Frantic earthmoving in Florida
The desire to renovate practice facilities is helping drive steady golf construction demand in Florida. Pictured is the renovated and expanded facility at The Windsor Club in Vero Beach.
Jorge Huerta Photography

Frantic earthmoving in Florida

A look at how one contractor is handling the construction demand in the country’s biggest golf market.

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Contractor Heritage Links has just applied the finishing touches to three separate renovation jobs in Florida, each illustrating the ever-evolving nature of course construction in the nation’s busiest renovation market.

At Sailfish Point Golf Club in Stuart, Heritage Links crews concluded a complete refurbishment and enhancement of the practice range in late 2020 — in time for high winter season. Heritage will undertake a similar practice-area renovation at Ibis Country Club this summer. With new construction flagging, renovation continues to dominate the Florida development market. But according to Heritage Links project manager Jorge Huerta, the social power of state-of-the-art practice areas is key to understanding exactly what’s driving the expansion of this market segment state throughout the state.

“It’s one of the things we hear most from course managers and designers these days — that practice facilities are critical to building community,” says Huerta, who has led Heritage Links efforts in Florida since 2014. “Most clubs just didn’t see this coming, when they were first developed — so they’re addressing it now. That’s the trend we see.

“These combinations of ranges, putting courses and short-game areas are the outdoor spaces where members can best gather, practice and socialize — and they must be integrated with the club, with the actual golf course, to best serve this purpose. Of course, all this happens outside, which is safer these days. But forget the pandemic for a moment, because this was a movement before that, and it will likely continue long afterward. And these aren’t particular small jobs, either.”

At Sailfish Point, every square inch of a six-acre parcel — every tee, every putting surface — was renovated and outfitted with new infrastructure. Later in 2021, when Heritage rebuilds the Ibis Country Club practice facility — in collaboration with course superintendent Matt Masemore — it will transform a 15-acre facility. This is the same size as the revamped and refurbished practice facility at The Windsor Club in Vero Beach, site of a course-wide renovation Heritage completed in late 2019.

This concentration on renovation, generally, and practice areas, specifically, has contributed to noteworthy changes in the Florida market, as well as other markets, according to Jon O’Donnell, president of Houston-based Heritage Links, a division of Lexicon, Inc.

“With so much renovation work driving the construction industry, we see increased emphasis on working within prescribed construction windows,” O’Donnell says. “In Florida, that means getting started in the spring when members traditionally go north — and finishing by July/August, so the grass can grow back in by November/December. Those are hard deadlines. When your facility isn’t ready, that means no members and no cash flow. This is just as true up north. Different window — work must be completed by early spring, so it grows in by early summer — same phenomenon.

“But all this renovation work at all these clubs — even relatively modest projects like practice facilities — tends to spread contractors thinner and thinner. In a market like Florida, some cope better than others. Sometimes, on account of weather and unforeseen circumstances, we’ll put 75 to 100 guys on a job — to finish within the window. As a national firm, we just bring those crews in. When we need a specialized piece of equipment, we just buy it. Mobilizing our resources — and our own good work — have been a real advantage for us in this market.”

At Woodfield CC in Boca Raton, Heritage completed another practice area renovation in November 2020, as part of a comprehensive makeover directed by architect Kip Schulties and superintendent Jason Sprankle. The overall renovation included mass grading and shaping on all 18 holes, storm drainage, new irrigation system, new cart paths, retaining walls, new grasses wall to wall, with all new tees, bunkers and greens rebuilt to USGA specifications.

To Huerta’s point: The club had just refurbished the short game area in 2016. Four years later, Schulties refined that work and made it better — by better integrating the new practice amenities with the clubhouse and first tee areas.

Further upstate, in Orlando, Heritage concluded an 18-hole renovation at the Nicklaus-designed Grand Cypress Resort in January 2021. Huerta and his crew moved dirt on 18 holes here (spreading sandy material from a lake expansion to cap holes 1, 2 and 3), regrassed (Celebration Bermudagrass out, Celebration Bermudagrass in), and installed a new irrigation system.

As with most renovations, these represent only the broad strokes. Heritage also laid 25,000 linear feet of new drainage and cleared the organic materials in an 18-inch radius from every catch basin on the property. It built 30,000 linear feet of new cart paths and replaced wooden bulkheads and a bridge at the 3rd hole. It rebuilt the practice green and each putting surface in the short-game area to USGA specifications.

Heritage also oversaw the installation of Capillary Concrete on 65 bunkers. “Clubs are moving away from fabrics,” Huerta says. “They tend to get snagged, tear, and then you get contamination. Superintendents have dealt with these issues for years and, with so many new technologies emerging, they are happy to move on to something better, more maintenance friendly and more suited to the regional weather conditions.”