MY VERO: John’s Island West golf course a rising star

John’s Island members spent more than $500,000 to host the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, which the posh, oceanfront club used to showcase its spectacular – but too often under-appreciated – mainland golf course.

It proved to be money well-spent.

Not only has the response from Mid-Am competitors, U.S. Golf Association officials and tournament volunteers from across America been overwhelmingly positive, but JI’s West Course has gained greater recognition from golf publications.

In fact, the West Course was No. 20 on Golf Digest’s list of the “2016 Best Courses in Florida,” out of more than 1,500 in the state, and No. 65 on Golfweek’s 2016 ranking of the “Best Modern Courses” in the U.S.

The Top 100 Golf Courses website currently lists the West Course at No. 11 in Florida – up eight spots from 2015, making it one of only three layouts in the state to make a significant jump in the rankings.

And JI West was the only Indian River County course included on those lists.

“I’d say the event was wildly successful and the impact on John’s Island has all been very positive,” said Mark Mulvoy, the retired Sports Illustrated editor and John’s Island resident who was pivotal in bringing the Mid-Am to Vero Beach and served as tournament chairman.

“We’ve received more than 200 letters from players and another 20 or so from USGA officials, all of them saying how much they loved the golf course and expressing their appreciation for what went on here,” he added. “I’ve also gotten 100 letters from members who are very happy with what we were able to do.

“It was a tremendous effort by a lot of people, but when you get that kind of response and exposure for your golf course … We don’t have a regret in the world.”

The 2015 Mid-Am brought 264 amateurs, ages 25 and over with a Handicap Index of 3.4 or lower, to Vero Beach for the first USGA major championship played on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

The area’s second USGA major – the 2018 Senior Women’s Amateur Championship – will be played at the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club and will bring to town 132 players, ages 50 and over with a Handicap Index of 18.4 or lower.

Orchid Island resident and past-president Ted Hutton is serving as the tournament chairman for the 2018 event, which is scheduled for Oct. 4-11, and he believes the Senior Women’s Amateur will do for his club’s golf course what the Mid-Am did for JI West.

“It’s a great way to expose your club and your golf course,” Hutton said. “We’ve got one of the best golf courses in Florida – very challenging but fair, with water on 17 of 18 holes – but because we’re such a small club, people don’t know about it.

“We’re also a newer club, having celebrated our 25th anniversary only two years ago,” he added. “So we wanted to create a buzz, something that separates us from the others. This tournament does that.

“To host a USGA national championship breaks us out of the pack.”

Designed in 1990 by Arnold Palmer and nestled between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, the club has hosted several regional tournaments, including the 2008 and 2014 South Florida PGA Professional Championships, a 2009 U.S. Open local qualifier and the 2010 Florida Senior Amateur Match Play Championship.

“When we’ve had Florida amateur and PGA events here, the players have marveled at our course, and these players will love it, too,” Hutton said. “The USGA officials were very impressed when they came down to see it.”

While bringing the Senior Women’s Amateur to Orchid Island should draw the attention of golf publications that produce “Best Courses” rankings, Hutton believes the best marketing comes from word of mouth.

He said Orchid Island plans to “put on a superb championship,” an event that will be so memorable that players, officials and out-of-town volunteers and guests will talk about it when they return home.

“Even if they’re not in the market to move to Florida right now, they might be in the future,” Hutton said. “Or maybe they know someone who is considering moving to Florida and is looking for a terrific place to play golf.

“We want them to go back to wherever they’re from and tell people about their experience here – from the golf course to the club to the Vero Beach community.”

To that end, Hutton already has assembled a fundraising committee that has generated commitments for 40 percent of the tournament cost. He expects to be fully funded by February 2018.

He and his staff visited Nashville, Tenn., and Wellesley, Mass., sites of the past two Senior Women’s Amateur events, and he plans to bring several of his committee chairs to this year’s championship in Portland, Ore., in September.

Mulvoy said he’s looking forward to the Senior Women’s Amateur at Orchid Island – where he plans to volunteer – and he predicts more USGA national championships will find their way to Vero Beach.

He said Quail Valley is “set up to host a championship,” and he believes a men’s Senior Amateur Championship would be a “wonderful event” for JI West.

“There’s nothing in the works now, but the USGA is aware that the club is interested in hosting another championship,” Mulvoy said. “By the end of 2018, Vero Beach will have hosted two national championships in four years, and I guarantee you: In the next decade, you’ll see two more come here.”

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