Florida golf has its warts. For the brilliance of Indian Creek, Palma Ceia, Streamsong, Winter Park 9, TPC Sawgrass and others, there are hundreds of soulless, unimaginative layouts with houses tucked tightly against both sides of the fairway. It can be a wasteland of clumsy bunkering and overly harsh water features that may be challenging but not in a compelling way.
Seminole Golf Club, host of this week’s Walker Cup, is a stark contrast. It’s minimalist, a painting that requires ample study before it’s understood. It’s an evolving puzzle that shifts rapidly with hole location changes or a switch in winds off the Atlantic.
It's wide, firm and a reasonable length – playable to the point where losing a ball is rare. In a way that is difficult to explain it just feels like golf.
I’ve lived in Florida for almost my entire life and hoped that one day I would experience the exclusive course that I put with a handful atop my bucket list. I always ranked it near Augusta National, Cypress Point and Pine Valley. When the USGA hosted a media outing at Seminole in advance of the Walker Cup, my hope turned into reality.
I was nervous heading to the course. Although I had covered several Coleman Invitationals and Pro-Member events at Seminole, I worried that stepping onto the tee with a club in my hand would somehow tarnish my feelings. In recent years some have labeled Seminole overrated, buoyed more by mystique and history than the actual golf course, which is lighter on visually arresting views than most of its ilk.
The day started with a good omen. While warming up on the range, I heard a perfectly struck shot behind me – a sound that certainly doesn’t come from a media member. It was recent Players Championship winner Justin Thomas, who lives nearby and had come for a casual round. He played in a group immediately ahead of us and we witnessed several of his shots throughout the day.
Our group started on the back nine and I quickly had my “welcome to Seminole” moment. From the back of a green, with a 40-foot putt for birdie, my internal dialogue went something like this:
Like any great course, it makes you sad when the final hole comes.
“I didn’t hit that hard enough, it’s going to end up 10 feet short. How embarrassing.”
“No, wait. … It’s still going toward the hole, we’re good.”
“OK, this ball actually may go off the green.”
It didn’t quite roll off the green. But it left me with 30 feet, well outside everyone else in our group. The end result was a four-putt double bogey. In true Seminole fashion, I had a longer version of that birdie putt on the next hole from just off the green. Maybe 70 feet or so. That one somehow went in.
The part that really struck me about Seminole is how it transitions from allowing you to be comfortable off the tee to making you uncomfortable hitting approach shots and managing Donald Ross’ turtle-back putting surfaces.
It’s difficult but also inviting and captivating. Like any great course, it makes you sad when the final hole comes. In that way, it was like meeting a childhood hero who turned out to be everything I expected and more.
For this week, I’ll just have to live vicariously through the two squads at the Walker Cup.