David Miller, who bought the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., property in December 2014, plans to sell 40 acres of the golf course, and use that money to revitalize the front nine. Miller has already pumped more than $1.2 million into the property, with 10 new tennis courts and clubhouse renovations.
David Miller is not just trying to save The Oak Bridge Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.—he’s trying to preserve what is perhaps an under-appreciated part of First Coast golf history and at the same time look ahead to the future of the playing and practicing experience, the Jacksonville, Fla., Fla., Times-Union reported.
Miller purchased the Oak Bridge Club in December of 2014 and has spent the last 18 months formulating a plan that will save at least a part of the third-oldest golf course in Ponte Vedra, the Times-Union reported.
“Part of the motivation is history,” Miller said. “Nine holes of this course were there before the PGA Tour even thought about purchasing the land for the TPC Sawgrass and PGA Tour headquarters. “It’s been difficult but it’s also a labor of love. It’s a well-designed golf course that has simply fallen into a state of neglect.”
Bill Amick designed the first nine holes when Arvida developed the property in the early 1970s. Arnold Palmer Course Design later oversaw the expansion of the course to 18 holes. The par-70 is unique in its layout, with six par-3 holes, eight par-4s and four par-5s with the routing winding through residential areas, the Times-Union reported.
One of the first things Miller did was restore the name of the golf course. It was changed to the Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club by the previous ownership group 10 years ago but all that did was create confusion with the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club across A1A and to the north, the Times-Union reported.
Pending approval by the TPC Sawgrass Homeowners Association, Miller plans to sell 40 acres, the bulk of which comprises the back nine from the par-11th hole to the par-3 17th hole—the area of the course that begins behind the clubhouse and winds its way to A1A, the Times-Union reported.
He said the only zoning likely to be approved for the parcel will be an assisted living community similar to Vicar’s Landing, closer to PGA Tour headquarters. That way, there will be little additional traffic in the area and no additional students for public schools, the Times-Union reported.
The money Miller would make from the sale of the land would then be plowed back into revitalizing the front nine. The biggest problem is that the fairway irrigation system is unusable, because of neglect and obsolete equipment. Once that issue is solved, Miller said the front nine should spring back to life, the Times-Union reported.
If the TPC Sawgrass HOA approves of the plan and if the sale goes through, the land on which the current 10th and 18th holes are located will be turned into three practice holes. The conditioning of the current practice area, which has improved, will be enhanced even further. Miller said the residents of the proposed assisted living center could add more to the customer base. He also will keep the course public, the Times-Union reported.
“This is the way we have to think,” he said. “I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter and an 84-year-old father I’m trying to keep in the game and neither one has 18 holes in the tank. Players are dropping out because of the time and expense golf costs.”
Miller expressed admiration for what Hampton Golf has done with the Blue Sky Golf Club, which re-opened last year and offers three-, six- and nine-holes rates. “[Hampton Golf owner] M.G. Orender has gone a great job with that property,” Miller said. “This is where the future is going.”
Miller hired a former PGA Tour player, Mike Miles, as his head professional. Miles previously worked at a course where Miller was a member, the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, Calif. Originally, Miles came to look at the property and consult with Miller. He wound up re-locating across the country, the Times-Union reported.
“I saw the unbelievable potential of this place,” Miles said. “The location, the style of the course, its proximity to one of the great golf destinations in the world—it’s got everything that golf fits into.”
Miller has already pumped more than $1.2 million into the property: 10 new tennis courts and improvements to the clubhouse, renovations to the golf clubhouse and offices and work on the practice range. That’s good news for course superintendent Rich Moos, who has been with the club for 14 years and trying to maintain a golf course with old equipment and few financial resources, the Times-Union reported.
“They’ve kept me doing what I’m doing,” Moos said. “I was thinking about another career before they bought the course. They’ve given me everything I’ve asked for to and I’m very optimistic about our future. It’s not all doom and gloom now. I think we’re on the way up.”
Oak Bridge also is getting help from Big Brother across TPC Boulevard. The TPC Sawgrass is undergoing its own renovation. The facility has given Oak Bridge ball washers and bag stands from its practice range, turf, fill dirt, loaned maintenance equipment and provided advice from the maintenance and the Tour’s in-house design staff. “The TPC Sawgrass has been a Godsend,” Miller said.
TPC Sawgrass General Manager Bill Hughes said he agrees with Miller’s vision and said having Oak Bridge as a viable golf facility benefits the entire community, the Times-Union reported.
“Any golf course that closes is a concern to a lot of people,” Hughes said. “Especially one that has been here for so many years.
“The neat thing about what Dave is planning is that it’s a beta test of the future of the game, which is alternative golf courses. Giving people the opportunity to play three holes, nine holes, 12 holes, with a great teaching center is great for families, juniors, seniors and the millennials, who want recreational activities to be around three hours from door-to-door. I’m really excited about what Dave has planned.”