The course at Banyan Golf Club opened for play in 1973 and Joe Lee designed it. On first seeing the property, the architect proclaimed: “This place is majestic! All you have to do is listen and the land will tell you what to do.”
Lee imaginatively routed Banyan around a series of lakes where the holes head in all compass directions and the fairways are refreshingly devoid of homes.
There have, of course, been some changes to the course since 1973; many trees have been lost due to tornado and hurricane damage and local architect John Sanford (who learned to play golf at nearby Banyan Cay Resort) completed minor enhancements here in 2012.
Six years later in 2018, the club invested $3m in a course renovation programme, overseen by Jupiter-based architect Kipp Schulties. All green complexes were refashioned and both forward and back tees were added to cater for all levels of golfers. Banyan can now be played from 4,800 yards to more than 7,200 yards.
Schulties also made significant changes to holes 5,10,16 and 18, adding a water hazard to the front of the green at #5, elevating the greensite by almost 15 feet at #10, tree clearance and lake expansion at #16 and relocating the green complex closer to the lake on #18.
Banyan Golf Club is striving to create one of the best golf experiences in Florida and it's certainly heading in the right direction.
Banyan Golf Club is much more than your typical Florida course. For one, there are no houses at all to interfere with the aesthetics this lovely course has to offer. Second, the members at Banyan have made a huge investment in renovating their course to ensure that it competes with the top courses in South Florida. Third, it is one of the top conditioned courses in South Florida, with super firm and lightening quick perfectly rolling greens. Finally, the club has made a huge investment in “real walking paths” to encourage members to walk and play golf the way it should be played. Real walking paths mean that fairway grass was planted on all 18 holes to create a walking path as opposed to just mowing down rough to create a pathway. This not only looks awesome but surely makes for a more pleasant walk.
As for the course, just two years ago a local architecture group called Kipp Schulties did a massive renovation to the course. Kipp Schulties has redone or renovated about 25 courses in South Florida and they have been the “go-to” firm for many higher end clubs. Their style does not vary much from course to course, and they focus heavily on beauty with vegetation as much as architecture, creating a nice balance of aesthetics and playability. Having played literally all of Kipp Schulties courses, I think Banyan Golf Club is their best work. The green complexes in general are huge, but they have some really nice angles to create some challenging pin placements and with the firmness and speed of the greens, if you are approaching the tucked pins from the wrong side of the fairway or even worse from the dense rough, you will have a super hard time holding the greens. The greens surrounds are playable for an up and down potential but very challenging if you find yourself short sided. Again, super firm greens that are fast make short sided recoveries exceptionally hard unless you enjoy the challenge of making 25 foot putts to save par or bogey all day long. With that said, isn’t it this type of challenge that makes for a championship golf course? The course can play over 7200 yards as a par-72 from the “championship tees” or a more comfortable 6800+ yards from the “Black tees”. For most golfers the Black tees is plenty but for the scratch player or pro, the Championship tees are a great challenge.
Before I detail Banyan Golf Club further and share some highlights, it’s worth noting an overview of Florida golf to keep things in perspective. Keep in mind, that the challenge Florida golf courses face is the land. Very few courses can replicate what was done at Calusa Pines, where the team of Hurdzan-Fry moved a ton of land and dirt to create exceptional elevation changes that was so well done, it does not look and feel as artificial as it otherwise would. Lesser known Florida courses such as Bella Collina in Montverde, Florida designed by Sir Nick Faldo, and the 100+ year old El Campeon course at Mission Inn resort offer about as much natural elevation change as you will find in Florida golf. Just about everywhere else in the state is relatively flat. Two Florida courses have quarries, the Tom Fazio designed Black Diamond Ranch and now defunct Adena Golf Club; these two courses create interest and differentiation. World Woods Golf Club, a daily fee spectacular 36-hole Tom Fazio designed facility has resemblances to Pine Valley in the middle of rural Florida, just north of Tampa, which is a unique setting for Florida golf. Beyond that, just a few courses in the state touch the ocean and even those are few and far between; Hammock Beach Resort, which is lesser-known, offers a Nicklaus Signature Course called Ocean Hammock that post Hurricane Matthew opened up 1.5 miles of Ocean Front golf views where 6 holes are right along the ocean; then you have Gulf Stream that has one hole on the ocean, the 18th, you have Crandon Park which has a touch to the ocean and finally you have Seminole where if you look backwards on the 14th tee and stand on your tippy toes on the 17th tee you can see the ocean. Believe it or not the course that best utilizes the ocean besides Hammock Beach, is the Raymond Floyd Palm Beach par-3 course which is exceptional and has several holes running along the ocean and many others on the Florida intercoastal. Beyond that, the three Streamsong golf courses are on exceptional land for Florida and offer some elevation change where they hired 3 of the best modern day architects in golf to build their courses. All of them did a great job utilizing the land they had to work with. Even so, you’ll see each of these architect's most highly ranked courses located elsewhere nationally because of the land in other states, not because of anything they didn’t do as well with their talents at Streamsong. A great piece of land offers the architect so many more options to frame holes, create angles and differentiate their courses for a more memorable experience. Unless I am missing one, every other course in the state of Florida is inland on relatively flat land, making it exceptionally tough to differentiate yourself in a prominent way. For this reason, if you read my review of Pine Tree Golf Club, you will see why Dick Wilson and now Ron Forse have done some exceptional work to create a truly memorable experience there.
As for specific hole highlights at Banyan, there are several excellent holes that are in fact memorable; earning kudos to Kipp Schulties for making the most out of the land they had to work with.
After easing into your round on the first and second holes, neither of which is all that memorable, the course really begins to show its teeth and wake you up on the par-3 third hole. At 191 yards from the back tee over water to the most narrow green on the course you better be prepared to stripe an accurate mid-long iron if you want to hit this green in regulation. As you can see in the picture here, this hole is a beauty with a tiny little island in the middle of the water hazard creating a nice little differentiating feature. The bail out area to the left leaves you a very reasonable chance to get up and down but like most strong par 3s you’ll make more bogeys than birdies on this one.
The 4th hole is the first of a few dramatic par-4’s on the course. While only 375 yards from the tips, you must place your drive in the left center of the fairway here or you’ll ball with wind up in a huge water hazard or in one of the challenging bunkers guarding the left side of the fairway. Once successfully finding land on your tee shot, you must be precise to get close to wherever the pin placement is on this extremely wide yet fairly narrow green complex. It’s worth repeating that Banyan’s agronomy team takes great pride in keeping these greens super firm and fast, so that combination makes a narrow green far more narrow because unless your approach shot is high and soft, that first bounce will thump its way right on over into a collection area if you don’t have control over your golf balls. Today, my ball did not listen to me on this hole and while I only hit it 20 feet past the pin, I came out of the right rough and that ensured that my ball sailed over the green into a collection area; my failure to get up and down from there cost me a bogey on a 375 yard well designed short par 4.
The 5th hole is a very nice albeit not spectacular par-5. At 546 yards, it can be attempted to reach in 2 shots, but unless you are Bryson DeChambeau or Rory McIlroy, you’ll likely find your results more appealing by playing this as a traditional 3-shotter. The green has two tiers and the left tier is much more challenging to hit as its super narrow. The two times I have played Banyan, that is where the pin has been, so I’ll need to return one day to see how the rest of this huge green plays when the pin is placed on the much more accessible right side. With all that said, the green is completely fronted by a water hazard that screams to the golfer, do not approach this green unless you have a short iron or wedge in your hand. After ripping my best drive of the day, I had only 236 yards left to the green and surely, I did not listen to the obvious warning this hazard screamed at me, and my mishit rescue club splashed into the water 5 yards short of the green. Shame on me for not playing smarter or hitting a better shot. A well designed, fun and memorable hole for sure.
The 7th hole is only 355 yards but requires precision off the tee. Some nice vegetation surrounds a water hazard that runs the entire left side of the hole as well as some bunkers on the right, creating nearly the polar opposite of the short 4th hole that I discussed above. Here on the 7th, you must avoid the water left, on the 4th hole you must avoid the water to the right. This hole is short enough that the golfer should hit off the tee the club that will most likely find dry land. Get too greedy and this water will creep up on you quickly. The green itself does not have a lot going on, so if you hit a solid approach shot, this hole yields a great birdie opportunity.
The 8th hole is a brute and at 474 yards from the tips, its 119 yards longer than the same par-4 hole you just played. With a slightly elevated green, any highly skilled golfer playing the tips and making a par 4 here should feel quite proud of themselves.
The 9th hole is a great finisher to the front 9 as its 430 yards and straight away and tree lined on both sides. When standing on the 9th tee you feel as if you are on a one-hole golf course, completely isolated from the rest of the property. It’s a quite peaceful opportunity to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment of tranquility and isolation. If you mishit your drive with just a little slice, you may find a water hazard on the right side which needs to be avoided because a drop there will leave you over 200 yards to the green, setting up a most likely double-bogey. If you find the fairway, a mid-iron approach to a spacious green with modest undulation awaits.
As we make the turn we head to the longest hole on the golf course, the 639 yard par 5 tenth hole. Even if you play the second tee box here, its 563 yards and plenty challenging. This hole is really a beautiful par 5 shaped by a boatload of bunkers that are seemingly everywhere, beautiful plantings and a great vista from the tee. As you near the monster sized green, the fairway has an upper tier on the left side and a lower tier on the right side. I enjoy holes that have movement like this because it creates variety and interest; thus the reason I am talking about it. Kipp Schulties did a great job on this hole and there is a huge premium for approaching the green from the upper tier on the left side of the fairway as it opens up the entire green for the golfer. The green has a few bumps to it, and its ridiculously long creating about 10 solid pin placements here and leaving the golfer anything BUT a guaranteed two putt if you leave yourself on the wrong section of the green.
The 11th hole is a really cool dogleg left that wraps around water that you must drive over. At 428 yards with a drive that must carry water, you’d think it was a really hard hole. The good news is that the optical intimidation factor is much more visual than reality. The club ranks this hole the 4th handicap hole, probably because of the visual intimidation off the tee and a well protected green where there isn’t much room to bounce your ball onto the green due to an awkward angle if you don’t fly your approach onto the green and there a good chance your ball will roll over on the left side and find a well-placed bunker. If you can’t hit a high and soft approach shot to the 11th hole, you are best to leave your approach just short and left of the green leaving a great chance for an up and down. Despite the optics, the fairway here from the tee is actually very spacious and you have plenty of room to hit this fairway no matter how long a hitter you are.In simple English, the tee ball is not as hard as it looks. If you get greedy off the tee and try to shave off too much yardage you will potentially find yourself wet and re-teeing since there is nowhere to really cross this hazard but if you play smart, you have a great chance to make par here.
The 12th hole is a beautiful par 4. At 420 yards it’s the perfect length for the way the hole was designed. Plenty of bunkers all over and a water hazard both way left and way right that should not come into play. A gorgeous approach shot awaits you on the 12th to a huge green that has some movement where a shot to the center of the green is your most conservative play to avoid taking a likely par and turning into a potential bogey. Missing this green anywhere leaves a tough up and down unless you find a center of the green pin placement. The pin placement shown in this picture is quite challenging on a little shelf and with this front left pin placement, you must find the center of the green here to have a birdie chance or ensure a par.
The 14th hole is a NOT one of my favorites on the course. It’s a 535 par-5 that is in theory reachable in two shots but not very inviting to try. I am a huge fan of par-5s that are reachable and have a proportionate risk reward associated with them being reachable. If I had the opportunity to speak with Kipp Schulties or the club's “Greens Committee” about this hole, I would change a few things about the approach to this green. While this green is seemingly plenty deep to hold a long second shot and its super wide (probably 50+ yards from the left side to the right side), it’s a very awkward approach shot that isn’t practical. There is an amoeba like bunker that cuts way too far in front of the green and there is a tiny area to run a ball onto the green where a long approach shot will not be held as it will roll off the left side if you try to use this opening. A small bunker left of that opening as you can see in the picture here doesn’t really fit shaping this approach as its too close to the green. To the left of that bunker is a collection area that leaves a very hard up and down. So basically, this is a reachable par 5 in distance, that really isn’t that reachable unless you hit a 300+ yard drive and can hit a very high and soft long iron to a super firm and fast green. I really like Banyan’s golf course but wish I could change the approach to this green. The large bunker fronting the green should be pushed to the right and narrowed. I have some great ideas for them that wouldn’t take much to make it a super hole.
The 16th hole at Banyan is clearly the signature hole on the course. It’s an absolute beauty shaped perfectly by trees on both sides with four strategically placed bunkers surrounding the green. At 194 yards this hole presents quite a challenge, but the majority of the green is plenty receptive for this length of shot and it’s the most memorable hole on the golf course. The back left section of the green needs to be slightly expanded to be more receptive for a shot of this length.
It should be noted that the 3rd, 6th and 16th holes are all the exact same yardage, and on this windless day I hit a 6 iron to each of them. If I were in charge of course set up at Banyan, I would be sure to mix up the tees each day to ensure a golfer does not hit the same club on 3 par-3s. As a matter of fact, when there's a back left pin on the 16th (as pictures above), the 167 yard tee makes this hole even more fun to encourage the golfer to take on this challenging pin placement and bring the water hazard even more into play. Moreover, the left side of the green is a bit too narrow and a shorter iron approach will be more playable when the pin is positioned there.
The 17th is another excellent hole. What I love about this hole is that at 406 yards it can play as hard as many holes you will play that are much longer. You need to hit your drive both long and accurately here to have a reasonable approach to one of the most challenging greens on the course. Off the tee you have a great visual which includes water right and bunkers left. I’m sure on a windy day, this tee shot can feel quick scary. Once in the fairway, you face an exciting approach shot to a well-angled and well bunkered green. Again, the green is quite large but it plays sectional depending on where the pin placement is and if you are on the wrong section, a 3-putt can easily creep up on you. This is a memorable hole that all golfers should love and respect!
At 447 yards – the 18th is a solid, memorable finishing hole. You’ll want to hit your drive on the right side of the fairway to have the best angle to approach this green. The approach shot to the green has no easy bail out spot as the left side has a perfectly placed bunker that will catch most shots, with water left of that and the right side looks inviting since there is no bunker but actually a huge swale makes for a brutally hard pitch shot sloping away from you. Great optical work here by Kipp Schulties because once you know this hole, you quickly realize that you’d be much better off winding up in the greenside bunker left than the swale to the right as the bunker shot is manageable to get up and down compared to missing right of the green which is flat-out brutal. Like most of the greens at Banyan, the 18th green has only modest undulation; if you find the right section of the green most putts are makeable.
Overall, Banyan is a well-designed course that is enhanced by passionate members who are willing to invest in their course to ensure it is not only one of the best courses in South Florida but one of the best in the state. My understanding is that Banyan is far from finished and they plan to develop a world-class practice facility and make further tweaks to the course. The agronomy team at Banyan is one of the very best in all of Florida and they are a model for exceptional course conditioning. As I detailed herein there are opportunities architecturally for improvement on a few holes to take this course to the next level but even so, Banyan is a “gem” in Florida and almost certainly a top 100 course in the state.