By: Pat Farnan
Florida is so rich in golf courses and shiny, high-end golfing complexes that it’s easy to overlook the occasional gem, the historic old course that’s been around a long time and continues to hold up high standards and honor the essence of the game.
One of these jewels can be found in alongside a circuitous drive through a residential area near the Intracoastal Waterway in Stuart, Florida. Essentially surrounded by the St. Lucie River, the Martin County Golf Course is a somewhat ensconced golfing experience that hearkens back to another time.
And what a treat it is. If you’re a golfer and visiting Florida’s in Stuart-Port St. Lucie region, this is an experience not to be missed.
The Martin County Golf Club is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail, a collection of about 50 golf courses around the state, many of which were developed along with the construction of hotels and railroads.
The Trail organization seeks to enhance public awareness of these courses that have maintained their historic character and are still publicly accessible today. While the Martin County Golf Course bears some of the earmarks of those early courses, it remains a well- manicured, up-to-date facility that nicely meets contemporary standards.
For starters, it is located on a gorgeous piece of property. Greenery abounds, and nearly every hole is bordered by some combination of pines, oaks, palms, mangroves or other natural foliage. It is a visually pretty course that blends clever use of water hazards and smart bunkering with natural hazards, i.e., plenty of trees.
“I really love this course for a lot of reasons,’’ said John Stires, 21, of Stuart. “It is really pretty and well cared for. The people who play here seem pretty ethical about how they treat the course. You rarely see a ballmark, an unraked trap or an unfilled divot in the fairway. People sort of feel some ownership about the place. Plus, it is really inexpensive. That matters.”
The course is owned by Martin County. It is a municipal golf course. And even in golf course-rich Florida, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better “muni.’’ There are four nine-hole courses – red, white, blue and gold. The first nine holes were built in 1925 by golf course architect William Langford. The county acquired the course in 1947 and over the years another 27 holes were added. The course underwent several revisions in 2015, though today a handful of the original holes remain intact.
The Martin County Golf Club four courses offer four sets of tees. Both the Gold-to-Blue and Red-to-White courses play from 5,000 to 6,400 yards. It is by no means a long course, but it plays longer than it is because of the lush grounds and sea-level elevation.
And it’s fun to play. The greens are plenty big without being monstrous. The fairways are generous, though hazards, both visual and real, are ominous and close enough to require a golfer’s attention.
“It has some difficulty but it is not crazy difficult,’’ Stires said. “You still have to hit some shots. It is playable.’’
That’s the beauty of this place. Virtually any golfer could enjoy it. The four nines have a bit of settled look – no sharp edges, nothing out of character -- and picturesque vistas are the norm. The shape and progression of the holes lead to a natural rhythm in design.
“This is a nice little course that people here genuinely enjoy playing, and we try to keep it nice,’’ said Judy Combs, 63, who lives nearby. “We clean up after ourselves.’’
Given its mission as a public course, the club puts plenty of emphasis on youth clinics, summer camps and, generally, growing the game.
“There is some history here and a commitment to maintaining it,’’ said F. Chandler Doolity, general manager of the Martin County Golf Club. “We probably have around 30 courses in our area now, and they were not here when this one began. So we try to sustain a strong program of introducing the game and developing it. We want to be a strong program powerhouse for our community in the tradition of the game.’’
If you’re in the area, just off I-95 about half-way down Florida’s East Coast, you should stop in and see how the traditions of golf are being honored.
When you go…
Martin County Golf Course
2000 SE St Lucie Blvd.
Stuart, Fla. 34996
For more information on golf excursions, visit the Florida golfing guide.
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