The Concession Golf Club

The Concession, a collaborative design between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, was first opened in 2006 in the Sarasota area to be the centerpiece of  a high end exclusive residential golf development.  It gets it’s name from the fact that these two were the protagonists in a famous concession of a two-foot putt at the final match of 1969 Ryder Cup that resulted in the first tie in the match’s history.  In the annals of golf this goes down as one of the most gracious gestures of sportsmanship we have seen in our sport.  The golf course was designed with match play in mind in hope that some day a Ryder Cup will be contested there.

With the downturn in the economy right after the course opened the residential sales floundered and they only reached about half of the 200 members they had planned on.  Under this economic distress foreclosure loomed for the club and the surrounding residential real estate.  In 2009 Bruce Cassidy, the wealthy owner of a mining construction company, rode in on a white horse and put together an investment group to purchase the golf course and the 520 pristine acres of land it sits on.

He subsequently finished the construction of a planned $15 million dollar clubhouse and brought Nicklaus back in to make some course modifications to soften and make it a bit more playable for it’s members.  The only rooflines you will see are the clubhouse,  Mr. Cassidy’s home, and a couple of palatial guest houses for visiting dignitaries.  The result is an underutilized luxurious golf only facility with about 125 well heeled local, national, and international members.

Everything about the place is top shelf.  The clubhouse is appointed throughout with historical memorabilia to make you stop and stare.  Pro shop, locker room, bar, and dining facility are lavishly appointed and serviced with a casual air you would expect.  From the moment you hand your clubs to the young men at the bag drop to the time you pull away at the end of the day, they provide you with everything you want for a great day of golfing with friends.

The 23 acre practice facility alone is to die for.  Dual ended driving range sporting 10 target greens with full bunkering and Titlest Pro-V1s at every station.  A state of the art short game area where you can practice up to 80 yard shots and a 14,000 sq. ft. pitching green with bunkers and pitching areas that replicate what you will see on the course.  The practice putting green is 10,000 sq. ft. and has the same grasses, speed, and undulations as the course greens.  You could spend a whole day tooling around this practice area working on your game.

With so much ground to work with Jack and Tony designed a course that has unique character for this part of Florida.  The holes are framed with pines and oaks as well as low palmettos and pine straw.  Water comes into play on 15 holes and the bunkering throughout is generous.  Controlling your direction is key to avoiding the high numbers on your scorecard.  Fairways are Tiff Bermuda which can be maintained with minimal watering to keep them firm and fast.  The greens are also Bermuda and have the fancy sub-air system embedded in their understructure to manage ground moisture and temperature to optimize the grass condition and support lightening speeds.  Segmentation and tiering of these green complexes coupled with stimp readings of 12+ put this course in the championship caliber.

There are five sets of tees so it is incumbent upon you to listen carefully to the advice of your caddie and consider the day’s wind condition to pick a set that will allow you to be competitive and enjoy your afternoon.  They made the course eminently playable if you play with proper forethought.  Most holes have distinct challenges presented but, with careful planning,  there are alternative safer routes to play to avoid the dreaded stuff.  Take a page out of the Scottish/Irish playbook-play a match with your golf mates and make the medal score secondary to maximize your enjoyment.

The fairway bunker constellations are enormous and set opposed to most of the water hazards.  Generally the best line of play is close to those constellations but ending up in them can be as penal as the fish habitats.  Take a good look at the yardage book depiction on each tee and plod a route of play that makes the most sense. What is cool about the bunkers is that the sand is imported “Jack” sand which means it is firm, avoiding plug lies, and very playable from the fairway or greenside bunkers as well.  Most of the fairway bunkers have a foxhole character with a raised back edge so you can distinguish them clearly from the direction you are playing.  Once you walk past them they seem to disappear into the greenscape which gives for clean and majestic appearance when you look back down the fairway.

Short Par 4 8th has trouble lurking in the lagoon

 (Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)

There is an equal balance right and left challenges, which for Jack is unusual, so you are required to pick a line of approach and try to shape your shot accordingly.  Fortunately they were generous in the design and provide bail out areas if the shot required is not comfortable and even some collaring bunkers and grassy areas to take some of the harshness off the forced carries required.  Short and long hitters will both find what they like through the day-some of the most challenging holes are the ones where distance is of no advantage and articulate shot execution returns a premium.

Green setting at Par 5 15th requires pure precision

As a collection of holes, the five pars are the coolest holes you play all day.  Every one is a visual delight with protracted segmentation to give you many tactical approaches to playing them.   In most cases your second shot choices  are determined by your first shot result and often the best choice is not the obvious one.  This is not a simple I can go for it in two or I better lay up.  There are good lay ups and better lay ups and you may be abandoning your standard lay up distances depending on circumstance.

The par threes are the least memorable holes but in no way are they without interest.  Fact is the tactical approach to every one of them will change dramatically based on the daily pin position and the prevailing wind.  This is where you have to be careful of how much risk you take because missing on the wrong side will leave you very difficult recovery shots and an opportunity to waste valuable strokes.

Green at the 5th hangs precariously over the water

Many of the par fours are double breakers for me-holes that change direction twice-once on the tee shot and in opposition on the approach to the green.  Proper positioning off the tee makes the second shot considerably more manageable but getting to those spots can entail greater risk.  In match play this really puts pressure on you to play smart based on what your opponent has done.

Great look from the tee on the finishing Par 4 18th

Since you are unlikely to see more than a handful of groups out there taking the time to appreciate the scenery and the wildlife therein makes sense.  Beautiful birds can be seen throughout that compliment the flora and natural vegetation but there are alligators in the water hazards so don’t go mindlessly plodding about if you hit a wayward wet one.

To play here you will have to make an arrangement through your pro or know a member who can host you appearance.  This place is expensive so the beauty comes at a price.  But the value is in the full experience-atmosphere, scenery, and an afternoon of memorable golf.

Lakewood Ranch, Florida

Architect:  Jack Nicklaus & Tony Jacklin (2005)

Tee             Par    Yardage    Rating     Slope
Blue            72      6440        72.7        146
White          72      5909        69.6        137

(Click here to review The Concession hole-by-hole descriptions)

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