Watersound Club courses host big-time collegiate events
Written By Steve Bornhoft
Watersound Club and its Camp Creek ® and Shark’s Tooth golf courses have twice played host to an invitational collegiate tournament and this year welcomed the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.
For that, it has a retired baseball coach and the Florida State University sports fraternity to thank.
Mike Martin Sr., the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division I baseball and a man who became synonymous with his uniform number — 11 — in his 40 years at the helm of FSU’s baseball program, is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He is also a longtime Watersound Club Member.
It was Martin who introduced Trey Jones, FSU’s head golf coach and director of golf, to all that the Club has to offer.
“A long time ago, Mike was one of my first Watersound Club hosts,” Jones said. “Today, a lot of the Watersound Club Members I’ve gotten to know are because of my relationship with him. He was a great first member to know, for sure. He is such a great guy and such an awesome person. Anyone who is a friend of his is a good guy to be around. I am very fortunate to know him.”
As Watersound Club Members, Jones says he and his family “use the entire club. The golf courses are great and I have a son (Drew) who loves golf. Playing golf with him at Camp Creek or Shark’s Tooth is something we always look forward to. My wife and daughter (Cathy and Jordan) love the Beach Club. The Watersound Club experience is a perfect fit for us and it’s only two and a half hours from Tallahassee.”
In 2020, the ACC canceled the conference’s fall golf season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Jones and other coaches were anxious to get an early start the following spring.
Jones approached Watersound Club management with a brainchild.
“They stepped up and said the Watersound Club team would be glad to host an ACC event in February,” Jones said.
In its first year, what would come to be known as the Watersound Invitational was held at Camp Creek Golf Course and won by FSU in a playoff versus Wake Forest. Clemson’s Jacob Bridgeman was the individual low scorer. This past year, the field of competing teams was expanded to include two schools from the SEC, Arkansas and Alabama. Georgia Tech won the year-two event, which was played at Shark’s Tooth Golf Course. Canon Claycomb of Alabama was the medalist.
In year three, Jones said, the invitational will include teams from the Big 12 conference and the Air Force Academy.
“We thought it would be nice to have an academy team each year and with the Air Force’s presence in our area, its academy was a natural reach-out,” Jones said.
The invitational has served to spread awareness of Watersound Club golf courses and amenities among people who were not previously familiar with the area. Galleries include players’ friends and family members and fans of the game of golf.
“Most people with ties to ACC schools, when they go on vacation, they are bound for the East Coast,” Jones said. “When I was pitching the idea of the invitational, people were shaking their heads because they had never heard of Shark’s Tooth or the Camp Creek Course.
“But the minute the event was confirmed and added to schedules online, people started getting calls from Club Members who were excited about them coming down. It didn’t take them long to realize that this was a special place, and they hadn’t even been here yet.”
St. Simon, Georgia, native Patrick Richardson, Watersound Club director of golf, arrived in South, Walton about a year ago after departing the Sea Island Resort and wasn’t around for the inaugural invitational, but has known Jones for years. In Georgia, he became familiar with the SEC championship, so he was no stranger to needs and expectations related to collegiate golf.
Invitational players arrive in time to get in a practice round on Saturday, and tournament play runs Sunday through Tuesday.
“Mid-February works out well for us and the teams,” Richardson said, but added that winter winds can make a course like Shark’s Tooth play especially tough. For a couple of days, a stiff breeze was enough to make the flags on the greens pop.
Jones concurred: “The wind added another dimension,” he said.
The coach is fond of both Camp Creek and Shark’s Tooth, but tends to be more vocally effusive about the latter.
“I think the great thing about Shark’s Tooth is that it is different from a lot of the other courses in the region; it’s different than the Camp Creek Course,” Jones said. “It challenges golfers off the tee and it really challenges them with the green complexes and pitching around the green.”
“The greens are not super large. We call it a second-shot golf course because you are going to have to be really good from that area to the hole to play it well. That is not something that is in modern golf. Golf today has large greens with different sections to them and Shark’s Tooth is not that way.”
For Jones, the setting for Shark’s Tooth Golf Course adds to its singularness.
“Weaving in and out of Lake Powell, you can’t have a bad day out there, that’s for sure,” he said. “With the trees and the water, when you’re on the course, you don’t feel like there is another hole around you. You are on your hole, no one else is there, it’s just you and your playing partners, and that makes the experience a lot different.”
In 2023, the University of Alabama will join FSU as an invitational co-host.
“That will take a little bit of the pressure off our staff,” Jones said. “Anytime you have something that is not on your campus or not in your town, it’s a little bit of a drain.”
Richardson said Watersound Club leadership wants to position its courses as championship layouts that are home to high-level events.
“It’s part of who we want to be,” he said. “I think it’s healthy for the Club, and it’s fun for our Members to have a chance to see the future of golf and to see players they will one day see on TV.”
The invitational presents one such opportunity. In April, the ACC conference championship, played at Shark’s Tooth Golf Course and won by Wake Forest, presented another.
LONG GESTATION PERIOD
Jones recalls that some 15 years ago, the pro at Shark’s Tooth suggested that his course might one day like to host the ACC championship.
At the time, the conference had a “permanent” site for its championship, the Old North State Club in New London, North Carolina, not far from Charlotte. But, as the conference added new schools, it became more open to the idea of moving the championship around among multiple locations.
Detecting that, Jones contacted Watersound Club management — Patrick Murphy and Mike Jansen — to take their temperature.
“They were super excited right out of the gate, and the support of St. Joe president and CEO Jorge Gonzalez was evident from the beginning, as well,” Jones said. “It was almost a disappointment that it took us until 2022 to bring the ACC championship to a Watersound Club golf course, but the conversation wasn’t so much about whether we were going to do it, but how we were going to make it great.”
The ACC, assisted by FSU and Watersound Club personnel and volunteers, was responsible for administering the tournament.
“The ACC managed the golf course, but they used our trainers and some of our sports information people because we were the institution closest to the site,” Jones said. “We did lean on Patrick Richardson and his staff to help with volunteers for live scoring and other duties and they predominantly were Members of the Club. That adds a very personal and special touch when the Members not only allow use of their golf course, but support the event by volunteering.”
Jones said that the ACC Championship, going forward, is likely to be rotated among two courses in North Carolina, one in Atlanta, and a Watersound Club golf course.
The coach said his players loved Shark’s Tooth Golf Course and that circumstances had ensured that it was new to all championship participants.
“We were not allowed to play it for the year prior, no one was, and the year before that was COVID, so I did not have anybody who had played the golf course,” Jones said. “It was truly a neutral site for everybody and I think that helped. I think that made it a better competition.”
A MATTER OF COURSE
Club Member encounters Golden Bear
FSU golf coach Trey Jones, like all Watersound Club Members with an affinity for golf, is looking forward to the development of a third course, which will be built just north of the existing Shark’s Tooth Golf Course layout.
Davis Love III, the winner of more than two dozen PGA tour events, and his brother are designing the course along with Love Golf Design’s lead architect, Scot Sherman.
Jones, then, will be in a position to compare the work of Love Golf Design with that of Jack Nicklaus and his son, Jack Jr., who redeveloped the Seminole Golf Course in Tallahassee.
Jones met Jack Jr. before he met the legendary golfer known as the Golden Bear. They walked FSU’s home course together after which Nicklaus had a proposal: “What would you think about giving my dad a chance to blow this course up and redo it? His vision is one of a kind and I think what you have here could be really special.”
Jones was powerless to say no to that.
“Any time that you get to know anyone who is as talented and as giving as Jack Nicklaus is, that is bucket list stuff,” Jones said. “He is very courteous, he is very smart and you don’t have to be around him long to realize how special and gifted he is.”
Jones said awareness of the new Seminole Golf Course will inevitably grow.
“We haven’t had the raters come out to see just where the new course stacks up, but the product is one of those things that you can’t keep under wraps,” Jones said.
No Better Time Jones cannot contain his enthusiasm for the status of FSU golf.
“We’re happy where we’re at right now,” he said. “The last 10-12 years have been very good when you look at the team’s success and the success of tour players that we’ve had, and now we have something that we have never had before — a great golf facility to recruit to. With the roster we are envisioning, we feel like it has never been a better time to be a Florida State golfer.”
In such a way, coaching legacies are built.
“I am really happy to have had a positive influence on college golf,” Jones said. “But I am also glad to have had a positive influence on the Watersound Club team, by bringing more exposure to a place that a lot of people hadn’t known about. But when they come to see a golf event at a Watersound Club golf course, they are impressed.”