Pro golf's hottest new address: Jupiter, Fla.Tiger Woods, who previously lived in Orlando, moved to Jupiter, Fla., last year.February 28, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
JUPITER, Fla. -- At the intersection of Florida State Road A1A and South Beach Road, just before you cross a small drawbridge that spans one of several waterways that lazily wind through this sliver of southeast Florida, a police car sits in an empty parking lot, keeping an eye on the traffic going on and off Jupiter Island. It's been that way ever since Tiger Woods moved to town last year and instantly became the most famous of the some 50,000 residents in this sleepy, albeit wealthy, town.
Planet Jupiter THE MEMBERS: There are three main clubs (Medalist, Bear's Club and Dye's Preserve) that serve as a base for PGA TOUR players in Palm Beach and Martin Counties. Here's a look at players with memberships there. LIST
There are no signs of paparazzi, and certainly not inside the gates of the ultra private Jupiter Inlet Colony community, where Woods now lives. But if you want to bump into a pro golfer, the stretch of Sunshine State that runs from Hobe Sound, just north of Jupiter, down the coast to West Palm Beach might be your best bet these days. After all, that's where Rory McIlroy met Jack Nicklaus for the first time when the two spotted one another in the parking lot of the Gardens Mall the week of the 2009 Honda Classic.
It used to be that Orlando was literally and figuratively the center of the golf universe -- and it's still the leader in the clubhouse in terms of players living there -- but the Jupiter area is quickly gaining ground with Woods, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas and Steve Marino among the dozens of current PGA TOUR players now calling the area home (not to mention several more part-time residents such as Luke Donald or those from the Nationwide and Champions Tours and LPGA).
There are a number of reasons why so many are migrating farther south and closer to the coast in income tax-free Florida. For one, there's been a dramatic rise in earnings over the last 15 years, and, subsequently, private jet usage -- no longer does a top player need to live near a big international airport, like Orlando. For another, there's that old real estate adage: location, location, location.
"In Orlando, there's a bunch of lakes, but it's not the ocean," says Woods, who moved from Isleworth to a $54 million compound with nearly 10,000 square feet of living space on 12 oceanfront acres complete with a tee box, bunkers and four practice greens with different types of grasses. "Jupiter is just a great area to live."
That's what attracted Greg Norman to nearby Hobe Sound nearly three decades after Nicklaus left the Ohio winters in 1965 and planted his flag at Lost Tree Village in North Palm Beach.
"I grew up on the beach in Australia, and I wanted to get to the beach here. I was in Orlando at the time, and Orlando to me was very claustrophobic," Norman said. "Barbara [Nicklaus] and Jack were very instrumental, and I spoke to them a lot about it. They told me about the great climate and the atmosphere of the golf clubs. They said people are pretty low-key in this part of the world."
The opportunity to practice 52 weeks a year also appealed to Norman. Orlando, meanwhile, can get frosty in the winter months. Other states such as Arizona and Nevada -- two smaller player hotbeds that, like Florida, don't have a state income tax -- can be chilly and even get occasional snow or ice.
"There's no warmer place in the country in the winter months than South Florida," said Tom Gillis, a Michigan native who called Orlando, Naples and Clearwater home before settling on Jupiter. "The one thing I really liked is you get quite a bit of wind. I thought that was good to practice in."
Kris Blanks, who lived outside Washington D.C., before moving just down the street from Gillis two years ago, agrees.
While Blanks used to play a lot of golf solo in D.C., where the weather isn't exactly conducive to practicing, he can now get a game with any number of fellow pros at one of the several clubs in the area. "I can't tell you how many rounds I played by myself up in the D.C. area," he said. "You get bored by the 12th or 13th hole and lose focus on what you're doing."
Since moving to Jupiter, Blanks' focus, and consequently his play, has improved. After just one top-10 and barely $300,000 in earnings in 2009, Blanks notched three top-10s, including a runner-up, and more than $1.1 million in earnings each of the last two years.
Most players here belong to either Medalist Golf Club, which was founded by Norman in 1995, The Bear's Club, founded by Nicklaus in 1999 or Dye Preserve, built by Pete Dye in the late 1980s. For TOUR players, the clubs often waive initiation fees, offer a discounted annual membership fee and even go so far as to stock the driving range with the same type of golf balls its pro-playing members use.
At the Dye Preserve, the goal is to replicate some of the conditions that TOUR pros will find in actual competition.
"We have TOUR pin Mondays here where we set up the pins 2, 3, 4 paces from the edge of the green," said Matt Doyle, director of golf at the Dye Preserve. "Our practice greens here are like TOUR greens. We have 12 different types of balls on the range. We try to accomodate them by giving them a day when the course is set up like the courses they play."
THE LOCAL SCENE: Several low-key hangouts in the Jupiter area have afforded TOUR players a chance to blend into the local scene. Story
Medalist, with a steep course rating of 74.5 and slope of 142, has been the most popular destination with more than 30 TOUR players, including Woods and Fowler as current members.
"I wanted to have a small membership; not a men's club, but a real good, high-quality, high-end golf club where you had to be a good player to play it," said Norman, who designed the 7,200-yard layout with Dye. "You feel like you're going to a PGA TOUR event on the range except we're allowed to wear shorts and our shirts out of our pants and stuff like that, which is pretty cool."
Says Fowler of the Medalist membership: "They're there to play golf; they're not there to mess around."
Case in point: The competition that goes on at Medalist is as good as any on TOUR. When Woods shot a 10-under 62 to break the course record there last fall, his round included 10 birdies and a 29 on the back with an eagle on the 18th hole to beat a group of 10 players -- including Norman, Marino and Jesper Parnevik -- by two strokes.
Earlier in the year, after Fowler had won the much ballyhooed Pro-Member tournament at nearby Seminole Golf Club, another super-exclusive course in the area, he added the Member-Caddie title at Medalist.
Medalist president Dee Mudd said each pro is treated as "just one of the guys. We want them to be members, but they also give back to the club by playing in our member-guest and member-member.
"We're all about golf and we're only about golf."
Fowler, who grew up in California and briefly lived in Las Vegas when he first turned pro, had considered settling in Texas, but Florida won out after he spent time in Tequesta with Olin Browne and family. Fowler thought about Orlando but quickly eliminated the city. "It's landlocked. It can get touristy," he said. "Jupiter is more laid back. I can go to the beach, go boating, go fish, play golf."
Bradley, a member at The Bear's Club and Dye Preserve, found a similar appeal. "The weather is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than Orlando, and the courses are amazing," he said. "The area is like paradise, it's like you're on vacation 24/7. I was eager to get over there."
In doing so, he joins a growing list of players who have flocked to what is now the hottest address in golf.