Some courses close and never re-open. Others are re-purposed and become something much different. The lucky ones find new life and breath. Such is the case for one of my favorite courses, Banyan Creek at Martin Downs County Club in Palm City.
Before you can truly appreciate and celebrate the present, you need to learn of the past.
M&W Land Development Corporation first designed the master plan for what was then called 'Palm City Ranch' in the mid-1970s. The project was quite ambitious for its day as at the time Palm City was little more than ranches and dairy farms. Construction of the Crane Creek Course began in April of 1976 and the first official tee shot was struck in December of that same year. Reviews were quite positive from golf writers and golf insiders and the course quickly joined the ranks of the top-50 courses in the state of Florida.
In 1978, First Southern Holdings, headed by Peter Cummings, entered the picture buying out M&W Land Company. The first task was to develop the 2,400-acre Palm City Ranch. The name “Martin Downs” came about in an unusual fashion. Mr. Cummings and a few staff or friends were reportedly flying over the project examining the site from the air. During this flight, one person mentioned that the property reminded her of Churchill Downs. This appealed to Mr. Cummings, and he decided to name the project "Martin Downs."
Martin Downs Country Club would open the first of its two courses in 1976. The Crane Creek Course was well received and reviewed by golf writers and insiders. Designed by the late Charles Ankrom, the track quickly joined the ranks of the top-50 courses in Florida.
Ankrom, who resided in Martin Downs, would go on to design the development's second course, Osprey Creek. Construction of the course began in 1981 and was completed in 1982. Designing the course proved to be a stout task, as holes had to be routed around one-acre lots, wide drives and the creek. The final product was one that many noted course architects were envious of.
I played the course many times with Ankrom, with whom I had become good friends. I loved the course. It featured subtle elevation changes, homes set well away from the course, and had the pedigree of hosting PGA Tour qualifying events, junior championships, high school and college play. Playing conditions were always impeccable and this attracted all of the better players in the area.
The recession of the mid 2000s hit the club hard and Crane Creek Course was closed and left for Mother Nature. It was a sad time for me and many in the area. Ankrom’s home was on the front-nine and he watched as the weeds over-took his beloved design. He passed away a year later and the track sat, ignored for nearly a decade.
Then, a few years ago, the good news came. The course would rise again, as Banyan Creek Golf Club. In 2012, Brian Wenrick, a retired auto parts business owner from Walnut Grove, Ohio, purchased Martin Downs. He spent millions getting the still-open Osprey Creek Course up to standards and running. After finding success with the Osprey Creek Course, he decided the time to resurrect the course had come.
“When I first looked at the property, before even purchasing it, I stood on the first tee of the (Banyan Creek) course and could see how beautiful it must have been,” Wenrick said. “The peaceful serenity, the memories, the potential.”
Parts of the course were impassable when Wenrick first decided to undertake the task of bringing life back to the old track. The private course was tweaked and enhanced to meet the demands of today's golfer. There are five sets of tees, a driving range, practice facility and putting green. In the near future, construction on the new clubhouse will begin.
I was fortunate to play the course over the holidays. The fond memories came flooding back. The course is more open and forgiving. I also spotted tees that will make this par-72 course play to nearly 7,100 yards from the tips. The addition of numerous waste area bunkers, really helps to frame the holes and assists in watering and maintenance. The course is also very easy to walk, with no long trips between green and the next tee. Your mind may wander as you take in the flowering foliage and native fauna. The peace and quiet here is delightful, interrupted only by the call of an osprey or hawk.
The large, beautiful oaks and pines are still there. Even the huge banyan tree, from which the course now gets its name, sits proudly behind the 18th green and next to the first tee. It will make for a wonderful spot to relax and enjoy a beverage after your round.
Banyan Creek is a private club that is welcoming new members. There are four memberships available: Annual, Executive, Seasonal, and Second Home. The last being available to members of other private clubs in Palm Beach, Martin or St. Lucie Counties.
To see if Banyan Creek is right for you and schedule a tour or a round of golf, contact head professional Chick Knebels at (772) 320-9845 or dawn@BanyanCreekGC.com.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.