A "Who's Who" Membership List

When the No. 3 player in the world rankings was working on his short game at a green adjacent to the driving range at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter on Tuesday, his name could have been Donald Luke as easily as Luke Donald.

No one approached Donald to start a conversation or ask for an autograph. In fact, none of the other dozen or so players on the range so much as looked in his direction, so intent were they on their own games.

“Our members just leave them alone,” Bear’s Club general manager Bob Wesselman said of the touring pros who call the club home. “They realize that’s their job, and it’s a pretty high-profile membership to begin with.”

The phenomenon of PGA and LPGA tour pros moving to Palm Beach and Martin counties started with Jack Nicklaus in 1965 but has accelerated significantly in the last decade. One offshoot has been those pros seeking out clubs where they can work on their game, play a demanding course, and socialize with both their colleagues and an upscale membership.

Two clubs have emerged as sanctuaries: Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, the club that counts Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler among its 22 PGA Tour and LPGA members, and The Bear’s Club, which boasts 17 including No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Donald. The Dye Preserve in Jupiter has another eight to 10.

Medalist was founded in 1995 by Greg Norman, who designed the course. Woods, who lives a 15-minute drive away on Jupiter Island, is the most famous member of a list of 270 that also includes ex-Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, a two-time club champion, and NBA icon Michael Jordan.

“The last three or four years, the Medalist has become a hot spot for golfers,” President De Mudd said.

“It’s strictly a golfer’s club, not a real estate project, which is one of the reasons we are so successful. We have three events a year, so if you’re a member you don’t have to look at your calendar, and we have no tee times. We have no rules as long as you don’t compromise another member’s membership.”

The initiation fee of $50,000 is waived for Tour players, but they do pay annual dues, with their membership reviewed every year. The Tour players are invited to play in club events and many do — Fowler is defending champion in the Member-Guest tournament and Steve Marino is a past winner.

Considering the size of the membership and the relatively modest initiation fee, it’s no surprise Medalist has a lengthy waiting list.

“It’s about the value of the membership,” Mudd said, “getting members to enjoy the club, coming out and using it on a daily basis. We have no financial issues whatsoever; we have money to invest in the club, money to run the club, and we’re fortunate that way.”

One of the perks is unique: As aspiring pro and junior member Olin Browne Jr. found out recently, you never know who might be looking for a game.

“Tiger has asked us to play,” he said. “He’s the king, but one of my buddies was playing with Jesper Parnevik and Richard Johnson the other day. The guys are always ready to tee it up with us.”

Original member Julian Saul said that while the membership has gotten used to having the iconic Woods around, their guests are a different story.

“When he’s here practicing, they get a kick out of seeing him,” he said.

One player no longer seen around Medalist is Norman. The club recently made the decision to move back “five or six” championship tees, said Mudd, adding 200 to 250 yards to a course already 7,157 yards from the tips, and hired former Pete Dye disciple Bobby Weed to do the work. The move so infuriated Norman he quit the club and pulled out the memorabilia he had displayed there.

“Every story has two sides,” Mudd said. “I would just say the history and vision of the club and where it is today wouldn’t have happened without Greg.”

Medalist’s decision to make a tough course even tougher differs from the philosophy espoused by Nicklaus, who founded The Bear’s Club in 2000 and in 2008 added some forward tees to make sure the course was playable for its more senior members. The championship course still measures 7,142 yards from the back tees.

As was the case with Medalist, Wesselman said The Bear’s Club saw an influx of touring pros become members when the economy dipped in 2007 and ’08. That also coincides with the time the Honda Classic moved to the PGA Champions course Nicklaus redesigned at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, which has become a favorite Tour stop for most of the Tour’s South Florida residents.

The Bear’s Club’s perks include a teaching academy complete with TrackMan video — for swing and ball flight analysis — and the services of club technician Rick Gomes, who is called upon by both the pros and members to correct imperfections in clubs sent by factories.

“(The pros) are exacting, but the companies who provide their clubs aren’t always so exacting,” Gomes said. “That’s where we come in.”

While The Bear’s Club charges a $90,000 initiation fee, three meals per day are served, it boasts a par-3 practice facility and it’s more socially oriented than Medalist. Also, unlike Medalist, it does have a real estate component.

While both clubs see an influx of pros once the weather starts cooling down up north, the heaviest concentration of players hits when the Florida Swing gets underway with the Honda in late February.

“This is where they make their home,” Mudd said. “In a lot of ways, this has really become the mecca for golf.”
 

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