If quality of golf was judged by the sense of anticipation that builds on the journey to a course, then Jupiter Island Club would rank very highly.
Travelling from the golf-rich town of Jupiter, Florida, the discreet Jupiter Island Club lies at the northern end of South Beach Road, one of the United States’ wealthiest addresses. It’s five miles of finely manicured hedgerows, broken by shaded driveways with small house signs the only clue to the elegance that lies beyond.
There’s barely any traffic, just the occasional patrol car to ensure the security of the narrow island’s privileged residents. Occasionally you get a glimpse of beach and the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually a left turn and the whir of golf carts indicates that you’re close to your destination.
Unless you count the holes in Tiger Woods’ backyard, Jupiter Island Club is home to the only golf course on the island. The club also has a small marina, quaint bowling green, tennis courts and numerous wood-panelled buildings, including a row of traditional shops, all exuding the charm of a bygone era. It’s a retreat that feels a million miles from the sprawl of South Florida.
The heart of the club is the golf course. Nine holes opened in 1916, and more were added over time – including five in 1959 with greens and bunkers shaped by William Diddel, an accomplished amateur player and one of the founders of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
In 2012, the club’s governors decided to improve the landscaping of the course, in preparation for a renovation focused on golf strategy and maintenance and would see new drought-tolerant turf introduced throughout. The renovation would require the course to be closed, so one priority for the landscaping work was to ensure there would be sufficient sunlight and water to promote healthy grass growth and minimising closure time. The landscaping brief was to create a ‘tropical paradise’ that was appropriate for the club’s location, and to remove some of the invasive species that had proliferated on the course.
As a registered landscape architect and certified arborist, golf course architect Jan Bel Jan gave the club the ability to place responsibility for both the landscaping and golf elements of the renovation project to one person. Having spent much of her career working with Tom Fazio at his Jupiter office, Bel Jan remained in the town when setting up her own firm in 2009, so was also able to provide a hands-on approach that would ensure the work met the club’s vision.
Bel Jan undertook a detailed review of the course and created a plan that would address all of the club’s requirements in phases. The project would see her working alongside golf course superintendent Rob Kloska and a team of experts including landscape and golf course contractors, a civil engineer, tree shade specialist, water experts and the club’s landscape architect, who would handle town permits.
Foremost on the landscaping plan was the removal of copses of Australian pines that had been planted in the club’s early years, originally intended to offer neighbouring buildings protection from the saltwater sea spray. Over time, the pines had become more imposing, smothering other species and blocking out light.
Bel Jan replaced these with date palms, taken from an area of the course where a storage pond was to be expanded and Royal and coconut palms transplanted from areas where they were shading greens. These were underplanted with ‘Florida-friendly’ plants typical around the rest of the property, including crinum lilies, shell ginger, lilyturf and ‘Calypso’ oleanders.
All told, over 100 trees and palms that shaded greens were relocated to ensure that each putting surface had the opportunity for at least eight hours of sunlight per day.
The result is an environment that is bursting with flora and fauna, and a haven for wildlife. The landscaping work particularly shines on the short walks from green to tee, such as after the first hole and in the area around the fourth, thirteenth and seventeenth tees – these are now tropical nature trails where golfers will want to stop and smell the flowers, both figuratively and literally.
Water provides both a backdrop and strategic feature to the golf course. The Indian River, which separates Jupiter Island from Hobe Sound on the mainland, is in full view on almost half of the course’s holes. The back tees on the fourth, thirteenth and fourteenth all require carries over inlets from the river. On the eleventh, a reachable par five, golfers will need to skirt the water’s edge to reach in two.
There is also a collection of ponds and lakes on the course that come into play on several other holes, and provide vital water storage. One major objective of the renovation was to expand the capacity of these. Excavated soil was used to raise the grade on several fairways, allowing Bel Jan to create interesting fairway contours which also improve drainage, enabling the club to collect water for recycling onto the course and grounds.
The first fairway to be regraded was the seventeenth, where a large irrigation lake runs almost the entire left side of the hole. “The fairway was raised one foot, which allowed an additional foot of elevation of water in the lake,” explains Bel Jan. “This equated to approximately one million more gallons of water available. By elevating the seventeenth fairway in 2015, we planned for the additional water that would be needed for grow-in on the remaining fairways in 2016.”
Kloska adds: “This proved to be very important as we experienced a period of 50 days without rain during the end of construction and continuing through over 70 percent of the grassing process.”
The pond between the third and sixth holes has also been enlarged, allowing for an additional one million gallons of water to be stored. The club is entirely self-sufficient in terms of water resource, having its own reverse osmosis plant. It now supplements that water by collecting most drainage from fairways and greens into irrigation ponds and lakes, using a series of 50 pumps.
The ponds are also home to ‘floating islands’ planted with native marsh grasses, giving local and migratory ducks a haven from foxes and bobcats.
The golfing aspects of the renovation have seen notable changes to the playing experience, particularly in relation to the bunkering and greens. Bel Jan has improved the visibility of the bunkers, while reducing their sizes and making them physically easier to access and exit.
Bunker changes have improved playability too. One example is on the par three fourteenth, where a long bunker more than twice the width of the front of the green meant an aerial route was the only way to reach the putting surface. Bel Jan has removed more than half of the bunker, opening up the front-right of the green to the ground game and making the hole more playable for the average golfer, while retaining the same challenge for the more accomplished.
Another important contribution to playability is the introduction of ‘scoring tees,’ a concept that Bel Jan has introduced on previous projects to “allow those with a bogey-plus handicap (26-40) to ‘get on’ in regulation more frequently – meaning fewer strokes, less playing time and more fun,” she explains.
Some are formal in appearance and others are shaped within fairways, elevated above the surrounding grade. They allow the course to be played from a total of just 4,102 yards, ideal for many of the club’s members. “These tees also offer short game tests for the excellent players,” adds Bel Jan.
But perhaps the most significant change for members will be the greens. “The putting surfaces are larger and more complex to putt,” says Bel Jan. Working within the constraints dictated by the existing USGA green profiles, Bel Jan has cleverly reworked the contours to introduce more nuances to the surfaces. “The greens are a bit quirky,” says Bel Jan, “as befits a course nearly 90 years old.”
Kloska explains that the most frequent feedback from golfers is “how different the greens are to putt on, due to the slight but noticeable changes in the contours. On many greens, small terraces have been created to provide more cupping areas. These new areas have allowed us to set up a course with locations that were never available in the past.
“Several members likened it to having a whole new course without changing the routing,” he adds, “and surrounding beauty that is unlike most anywhere in Florida.”