Greg Norman originally founded the Medalist Golf Club in January 1995 and the course, located at Hobe Sound, was the first design collaboration between Greg Norman and Pete Dye.
Shortly after the course opened, the club hosted Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, which featured a match between The Shark and Nick Price. This televised event catapulted Medalist onto numerous ranking lists.
“In its early years, the Medalist was widely viewed as a modern classic,” wrote Daniel Wexler in The American Private Golf Club Guide, “its innovative Pete Dye/Greg Norman design wandering across the scruffy, marsh-dotted South Florida landscape, frequently culminating in ground game-oriented putting surfaces whose surrounds drew comparisons to Pinehurst. Unfortunately, club founder Norman has since altered some of Dye’s unique features, leaving a course whose 75.0 rating speaks to its difficulty, but which many discerning players find a bit less appealing than before.”
Since the early accolades, the Medalist has been widely ignored by most ranking lists but it is undoubtedly still one of Florida’s best courses. “More importantly,” wrote Norman, “it possesses many design features worth emulating: broad fairways, turf kept firm and running with greens open in front, greens set at angles dictating the appropriate spot from which to play, and finally, fascinating recovery shots for those times that you miss the green. To achieve so much from a flat piece of land makes it a design worthy of much study.”
“It is weird to speak of ‘restoring’ a course
that’s only twenty years old,” commented Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to
Golf Courses Volume 2, but that’s exactly what The Medalist needs after an
endless series of changes over the years by its co-designer Greg Norman. Mr.
Dye’s track record of changing his own courses is not that reassuring either,
so former Dye protégé Bobby Weed is being brought in to sort it all out.”
Bobby Weed commented as follows: “The renovation
of Medalist Golf Club was completed to restore the style and strategy of Pete
Dye’s original layout. While an exact replica was not the goal, we derived
considerable inspiration from photographs of the course taken in 1995 and a
video of the Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match… Several specific steps that
were taken include lowering the putting surfaces and reducing their size to
what first existed. The new green complexes now encourage a running approach shot
and demand dynamic short game play. Revetted sod walls have been returned to
the bunker faces and the hazards once again occupy the inside corners of the
fairways, tempting players to go for ever-longer carries off the tee. The
native aesthetic of the course was enhanced by ‘painting’ new coquina-like
screenings and native plant material around the perimeters of each hole, while
previously overgrown long views and vistas across the expansive marshes have
been re-established. Our hope is that the cumulative effect of these
improvements stirs the membership’s soul and cultivates their passion for the
game. Once again, they have a golf experience that offer intelligence, authenticity
and flair – attributes only the greatest golf clubs enjoy.”
Fast-forward to 2020
and Bobby Weed’s herculean renovation was showcased during Capital One's The Match:
Champions for Charity featuring Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil
Mickelson and Tom Brady. It was a poignant return to center stage for Medalist
Golf Club, twenty-five years after Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match, and maybe the latest televised charity event will help rekindle some lost ranking love.
Rarely will you find a championship golf course built just 25 years ago that has undergone multiple overhauls and renovations as is the case with Medalist Golf Club, in Hobe Sound, Florida. The club ownership and Greg Norman did not see eye to eye on the somewhat radical changes Norman made and they parted ways with Norman. Subsequently, Bobby Weed golf design recently restored and enhanced the course to play similarly to its original design by Pete Dye in the mid-1990s; Weed exceeded in his goal and present day Medalist Golf Club is the best it has ever been.
Let’s be clear Medalist is not a golf course designed for the faint of heart and those looking for a resort experience with feel good scoring. The fairways are generous but any par at Medalist is earned and birdies while possible are far outweighed by some bigger numbers that all everyday golfers will see add up quickly. If you are looking to see just how sharp your game really is on a golf course that is penal buy fair then Medalist is just the right course for you.
On May 24, 2020 all 18-holes of the revitalized Medalist Golf Club was featured on television for the 2nd iteration of “The Match” which this time featured Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelsen, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. As my intro highlighted, Tiger and Phil were able to handle the course just as you’d expect from top players in the world but Tom and Peyton had plenty of examples of Medalists exposing an amateurs weak spots, even with these two being world-class athletes and single digit handicaps. You can still find video highlights of Greg Norman and Nick Price in 1995 shortly after the course opened with the original Pete Dye designed featured; this was a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf Match and at the time Norman and Price were the #1 and #2 players in the world. Medalist was the talk of the town in 1995 and everyone found the layout unique for South Florida; revetted sod bunkers in Florida were rarely if ever seen and the angled green complexes meant every green in regulation hit was seemingly a big deal. (Greg Norman co-designed the original Medalist course with Pete Dye and subsequently made radical changes over many years that eventually made the course look little like it was intended to by Pete Dye).
Bobby Weed’s renovation restored the angled, small greens and revetted sod wall bunkers. Simple put, these greens are hard to hit and while the greens encourage running shots into them, you are going to need a very sharp short game to score well at Medalist. There is no where to hide and this course will expose your weaknesses, both off the tee and around the greens.
Medalist is NOT a course where any holes stand out much more than others, every golfer can decide for themselves if that is a good or bad thing. In the case of Medalist, it’s all about consistency for 18-straight holes, each and every part of your game is tested and holes gently bend in every direction imaginable. The par 3’s are all quite challenging and you the bailouts will mainly leave you in the water or with a challenging bunker shot. The greens have mainly been lowered in this renovation where they have slight elevations that actually increased playability but the small nature of them, balances out the challenge that tour players are looking for to test themselves.
The 11th and 14th holes are in theory “driveable” par 4s but the word “driveable” is in quotes because if you play them, you likely won’t think that’s the right word to describe them unless you can hit straight towering long drives that can fly 285-305 yards and land softly. Somehow Phil Mickelsen, the ultimate risk taker drove the 338 yard par 4 11th hole in “The Match” and the line which he had to take to do it was over the center of a thick row of trees and the carry looked to be about 305 yards on that line. The margin for error here is minimal and taking this line is generally not advised. The 14th is actually designed by Weed to be driveable but still is quite challenging with water short, a revetted bunkers greenside left and short right where getting up and down out of them depending on the pin position is quite challenging. An eagle is possible yet unlikely and a more realistic birdie opportunity comes from a strategic layup to the widest part of the fairway setting up a straight forward pitch shot.
The 16th, 17th and 18th holes offer a solid and challenging finish. 16 is a solid par 3 playing between 180-200 yards and when the wind is blowing with typical firm greens, you better be on point to hit this green. The 17th is a reachable par 5 that has a very narrow green with a small false front on the left side as well as a push up elevated green with a bunker and the marsh on the right with a small pot bunker on the left. Missing this green pin high with your 2nd or 3rd shot will force you to hit a lofted flop shot to get the ball close; if you don’t have that shot comfortably in your arsenal be sure to hit the green or leave yourself just short for the best chance of an up and down. The 18th is strong par 4 finishing hole that wraps around the marsh diagonally and has a forced carry to it. Once you successfully find the fairway, there is no getting around a very challenging approach to a finisher that is just as tough as you’d expect on a championship course.
Here is the big take-away with Medalist. The every day recreational golfer would find the course quite challenging to play every day. The course will beat you up and highlight all of your weaknesses. Balls hit with the wrong trajectory will “visit” a green in regulation and wind up in a collection area for which you will have a challenging time getting up and down. This is because the greens are small. For the highly skilled amateur and professional, including the tour players Medalist is built for you and will tell you each and every time exactly where your level of play stands. Medalist is a no frills golf course where good shots are usually rewarded and poor ones punished. For a great player up and downs are achievable, but you must be precise. Approach shots with side spin will not hold the firm and super fast greens. The course is built as a training ground for PGA and Korn Ferry tour events. Ricky Fowler recently said about Medalist “I need a place where my game can be tested at the highest level. The new areas around the greens help me tremendously on getting ready for the PGA TOUR.”
As of 2020, 5 of the top 10 golfers in the world call Medalist their home course, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Ricky Fowler, and many others. There is a set of “Tiger Tees” that has the course play over 7500 yards. A tour player scoring well at Medalist feels ready to go play just about any tour course. For South Florida, which doesn’t offer too many architecturally significant courses, besides Seminole, The Bears Club, Jupiter Hills, McArthur, Loblolly Pines, Blue Monster at Doral, and Pine Tree, Medalist is a strong championship course for which Bobby Weed and his team did a great job in their recent work.