The Ranch: Florida’s next great destination?

  • The Ranch
    WAC Golf

    WAC Golf’s plan includes two eighteen-hole courses, a 10-hole full-length practice layout, a 12-hole short course and extensive practice facilities

  • The Ranch
    Andrew Harvie

    Developer Ken Bakst has given WAC Golf free rein to design the best golf experience possible on 4,000 acres 20 minutes inland from Hobe Sound

  • The Ranch
    Andrew Harvie

    The site is home to around 800 Brangus cattle and Bakst intends to continue to operate a cow calf operation on the property

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Ken Bakst, developer of Friar’s Head on Long Island, New York, has submitted a masterplan for a new development in Martin County, Florida, which includes a 36-hole golf facility designed by Whitman, Axland & Cutten (WAC Golf).

The plan includes two eighteen-hole golf courses and a 175-acre practice facility comprising a 10-hole full-length practice layout, a 12-hole short course, a massive undulating putting green, an extensive short-game area, and a 360-degree long-game practice area.

Bakst is the visionary behind The Ranch. He wants to leave the land mostly untouched, while also creating a golf experience like no other.

“For the last decade Kenny had been searching for the perfect land for the next golf experience, and in summer 2021 he found it!” says Keith Cutten. “A nearly 4,000-acre rustic ranch 20 minutes from the beaches of Hobe Sound, and a short drive from Palm Beach Island. The Bakst family instantly fell in love with the rugged and picturesque site.”

Historically named the Calusa Creek Ranch, the site is “incredibly diverse with grassy pastures, wetlands, oak hammocks, pines flats and cypress domes,” says Cutten. “It is still an active ranch, currently home to approximately 800 Brangus cattle, and Kenny intends to continue to operate a significant cow calf operation on the property. It’s also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with 1.5 miles of frontage on the St. Lucie Canal.

“Most mornings The Ranch is blanketed in a breathtaking fog and as the blanket of mist lifts it unveils an abundance of wildlife that calls the land home. Deer, turkey, osprey, fox and many others will have plenty of room to thrive as The Ranch transitions, and that’s because more than 90 per cent of the land will be preserved as open space, while more than 65 per cent will remain bona fide agriculture for cattle and farming.”

The excavation of two large fishing lakes outside of the golf footprint will generate sand for course construction.

“There will not be any cuts into the existing landforms except where we choose to incorporate creeks and ditches into the design of the golf courses,” says Cutten. “It is our goal to create natural looking landforms which accentuate inherent features for the benefit of golf and it’s a rare opportunity to have so much land to work with, which will allow the most natural and sensitive areas of the site to remain unaltered and serve as beautiful landscape features.”

The routing of the courses and practice facilities was a collaborative effort between all three WAC Golf partners and Bakst.

“It was most definitely a fun and creative process,” says Cutten. “But, as you can imagine, it was also incredibly challenging to zero in on where we would plan everything when starting with 6.1 square miles of land, without any limitations on where or how much land we could utilise.”

The masterplan was submitted to Martin County almost two years after Bakst identified the land.

“The site is so vast that it would have allowed for many options,” says Cutten. “However, Kenny’s vision is to preserve all of the natural areas of the 3,900-acre ranch, 95 per cent of which will remain as green open space. Locating golf in the southern third of the site, far removed from both people and traffic, will provide golfers with an incredibly remote and serene experience in uninhibited nature.”

Once the team had settled on that area, design work began. “We would have plans spread out on a dining room table for weeks at a time,” says Cutten. “Then we would share options with Kenny to get his thoughts, which, not surprising to us, were always invaluable. It took nearly a year to settle on our current routings and we are still working on minor refinements every time we are on site together.

“The flow of holes was very important to us, as was the distinctiveness of the two courses. The core principles of routing – changes of direction, wind and sun angles and so on – were of course critical, but exploring the site’s diverse habitats, while preserving their best parts, was equally significant. We simply let the site inform our decision making, and did not hesitate to make adjustments in the field where the inclusion of site assets could further enhance the journey.”

The two eighteen-hole layouts – East and West – both max out at around 7,500 yards.

“The site characteristics will help to differentiate the courses from each other, and we will employ traditional design elements reflecting their differing landscapes,” says Cutten. “One course will be broader and bolder, with sweeping views across the entire golf course, while the holes on the other course will weave in and out of upland pines and prairie land to provide a more intimate walk through nature.”

The practice areas were given the team’s utmost attention too, with Cutten saying nothing comparable has ever been built. “That’s a bold statement, but Kenny is known for his love of practice and belief that great practice facilities are a source of great enjoyment and absolutely critical to providing golfers of all abilities with the means of learning how to take their games from the range to the course.

“The Ranch is a major undertaking, both in project scale and vision. We have been gifted a great opportunity to deliver something truly special for golf in Florida and America. We do not take this opportunity lightly and have crafted a team to help us deliver.”

Earthworks for mass grading, drainage and irrigation could begin as early as autumn 2023, with construction of the courses and practice facilities anticipated to begin in winter 2024.

This article first appeared in the July 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page