Family matters in Fort Lauderdale
Courtesy of Coral Ridge Country Club

Family matters in Fort Lauderdale

Rees Jones returns to the place where he spent part of his childhood to restore Coral Ridge Country Club.

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Rees Jones returned to his family roots for one of his latest restoration projects. 

Built in 1954 and designed by his legendary father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will open in December following a project resulting in new greens, updated irrigation and improved drainage. The same design, playability and challenge will remain as a tribute to Jones Sr., whose vision was carved into the community. Like the club itself, a family legacy lives on.

Aiming to be as authentic as possible in the restoration, changes were not made to the original design, staying true to the design of the course while solving infrastructure issues. “My goal was to enhance and restore, not replace the masterful green contours and approach shot challenges,” Rees said. “Today’s construction techniques allowed me to improve irrigation and ‘lift up’ fairways and green complexes to improve drainage.”

Bunkers were updated, retention areas were added, and all updates followed modern standards and technologies for irrigation, drainage and greens construction methods.

“This is not a typical Florida course,” said Coral Ridge general manager JJ Sehlke, also a partner in the club’s ownership group. “Mr. Jones called it an ‘easy bogey and hard par.’ It’s not extremely difficult, but it’s fun. We have members who play 250 or 300 times per year and we think having a higher quality course will make a difference in attracting new members.”

The renovation work includes the addition of 35,659 feet of underground drainage pipe to efficiently move water to catch basins that will empty into retention areas creating dryer fairways more quickly. Design concept of aircraft carrier tee boxes were restored to Jones Sr.’s signature runway style. The construction of additional tees and tee boxes allows more opportunities for different levels of players and lengthens some holes to play longer. Par 3 tees were enlarged due to wear and tear during the high season.

Many greens had shrunk from the encroachment of collar grasses and bunkers had lost their original shape, size and impact on play. The improvements restore the classic bunker shapes intended by creating more manicured and sculpted edges, helping to keep the sand white and clean. Coral Ridge now features 94 bunkers.

The course, which has been played by the likes of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, includes Champion Bermudagrass on its greens, Celebration Bermudagrass on its fairways, and TifGrand Bermudagrass on the tee boxes and collars.

Sitting on only 120 acres, the renovated course will play from 4,700 yards to more than 7,300 yards. Wall-to-wall concrete cart paths, mirroring those on the Club’s Rees 9 short course, enhance travel to and from holes, eliminate damage to the turf edges, and reduce maintenance allowing players to get on the course quicker after a rain event.

The new irrigation system incorporates 1,287 heads with approximately 29 miles of irrigation pipe. Benefits of new sprinkler technology include precise control of the coverage and amount of water and allow the club to conserve water and become better environmental stewards. The new course delivers 102,610 square feet of consistent, high-quality playing conditions that will regain normal playability quickly after rainfall.

The Jones history at Coral Ridge starts in 1954, when the course was originally designed and built by Jones Sr. Since its opening on Feb. 3, 1955, the Coral Ridge has been a community landmark. It was built on the original site of the defunct 1920s Floranada course (a combination of Florida and Canada). The land had languished until Jones and members of the Coral Ridge Golf Course, Inc. saw the “ghost course” and pursued the lease of the land to construct the championship 18-hole course, clubhouse and the adjacent American Golfers Club.

Ten years later, Jones Sr. purchased the course he built and surrounding acreage, including the old American for $1 million. Jones, his wife, Ione and sons, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Rees Jones, made Coral Ridge their home course and club, overseeing and managing it with pride and hospitality. Jones established the quintessential South Florida country club, complete with golf, a pool, tennis courts and a membership deeply rooted in the growing Fort Lauderdale community.

Rees was born into the game of golf and spent much of his youth at Coral Ridge. He traveled with his family to golf courses all over the world and in the summers worked for his father, but he never lost touch with Coral Ridge. He created the nine-hole, par three course from the American Golfers Club his father built adjacent to the main club. The Jones Family controlled the club until 2004, when Rees and his brother Robert, Jr., sold the club to a partnership group led by Fort Lauderdale businessman and philanthropist Phil Smith. Smith died of ALS in December 2016. The restoration is a tribute to the legacies of Smith and Jones Sr.

“My restoration of Coral Ridge allowed me to make my Dad look good again,” Rees joked.