By Mike Graybeal
Nestled in the heart of Atlantic Beach is a gem that is in the process of being reimagined. Selva Marina Country Club has been a part of the North Florida golf scene since it was established in 1958. The club’s early success can be linked to its ability to capture the attention of golf fans in the mid-1960s.
The course hosted such events as the Greater Jacksonville Open (GJO) in 1965-66 along with an exhibition match between Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead in 1962 that drew more than 5,000 fans. Selva Marina is also well-known because Jack Nicklaus recorded his first double-eagle in tournament competition on the 18th hole in the GJO in 1966. Over the years, the GJO was held at several area courses and was the predecessor for what we now know as THE PLAYERS Championship.
The club has been a staple for area residents and their families for more than 50 years. Unfortunately, over the last several years, the club has been on a downward trend that put it on the verge of being extinct. Several factors were involved in the decline of the club, but leading the way was the overall condition of the golf course and facilities. The golf course was irrigated with water pulled from Sherman’s Creek, which runs throughout the course and has a high-salt content, killing the grass over time. As the condition of the course began to suffer, so did the membership numbers and overall revenue.
The club was in serious trouble and many thought the end was in sight. Fortunately, in 2013 a plan was put in place and finalized that will restore this once great club. And the plan is not just be a patch job or a temporary fix. The club needed something drastic that would spark excitement in the community. Something had to be done that would capture the essence of what was once Selva Marina Country Club and transfer it into a new, contemporary golf course community. The answer to that is the new Atlantic Beach Country Club.
Atlantic Beach Partners, LLC purchased the property in late 2013 and is transforming the 180-plus acre property into a modern country club community. Atlantic Beach Partners (ABP) purchased the land from the former Selva Marina Country Club, which closed late last year. ABP is spending approximately $22 million building a new 16,000-square-foot clubhouse, a junior Olympic-size swimming pool, seven Har-Tru tennis courts, a new 18-hole, 6,815-yard championship course designed by Erik Larsen and creating 178 single-family home sites that will surround the golf course. The project’s dream team includes Larsen as the course designer, Berkshire Hathaway Homes Services for homesite sales, Alan MacCurrach with MacCurrach Golf Construction, preferred builders Riverside Homes and Toll Brothers, Cronk Duch Architecture, ValleyCrest Landscaping, and RPC General Contractors.
Larsen has quite the track record and has been involved in designing more than 98 golf courses across the world. This one will be special to him, as it’s located in his hometown. Larsen has been in the golf course design business since 1983 when joined Arnold Palmer Design Company in Ponte Vedra, where he worked until 2011. During that time he learned the business from his mentor and local architectural legend, Ed Seay. Larsen reached his pinnacle in the golf course architect profession when he was named president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. His noteworthy projects include Dakota Dunes (Best New Golf Course Award- Golf Digest), Turtle Bay Hilton (Oahu), Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Lodge (Arnold Palmer Invitational), Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Silver Rock Resort. It’s safe to say Larsen is the perfect choice to make this dream of Atlantic Beach Country Club a reality.
Larsen is very enthusiastic about the future of the project and estimated that he did at least six renderings of the design before he found the perfect fit for the property. One of the benefits of the new course will be utilizing the native North Florida ecology in his design. This will include the use of native palms, live oaks, palmetto bushes and other native vegetation natural to the area.
His design concept for most of his courses is a risk-versus-reward style course.
“The further you hit the ball, the harder the course gets,” he said. “ If you get risky on your tee shot and take an aggressive angle, you could be rewarded on your next shot.”
He also stated the importance of designing the course to appeal to each specific level of player.
“The trick to a good golf course is making it hard for the good players and fun for the average golfer,” said Larsen. “I want to see the top players in the area walk off the 18th green and talk about how demanding the course is. ”
The new Atlantic Beach Country Club will also benefit from the partnership with the City of Atlantic Beach. This partnership will allow the club to install a completely new irrigation system that will utilize the city’s re-used water. This is a win-win for both the city and the new club. The turf will now benefit by the removal of the destructive salty water from Sherman’s Creek.
“Atlantic Beach Country Club will also be up to the highest recommended USGA standards,” said PGA Director of Golf Spencer Brown.
The new standards put an emphasis on green construction and maintenance. The goal and trend of most new courses is less irrigation. The focus is to utilize more natural areas around the main playing areas of the course therefore decreasing the amount of area that needs irrigation.
The course and new club are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
For more information, please visit www.atlanticbeachcountryclub.com.