From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
Perhaps the most notorious course in Florida was Aberdeen Golf & Country Club in Boynton Beach, the late Desmond Muirhead’s 1987 return to America after a 12-year self-imposed absence. It was his statement course, full of symbolism and self-indulgent Desmond eccentricities, with holes based on Gestalt psychology, Henry Moore sculpture, Biblical scripture and the contours of a mermaid.
All of Aberdeen's bunkers shaped like stars, fish, and giant handprints are gone now, following a total redesign in 2017 by Jim Fazio, Tom Fazio’s older brother, who has always had just as much talent and experience but never the equivalent construction budgets.
Surprisingly, Jim wasn’t hired to eradicate Desmond. He was hired to solve massive drainage issues. The course sits in a bowl, surrounded by homes, and after every rain, at least two holes would be closed for days.
Fazio added 425 drains and miles of underground pipe connecting 225 catch basins, those dips in fairways and rough where water—and golf balls—flow into. (Any architect who disses catch basins has never worked in rainy Florida.) He also rebuilt tees, greens and bunkers from drain tile up and, in the process, with the club’s approval, shoved Muirhead aside.
Aberdeen is now a far more conventional Florida course, with sculptured bunkers, flowing greens and bulkheads edging water hazards. The one Muirhead feature Fazio retained is the alternate island fairway on the par-5 fourth. (“It embraces all the Homeric ideas of courage rewarded for obstacles overcome by bravery, tenacity and sheer ability,” Muirhead wrote of the alternate fairway back in 1987, adding, “Odysseus would have liked this hole.” During my tour of the course, Fazio summed it up differently: “It cuts a hundred yards off the hole.”) To compensate for the reduced length, Jim installed a diagonal Biarritz green at No. 4, the most dramatic on the course.
The par-4 sixth was Muirhead's old Mae West hole. Fazio's elder son, Jimmy, who served as his shaper, bulldozed away the twin mounds in front of the green. The par-3 eighth over a pond was Desmond's Dragon Hole, the green shaped like a dragon's snout and an island sand bunker serving as a puff of smoke from the snout. They sank the island and reshaped the green.
Gone, too, is the Mermaid Hole, the par-5 11th, where a curvaceous fairway was pinched by water right and left. “When I played the course," Fazio said, "I didn’t know, until someone told me, that I was teeing up on a mermaid tailfin.”
Because the course is irrigated with effluent water, it was regrassed in salt-tolerant platinum paspalum, wall-to-wall including putting surfaces. The fairway approaches are now mowed nearly at green height, so golfers can putt from 50 yards in front of the green.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of today's Aberdeen are its seven tee boxes per hole, which makes some holes look very cluttered. The additional tees were at the club's request, general manager Michael DePietro explained. "Our clientele is age 50 to 90. The average member handicap is 28. We take Tee it Forward seriously. We put out eight tee markers on every hole and have successfully moved many members forward to where they should properly play the course to enjoy it."
The course reconstruction cost $8.75 million. The club was able to fund it without a special assessment of the membership. Back when the development was founded, every home was subject to a covenant in its deed: Each time the house is sold or resold, the sale carries with it a membership fee that goes into the Aberdeen infrastructure fund. Aberdeen was able to borrow the necessary money from a bank and cover all its debt service from that fund generated by some 1,700 homes.
As attractive as Aberdeen now is, all harsh edges softened and landscaped with palmettos and poincianas, Fazio is still proudest of his engineering accomplishment. "Right after we reopened, we got two and a half inches of rain," he said. "They were able to play and ride carts on fairways the next day."
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