High Grove will have a walking culture, with no paved cart paths, as well as no artificial ponds.

Hanse and Wagner have also designed an 11-hole par-three course on the northwest portion of the property, with holes between 102 to 188 yards. “The short course will have multiple routings for daily variety,” said Wagner. “We have also planned several greens and tees within close proximity of each other with the goal of enhancing social interaction, which is sometimes missed when discussing golf courses or golf architecture, but it is a big part of the High Grove experience.”

The project has no real estate component, with the developers planning on High Grove being a golf-driven development. Member equity shares start at $200,000.

“This was always going to be a special-occasion, destination club where we anticipate members and their guests coming for one- and two-night stays,” said Sheehan. “It wasn’t intended to be one of the many Florida real estate golf communities; instead, we will have cabins totalling 48 bedrooms." The project is being driven by Ryan Hanks, a North Carolina-based real estate developer, who is a passionate golfer and loves the classicism of Hanse and Wagner designs.

Sheehan, Hanks and Guy want High Grove to be different from the flurry of new golf courses that have been built in Florida. “The other new courses in the state are certainly closer to the coast, but they each begin as entirely flat parcels ten feet above sea level,” said Sheehan. “Those flat-earth projects can be interesting as they force architects to create every single feature by shaping millions of cubic yards of earth, but High Grove is endowed with natural terrain and undulation that will make it stand out from those others.”

Hanse Golf Design’s build team Cavemen Construction are expected to complete work by summer 2025, with a planned opening by December 2025.