Donald Ross originally designed Seminole in the 1920s and it was the first outstanding course to be built in America’s deepest South. Situated on the Atlantic side of Florida’s coastline, Seminole Golf Club is considered by critics to be one of the finest examples of golf course routing. With small greens and serious trouble lurking beyond the flagstick, this is not a course to attack.
The site chosen for the course features a number of sand dune ridges that were carefully brought into play with some fairways directed towards elevated green sites while others drop down from sandy peaks to flatter terrain. Both nines set out from the clubhouse on level ground before veering into the 40-foot dune ridge that runs alongside the western edge of the property.
The greens at Seminole are the main line of defence for the course and many of them are cleverly angled, narrowing towards the back, which makes rear pin positions a very tough proposition. Fairway bunkers are generally shallow but flash-faced sand traps adjacent to putting surfaces are often deep and troublesome.
The par four 6th is a wonderful hole on the outward half, played to an offset putting surface that’s protected by bunkers on both sides of a long, narrow green. Holes 11 and 14 are memorable for the uphill approach shots to be played to the pin and the all-carry second shot to the par four 12th is another highlight on the inward half.
Following a period of relative neglect during and after World War II, Dick Wilson was commissioned to restore the course to its former Donald Ross glory in the 1960s and it has retained its enduring appeal ever since. However, the layout has recently been elevated to an entirely new level. In 2016, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were appointed to carry out a 3-year renovation programme, which largely focused on the rebuilding of around one hundred bunkers.
Seminole is a golf course that stirs quite a bit of debate as to how high it should be ranked. There are several people I know who proclaim it to be the most over-rated course they have played. I have met another person who says it is the only golf course worth playing in the state of Florida and that all of the other “very good” courses are merely existing in its shadow. For those saying it is over-rated, they simply say it does not belong in the top fifteen in the USA; somewhere around 50 to 75 makes more sense.
Whenever I was asked what is the best golf course designed by Donald Ross, my answer was typically Oakland Hills South or Pinehurst #2. I compared it more to Scioto, Oak Hill East, Essex CC, and Inverness. But then I would look at my own rating scale and I would find I ranked Seminole higher than all but Pinehurst #2. According to my own scale, it is ranked very highly; among the best in the world. One could argue that Pinehurst #2 is no longer a Donald Ross after the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw refurbishment, which would put Seminole back at the top of the Ross designed courses. It is a close debate either way.
I was eager to see Seminole after the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw refurbishment. I had played Seminole a few times before and did not think it really need any touch-ups. What I found was a course that had eliminated some trees, freshened the bunkers, re-shaped a few areas of the greens, and perhaps changed a bit of the water.
Seminole is brilliant in its routing, taking advantage of the high dune ridge on the far side of the course and a smaller ridge near the beach. Much like Muirfield, it moves in all directions. On a windy day, a hole can either play slightly easier than expected or very difficult. In the absence of wind, it is a stiff challenge due to the excellent placement of bunkers and angles which can remind one of Merion East,
As it happened when we returned to Floridian National after the round, we joined Butch Harmon, whose father Claude continues to hold the course record at Seminole scoring a 60 back in 1947 when the length of the course was over 6800 yards. We were able to get some additional insight about Seminole such as Raymond Floyd saying it is the most difficult course in the USA from 150 yards in and which holes have sections of the greens that one simply must avoid in order to stay on the green. There are a handful of courses in the USA one could put in that category of requiring a superb chipping/sand wedge game, but certainly Seminole belongs in the discussion.
There are several outstanding views of the golf course, from the second green, fourth green, twelfth tee, and from the fourteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth greens. On a clear, sunny day, looking across the golf course or catching a bit of the ocean and looking back up to the holes on the higher ground, it is beautiful. Coming down nine with the pinkish clubhouse behind the green is also a terrific view.
The condition of the course is always outstanding. One will not get a bad lie in the fairway, will likely not get a plugged lie in a bunker, and the greens are smooth.
The greens have slopes, tilts, and a few mounds. They are not overly undulated and often break less than one sees from a closer putt, but often break more than one sees from a lengthy putt. There is only one green I thought lacked true interest and that is the seventh. In terms of picking the holes with the best greens there are too many to list.
Most of the fairway bunkers offer an excellent chance to reach one’s target as most are not raised. However, several of the greenside bunkers can be very deep. Depending on one’s pin location for the day, it can require a delicate touch to get a ball close. The safe play is to get back onto the green and try to hole the putt no matter the length.
If you miss the fairway on some holes, such as the sixth, one is likely to end up in a footprint in the waste area and you simply have to get back to the fairway and not be greedy.
In essence, Seminole has all of the attributes of a great course. It requires a deft, soft touch around the magnificent green complexes. You have holes where the green sites are high above you, you have tee shots downhill, you have flat holes but with raised greens, you have doglegs going right and left. You have water on a few holes. You have to think your way around the golf course in terms of where to try to land your ball on the correct side of the fairway and on the green to avoid running through, running off a side, or coming back off the front.
There are three sections of the golf course that truly stand out. After a gentle opening par 4 of 405/370 to a slightly tilted green, you play the very good second, a dogleg left with the green located about halfway up the dune. For the better players it is 480, but we choose the blue tees (total yardage 6600 for us, back tees are now 7305), so it is 380. It is a marvelous hole followed by the downhill dogleg right par 5 back up to another elevated tee. Two and three are good holes, but the stretch of four to six is brilliant.
Four is a longer par 4 of 495/440 with a slightly raised green with excellent placement of bunkers throughout the hole and waste area on both sides. Five is a tremendous par 3 of 205/190 to a raised green with seven bunkers. The green is relatively small and can be difficult to hole a shot lacking the required height. Six is a short par 4 of 395/360 bending to the left. A longer hitter who cannot find the left side of the fairway can be blocked by the trees. A waste area is down the entire right side of the fairway with several bunkers added, while the left side picks up a combination of waste area and bunkers near the green. This is the hole Ben Hogan famously loved to come play in preparation for the Masters.
The course loses a bit from holes seven to nine with seven being one of the few holes requiring a forced carry over water to the green. It is not that these are “average” holes, it is simply that one has just played two very good and three excellent holes. One appreciates the chance to catch one’s breath.
The back nine kicks off a par 4 bringing water into play a bit for the second shot. This is the third green in a row where one can run their ball onto the green as an option. I like that every hole does not require a shot to fly onto the green.
Then there is another great stretch of holes from eleven to thirteen with eleven as a par 4 of 465/390 climbing the dunes again to an elevated green fronted by deep bunkers. The safe play is to the left of the green but good luck stopping your ball with a chip or putt.
The twelfth plays down the hill to a wide fairway with a hidden ditch on the left side of the fairway. This is one of the more difficult greens to hit and hold if the pin is on the right. A huge set of bunkers front the green and are behind it. The hole plays at 370/360 and Claude told us the pros simply hit their tee shots out to the right in the alternate fairway to take the bunkers out of play. The green on twelve is shaped a bit like an apostrophe with that right side being quite small and running towards a back bunker.
Thirteen might be the par 3 on the golf course at 170/165 playing uphill and surrounded by nine bunkers. The green looks small from the tee but actually is fairly large but it is angled diagonally away from you.
Fourteen and fifteen are back-to-back par 5’s that some say are weak holes. However, the raised green on fourteen is long and can result in one-two extra clubs. A front pin on fourteen might be the most difficult because one has to clear the deep bunkers fronting it yet not get so far up the green due to the speed of the putt on this back-to-front sloped green.
Fifteen is a dogleg right required one to twice go over water. One can play safe to the left of the four fairway bunkers and trees but will have to contend more with the water on the second shot and likely have a bad angle to a small green on this 555/475 hole. Or one can try to play to the right off the tee and hope to avoid the bunkers, leaving a good chance to get to the hole with one’s second. If one catches one of those four bunkers, then they have three options: play a lengthy shot to the left of the trees, play short of the water leaving a long shot in to another raised green, or try for it. The previous times I played fifteen I felt it to be a weaker hole, but I do not have that opinion anymore. I like it a lot.
The final three holes are very good. My caddie, an assistant pro from a famous course on Long Island, told me the second shot into sixteen is his favorite shot on the golf course. This dogleg right of 410/395 requires one not to go into the waste area that does have some trees in it. The raised green is surrounded by bunkers although one of the flatter greens on the course with more subtle breaks.
Seventeen is the final par 3 playing parallel to the beach. One could argue this is the best par 3 on the golf course playing over waste area with eight bunkers surrounding the green. It is an excellent par 3.
Eighteen is a dogleg left to a large fairway with waste area and bunkers down the left side. For the longer hitters this 445/400 yard hole is pretty straightforward – hit it as far as they like. But the placement of those bunkers on the left leaves the shorter hitter thinking they cannot clear the final one and the result is pushing one’s ball to the right leaving a very long second into a final raised green surrounded by four bunkers.
Seminole has a requirement for four balls to finish in 3 hours 40 minutes. Despite some very poor play on fifteen, seventeen and a search for a ball on eighteen, we finished in 3:25. All clubs should have this as a goal if the next tee is close to the previous green. One advantage of this is that more rounds can be scheduled and played. Also, one can spend the extra time after the round discussing the golf course, the round, or whatever subject one wants. That should be the essence of golf.
After the round, despite the beauty and the temptation to be outside overlooking the large swimming pool, the best place to be is in the locker room enjoying a cocktail and marveling at the names of the past winners of the various club tournaments. The lockers are the finest and most interesting ones I have seen.
The highest compliment I can give to Seminole is that the members have deep affection and admiration for the golf course, the facilities, the maintenance staff, and the employees. They love their club.
Visiting Seminole, entering the Clubhouse, playing the golf course, is an outstanding golfing experience. It is true that the course appears to be very flat and you can see across the whole plot of land from the Clubhouse, but it is a captivating Donald Ross layout and a wonderful test of golf that requires real precision to score well, particularly if the wind is blowing, which going by the lean of the palms is regularly. The 3 hour 40 minutes allowed for a four ball is easily achievable, because you will always find your ball if it stays out of the water. On first glance it will surprise you, as it looks straight forward, but the course is subtle and has wickedly difficult green complexes, most of which have Ross's upturned saucer effect. If you ever have the chance to play Seminole, then you simply have to take it. It may not jump into your Top Ten favourite courses, but it will be in your Top Ten golf experiences.
Unless you know exactly where The Seminole Golf Club is you may pass it multiple times and not even be aware that it is there. It is tucked off Ocean Drive, Florida 1A and is protected by a dense tropical hedge. Originally a Donald Ross course it opened in 1929 and has several facelifts and perhaps even a tummy tuck from architects as notable as Brian Silva and most recently Coore&Crenshaw. It is extremely private and has chosen discreet anonymity. In a significant departure from it’s long standing position the club will be hosting The Walker Cup in 2021
If you get through the gate you round the bend and are greeted by a classic Spanish designed clubhouse. The locker room at Seminole is not to be missed, with plaques from bygone tournaments and events. The Head Golf Professional is Bob Ford. He is originally from the Philly area and describes himself as one of the luckiest guys in the world. Until recently, he was the head pro at BOTH Seminole and Oakmont!!
Prior to teeing off we were reminded of the strict adherence to a pace of play of 3 hours and 40 minutes. My standard rejoinder is that I will do my best not to hold anyone up. We nailed it as we were done in less than three hours.
By modern standards Seminole is not long and there are not a lot of options to add length, but it rewards well placed approach shots. We were warned about the speed of the greens. They were quick, but I would guess they were around a 12. The first hole of note is the par 4 uphill 2nd with a forced carryover water. The 4th hole is the number one handicap hole with a blind tee shot. I am not sure how it is rated harder than the 6th. The par 4 6th is purported to have been Ben Hogan’s favorite golf course in the world. Ben should know, he would come to Seminole to practice before playing in The Masters. There is OB right and the preferred ball flight is a draw off the tee and a fade into the green. Left is preferable, as there are trees right, but on the left you still must contend with bunkers and the waste area. The approach is very deceiving, it appears there is a consortium of bunkers protecting the green, but they are really staggered.
The par 4 10th is my favorite hole. A large water hazard is on the left with bailout right. I am transparent, I birdied it. The 11th is a par 4 that it is a little sneaky. Like the 2nd it has a long carry but there is a bunker in the middle of the fairway. Not visible from the tee is a water hazard on the right. The par 5 14th’s tee box abuts the Atlantic Ocean. Here is one of your major photo ops. Hopefully, you will be smiling when you finish the hole. The hole is relatively straightforward, but it has an elevated green with bunkers on all four sides. The bunkers in front and right are at least ten feet below the hole. The short par 3 17th is probably the signature hole. It runs parallel to the ocean. Another good photo op. My second favorite hole…you guessed it. I went into 18 needing a par to break 80. Hooked my approach into the bunker left, hit a good sand shot that would not stop and eventually trundled into the right bunker well below the hole. What might have been….
Seminole is relatively flat with the exception of the northwest corner. Donald Ross maximized the elevation changes that were possible back before tons of dirt were moved for effect. Being on the ocean the wind can be nefarious. One other side note, our caddy mentioned GVR several times. There are not too many golf acronyms that I am not familiar with, but I was stumped and finally asked him. Greens Visited in Regulation!
Rematch!! almost one year later to my first visit I had the chance to come back this April and played the course in "member" conditions: this is when all of them are here so perfect shape coast to cost, greens rolling perfect and very very fast and on a sunny windy day.
Even better is we played a fourball match together with legend Bob Ford against Dan Quinn (former European And PGA Tour caddie to Ernie and Joos Luiten) and teaching Pro Dieter .... from the very back tees!! Talk to me about golf challenge ...
It was amazing to see Bob's Course Management, how at every step he showed his experience and quality with some great touches around the green (including a hole out on 13th from the left bunker), Dan asking every hole gimmes from 4-5 feet (if you keep making me play this ones we won't be able to watch The Masters) and Dieter's great golf swing.
It was a tough match, I missjudged a 30foot putt on 18th from the beginning of the green and left me a crazy downhill 6 footer to win which I narrowly missed ... a tie was a perfect result.
Then lunch at that Club House which I could not experience the first time was maybe even better than golf, making it a true complete experience.
It was a crazy front 9 scoring 8 bogeys (4 3 putts) and 1 birdie with maybe the best shot on years on 3rd over the palms to leave me a 12 footer eagle putt which I just missed.
It was great to use my Arccos sensors there as Bob is an Ambassador and exchange opinions about the future of this devices. As pictures are not allowed, see my 3rd hole!
The membership enjoys the most revered locker room in the game and host the greatest professionals to ever play the sport. Seminole is in an area of Florida where dozens of professional golfers live year-round, and the seclusion of the club provides a golfing mecca.
There are many sand ridges running through the back end of the property which provides for the better holes on the property. The Ross greens are mostly sloped back to front, and have subtle movement.
The Coore/Crenshaw work to restore bunkers, adjust tee-boxes and discover lost pin positions has been superb. Holes 2-6, 11-13, and 16-18 have the most character and offer excellent golf.
Seminole is arguably the best work of Donald Ross, along with Pinehurst #2. It is one of the most disputed courses among rankers, but I can't see why some don't like it--the course has no weak holes. The course is fair off the tee, with some rewards by cutting a corner or just hitting it straight. It is a little less penal off the tee than most courses, with plenty of recovery opportunities. The defense on the course is around the greens. if you miss the greens in the wrong spot, up and down is unlikely. If you are above the hole and greens are rolling fast, putting off the green is a possibility.
I found the course very balanced. It was also one of the most open Florida courses I've seen. When you are on the 17th tee box, you can see the entire course. Seminole is often ranked Top 15 in the country and I think that it is justified.
Most golf enthusiasts dream of one day playing Seminole. I was no different and the thought of Coore & Crenshaw working with them to renovate the course made me all the more keen to have the experience. When I booked my trip to Florida from Amsterdam it was done with the hope that a visit to Seminole would materialize. In short I came just for the chance to play this gem. Most would think that too risky but I had a feeling it would work out and I decided to go all in. I was told I had to be there in the area and be flexible and ready to get there on short notice. Half way through the week I started to get worried then finally on Wednesday morning the positive news came in, be there at 1 pm and I would have my chance.
As fate would have it I would receive a call about an hour later from a friend of a friend who was a member informing me he had made us a time at 10:30. A wonderful opportunity, however, I had already invited another acquaintance to join me in the afternoon for our unaccompanied round and simply couldn’t back out on them.
Seminole is in one word “wonderful”. By far the best routed Donald Ross course I’ve ever played and given the site had relatively few significant features in my opinion, Ross did an amazing job of maximizing the usage of these features enough so to put together one of the best routed and most interesting courses in the world.
Every hole at Seminole is extremely strategic and the greens are designed to be approached from different directions depending on pin placement and wind direction. So much so that trying to approach from the wrong angle is almost comical at least at my ability (5 hcp).
My favorite holes were three of the par 3’s. The 5th which played downwind to a wide green that was very narrow to the line of play. Naturally demanding a very accurate shot. The par 3 13th hole played straight into the wind in the direction of the ocean. The raised green is very hard to judge the correct distance into the wind. The deep bunker fronting the green provide a menacing visual.
The last par 3, the 17th played in a severe left to right cross wind to a bit of a volcano green which falls off on all sides and has bunkers on the left and right sides.
Another great aspect of Seminole is that the club culture dictates quick play. We were a 2 ball and without rushing easily made our way around walking in 2 hours and 20 minutes. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
Seminole left me wanting to go right back out for another shot. I’m sure I’ll return. What an amazing experience!
3 months ago I had the happy idea of contacting a friend to see if playing Seminole was possible. It seems I took the correct path because 2 months ago we got the confirmation of an unaccompanied foursome for May 7th which is "easier" is easy is a word we can use because it is almost the end of the season.
All these last two months it was just planning and viewing what this day could be. I was excited like a child with a new toy, it is not always you are allowed to the #1 Course in Florida. And the foursome was one of the big moments : Paco Aleman (ESPN Latinamerica Golf Broadcaster and former South American Champion), Andy Schonbaum (AAG President) and Roberto Benito (one of the best amateurs Argentina has produced), so sharing a round with these 3 makes it even better.
I arrived the day before to Jupiter and played Johnatan´s Landing Fazio Course (a very nice test under some 30km/h winds) and that night we had dinner at The Woods (Tiger's Restaurant) where of course golf was the main topic!
We had a tee time at 11am and arrived to the Club 10:30am. The first moment is already shocking as everybody knows you are going, the bag drop and the set up of the golf game. Then you are led to the Locker Room ... WOW!! The boards and the winners, the trophies, the books, everything is more than you can expect. Change your shoes and be ready for the game.
A short visit to the proshop to view and see what to buy and then to the practice range. I had one of the best pre game sessions of my lije, but as in Pine Valley then the game did not appear until 13th, scoring -1 in the last 5 holes. Some putting green and to the course.
It would be not fun to detail every shot I made, but I will try to describe the best shots of the course.
Uphill approach to #2 is really tough, pin was long and green is huge. Everything that goes past the hole will be terrifying fast.
Tee shot at #3 downhill and with the chance to cut line is where long hitters have a small advantage.
Par 3 #5 is one of the closest holes to Pinehurst #2, a 170yds shot where holding the ball on the green is extremely tough.
Second shot at #6 can be really short and at the same way tough, green looks level but if missing on the wrong side, God help you.
Hole #11 plays similar to #2, with a nice carry over the water with the driver. Then from tee #12 you have a nice view of the Ocean.
Par 5 #14 is a great risk/reward hole, you have to get by plane, the car will stop always on the bunkers.
Par 5 #15 is one of the 2 best holes on the course (My only birdie!), where 3 bunkers split the fairway in 2 and if you go over the water on the right side you may get home in 2 (I did not!). And then #16 is another risk/reward tee shot. Par 3 #17 was downwind and holding the ball was almost impossible, I hit a nice flop short from the green and made a nice par.
PAr 4 #18 is nothing too special, but a brave driver over the sand will lead you to a much easier and shorter shot.
We won the match 4/3 where Mr Benito played a solid round to his current 10 handicap and after shaking hands we all smiled having experienced a real special golf day.
Unfortunately pics are not allowed, so I won't be able to share some with the readers. All I have to say is Seminole was really worth it.
Then we spent some time at the proshop and a relaxing shower at the Locker Room, the shower is stronger than the heaviest rain you have been exposed to.
It is special. It is charming. Coore/Crenshaw have taken it back to original Ross design. Club House is all you have heard of and more. We saw the results of the Coleman Cup where Steve HAgestad (Low Amateur at The Masters scored 71-69-78 to finish 4th place). It would be nice to be admitted once to play this Tournament!!!
Similar to the Old Course at St. Andrews, when you arrive and look out over Seminole you think there’s not much going on there, but you would be wrong. Rees Jones, who is a member, says in the club history, “Seminole is probably the best bunkered course in America. A shot that hasn’t hit the proper portion of the green is likely to wind up in one of the greenside bunkers.” The crowned greens that are Ross’s signature at Pinehurst are also present here, but not as pronounced, which in some ways make them more difficult. It is a very subtle design that fools the golfer into thinking they can attack pins. The twelfth was my favorite hole. A 367-yard par four that plays from an elevated tee box into a prevailing wind with a hedgerow down the entire left side. The green is the best bunkered on the course and is tilted sideways and oblong, making for a very narrow landing area. Even though you are hitting a short iron, the green looks so small and un-receptive that it is very hard to hit. Oh yea, their locker room isn’t bad, either.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
If you like Coore and Crenshaw Watch this.... Fascinating how they have gone about renovating the Donald Ross Course at Seminole in 2016.
The fundamental question at Seminole is the degree to which difficulty makes for a great golf course. If one equates resistance to scoring with greatness (a la Golf Digest and—probably—Ben Hogan), then Seminole is surely a great one. If, however, your abilities are closer to mediocre (i.e. a double digit handicap), you may not put Seminole in your golf course pantheon. A perfectly struck approach shot will often yield a good birdie opportunity, but anything less will leave a long putt or worse………..often way worse.
One of the property’s finest features is the high ridge that runs along the western edge of the course. A smaller one runs along the beach on the eastern edge. Donald Ross used both ridges expertly in his routing. Only 4 holes don’t touch the ridges (1 and 8-10). The ones on the ridges (3-6 and 17-18) run north south, while four at the other two ends of the property run east-west. The rest run in a crazy quilt of directions. The line of charm is evident from the get-go (a sizeable bunker complex confronts the tee shot on the dogleg right 1st) and continues to challenge the drive from there on, reaching a crescendo at 15 and 16. Ross’s heavily contoured greens add to the challenge.
There is some debate as to how much Dick Wilson’s revisions affected the Ross greens. While the contours certainly looked authentic to me, the lack of ability to run the ball onto the green made me think Wilson made significant alterations to the green complexes. Like a number of great courses, Seminole might be a bit much for anyone but expert golfers to play regularly. But the opportunity to play here should not be missed.