Inside a solo walk around one of golf’s most exclusive properties
JUNO BEACH, Fla. — There are few clubs in the world as exclusive as Seminole Golf Club. Its hush-hush nature means it’s impossible to quantify exactly how it stacks up against others, and it’s only been featured on TV once in its 92-year history (last year’s TaylorMade Driving Relief Skins Match).
Only about 300 people are members, and the roster is a who’s-who of American elites. Tom Brady and Michael Bloomberg. Mike Davis and Mark Loomis. The names go on and on. Rumor has it Seminole once turned down Jack Nicklaus. How many clubs can get away with that?
The exclusivity is one of the reasons why this week’s Walker Cup is so intriguing. Fans will finally get to see high-level competitive golf played at the same place where Ben Hogan chose to fine-tune his game for the Masters. Augusta National is exclusive, too, but the annual broadcast allows those who’ve never set foot on the grounds to feel intimate with the course. That’s not the case here at Seminole.
I didn’t know what to expect when I rolled up to the pink stucco clubhouse Friday afternoon. Fresh off a plane from New York, I hopped in the rental car and drove up to the gates at one of the most guarded properties in golf. They waved me through, and I felt like a 19-year-old sneaking into a bar for the first time.
I walked to the putting green and faced a sea of blazers and polos indulging in libations and preparing for the opening ceremony. Beyond the crowd was endless acres of Donald Ross’ genius framed by palm trees and sand dunes. Just over the largest dunes on the east side of the property was a small strip of beach and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. This is way better than sneaking into a bar.
Player availability and practices were finished for the day, so I decided to take a stroll out to the course. As I walked past the hospitality areas not far from the clubhouse, I noticed there were no ropes that are traditionally put up at golf tournaments. Music to a reporter’s ears.
As I ventured farther away from the masses, I noticed I was alone. No nosy volunteers, no groundskeepers, no caddies. I had complete solitude.
That’s when it hit me. I was doing something that few ever have the chance to experience. Walking a course as exclusive as Seminole, with no supervision, is unheard of. Even the guests who are fortunate enough to score an invite are accompanied by members and caddies. But on this afternoon, it was just me, the course and the ghosts of some of golf’s greats.
I scouted a peak at the far end of the property and continued my hike. I meandered along the banks of the ponds and made note of a particularly crooked palm tree near one of the greens. I noticed the fairway bunkers were rather shallow, the greenside traps intimidatingly steep.
I captured as many photos and videos as I could. Seminole has a strict no-phone policy, but with the USGA taking charge this week, the rules were a bit more relaxed. When I reached the far end of the course on the 3rd tee box, I turned around and took in the scene. The clubhouse sat on the opposite end of the property with the vast expanse of the ocean to the east. Behind me was a row of shrubs over 20 feet tall to keep out any wandering eyes.
I sat down — a kid from a working-class family from rural Texas that grew up playing beat-up munis — and took inventory.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t awed when I first started walking the golf course, but after a half-hour alone with it, I was enamored. It all blends together in one big golfy mass. You could play Seminole on any number of routings. It’s like a playground with limitless possibilities.
I took a trip up to the secluded 18th tee. Beyond the dunes was a man teaching his son to skimboard on the beach. They were only 100 yards away, but it felt like we were in different worlds. I wondered if they had peered up those same dunes and wondered what life was like at Seminole. I know I would have.