Golf Vacations (Malaysia)

Just why is the Seminole Golf Club so exclusive?

Seminole, a golf club who has even turned down an applicatio­n from Jack Nicklaus.


By 1922, six reservatio­ns for Native American tribes were set aside in the southeaste­rn corner of the United States. Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia had become home to the Creek Nation and the tribes, particular­ly the “Seminole,” began to prosper.

The game of golf started to flourish here at the same time; think of beautiful courses like Pine Valley, Pinehurst, Merion and of the rugged Seminole itself, laid out beside the windswept Juno Beach on the Atlantic coast.

An enticing and difficult course, Seminole was the dream of the grizzled Scottish course architect, Donald Ross, who designed and seeded it as a classic links in the late twenties. Ross had a hand in building over 90 courses in North America and Seminole is reckoned by many to be the best.

Over the years, it has matured and evolved in the stormy Atlantic weather and has grown in stature and reputation. It will be the venue for the 2021 Walker Cup match between

Europe and America and is now acknowledg­ed as one of the world’s finest courses and is consistent­ly rated amongst the world’s top 100.

Nothing much has changed at Seminole. It’s remained old school conservati­ve ever since it was formally opened. Old rules and traditions remain together with jars of ginger biscuits still available in the gentlemen’s locker room. All four-ball matches are still expected to complete in less than 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Appearance and dress must be smart-casual.

“No riff-raff,” said my caddy once, which was a little odd, given the nature of their kind. That in itself, shows the importance the club has attached to tradition all through its grounds.

The membership has stayed steady at a total of 300 while the greens and fairways are as immaculate as would be expected with a course which maintains its world ranking high up in the top 100.

But, in common with other golf clubs of similar standard in the US, it is not simply the golf course, but the welcome that stays in the memory. Seminole, although exclusive, is hospitable and despite the reputation which comes with a closed and impenetrab­le private membership, makes you feel at home.

Cedar wood lockers, with several elegantly furnished with polished interiors of which at least one is equipped with a two-litre bottle of Scotch whisky fitted into a bracket with an optic measure. On the shelf was a cluster of cut glass tumblers and bottles of spring water from West Virginia. You help yourself and pour a glass for a friend or other as well.

I imagine that a personal private bar in your locker is unlikely to go down well with the Steward, but I know it’s been done at

Sunningdal­e where I was once poured a large whisky from such an arrangemen­t in the men’s changing room by a friend who said that keeping a small bar locked up with your boots in such a way tends to keep the bar-staff on their toes.

The course, a par 73 at a little over 7,000 yards, is laid out in a perfect square and lies adjacent to North Palm Beach. It is unchanged from the original layout by Donald Ross, which was enhanced by T. Claiborn Watson, a Tennessee mountainee­r who had migrated south from South Carolina and had taken enthusiast­ically to golf.

Ross routed the course through gentle, rolling dune-land along the beach just 15 miles north of the exclusive Palm Beach Winter Colony. The dunes were, and still are, stabilised with clusters of Florida Pine and the hillsides are thick with fescue. It is a classic links with fast, hard, slippery greens and a perpetual stiff south easterly off the sea.

Seminole was opened in 1929 after Ross had personally finessed the slopes and subtleties of the greens. He also took it into his head to add the formidable collection of 200 bunkers which distinguis­hes Seminole with their brilliant white sand and steep faces. There are rumours that Claiborne Watson, by now the course superinten­dent, upset the membership by redesignin­g the greens without discussing the details with the committee. Who knows? It’s just history.

Disputes like this can keep golf clubs in turmoil for years. But despite the debate, Seminole began to blossom and gain the reputation for style and sophistica­tion which it retains to this day. Ben Hogan loved the club and became a regular visitor. He said, “if you can play well here, you can play well anywhere.” Hogan became a lifetime patron of Seminole and in his prime would come to practise here every year for 30 days before the Masters.

Personally, when I think of this sublime links, I think of the finishing holes which run along the beach. The 17th, a par four 375-yard trouser-snapper into the prevailing wind is followed by the notorious left hand dogleg par four 18th. Hogan added that in his opinion, the 388-yard 6th, a long, narrow hole with a tight, twisting slightly elevated green surrounded with deep, white bunkers, was the best par four he had ever played.

Seminole membership suffered when the membership dwindled during the depression and the years of the Second World War. It became revitalise­d because of the ministrati­ons of Christophe­r Dunphy - an Irishman who returned to manage the club after the war and ran Seminole until the late sixties. In the post-war years, the club became fashionabl­e. Roosevelt came to play, and Eisenhower, Billy Graham, Jack Kennedy, Bing Crosby all enjoyed the privacy and exclusive class of the Seminole.

The memorable locker room was completed in 1948 and added to the elegance of the Spanish style architectu­re of the clubhouse. The cedar wood lockers are similar in style and design to those in the long room behind the 1st tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews. There’s also a neat little bar and trophies and honours boards featuring names of many of the world’s greatest golfers who came to play here.

Donald Ross, who died in 1948, left behind a course, which penalises less than perfect approach shots and is known for the fiendishly difficult par threes. You come away with memory of lightning fast crowned greens with lethal run-offs and deep bunkers. If you’re going to miss the green, play short, don’t go past the pin and over the back.

The fourth, stroke index one, gives you a sobering reminder that there are 200 bunkers at Seminole. The bunkers are an uncompromi­sing feature of the course and a good knowledge of how to deal with them is vital to anyone who comes to play here.

These beautifull­y landscaped pits filled with fine white sand were nearly all designed by Dunphy who made them deep and placed them close to the greens so that, once bunkered, you can be faced with a domed and crowned green above you and every chance that your escape shot will quickly come back to you or skitter across the green and into a similar pit on the other side.

Today, Seminole is not just a great course, it’s an exclusive and fiercely private sanctuary for wealthy and accomplish­ed golfers so the only way to get onto it is to know a member or become one yourself.

I don’t know how much a full private membership costs because it’s rightly considered a private matter, although it will be expensive, and so it should be. There are only 300 members but their membership comes with the responsibi­lity for the maintenanc­e and reputation of one of the world’s finest golf courses.

In the 50s, they had sown new hybrid Bermuda grasses that flourish in the steamy temperatur­es of southern Florida. By the 60s, the greens, not only revitalise­d with Dunphy’s subtle borrows and slopes, averaged around 17,500 to 18,000 square feet each.

These massive putting areas were reseeded and renovated to the original designs. They have remained true to their original layout and are renowned for their speed and subtlety in spite of passing tornados and the constant salt spray from the Atlantic.

Seminole members have always taken their golf seriously. Claude Harmon, who was resident profession­al until 1947, still holds the course record of 60. This inspired round was played in 1948, just after Harmon had moved on to become profession­al at Winged Foot. The score will no doubt be an inspiratio­n to the American and European teams when the Walker Cup is played for by Europe and America at Seminole in November 2021.

Harmon’s golf has never been bettered and there’s a framed map of the round in the clubhouse. Seminole remains a magnificen­t course with its palm groves and its stiff breeze off the Atlantic. I hope they will always leave it alone and protect its character because it is a national treasure.

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