A Forgotten History Comes to Light

As fall turned to winter in 1915, in the early months of Palm Beach Country Club’s construction, the popularity of golf in South Florida was growing. Getting a tee time at Florida’s famous Palm Beach Golf Club was becoming an impossible task. In the normal course of events, you might have expected the construction of Palm Beach Country Club to be rushed in order to meet demand. But when the celebrated architect Donald Ross was commissioned to design a track, the normal course of events rarely applied.

For Palm Beach Country Club, Ross chose a plot of land near Lake Worth with a ridge of hills. The land once belonged to the Palm Beach Gun Club. Unfortunately, it was also set on several acres of swampland—not ideal for a golf course. But Ross had a plan. He would pump sand, eventually stacking it eight feet high, across the 30-acre wetlands of the property. “I have no idea how he did that,” remarks Andrew B. Mack, a golf architecture aficionado who spent time at college researching the history of PBCC. Ross then incorporated the sand into the design of the golf course, shaping it into a system of man-made dunes. This flat, dull area of land was now scenic, presenting a wonderful experience for golfers. “It ended up costing half a million dollars—back then,” exclaims Mack.

The estate of Henry Flagler paid for the construction, and when Palm Beach Country Club opened its first nine holes in 1917, the who’s who of society flocked to the course. During his research, Mack was able to find pictures of Warren G. Harding, James Roosevelt II, and Joe Kennedy playing at PBCC. He found that several tournaments and outings were held there as well.

Today, as the course prepares to celebrate 100 years, Palm Beach Country Club, which was purchased from the Flagler estate in 1954, is getting ready to embrace its history. According to Mack, the club didn’t have much interest in the events that took place before 1954, mainly because of its exclusionary practices. But with a little convincing, the club is now planning to publish a book. After all, according to Mack, Palm Beach Country Club should be considered as one of Ross’ best courses.

Since its inception, Palm Beach Country Club has been redesigned, but much of Ross’ original routing still remains. And for Mack, a PBCC member, that is what makes the course great. “Palm Beach Country Club,” he tells me, “is kind of a miracle of golf course architecture.”