PALM CITY, Fla. - Martin and Palm Beach Counties comprise one of the most golf-crazy areas in the world. The sheer number of courses is overwhelming. Just spend a few minutes on Google Maps looking at all of them and you'll get some idea.
The Fox Club kind of sits off by itself a little bit, a few miles west of the ocean and up against an inland stretch of I-95, before the highway swings back east toward the tony communities of Hobe Sound and Jupiter. This puts it at a slight geographical remove from the communities and clubs of Palm City, Stuart and points south.
It's also at a bit of an ideological remove. Originally called Cobblestone, the course opened in 1990 - the first design in the career of architect Roy Case - and for a while was said to be a winter hangout for certain members of organized crime from the Northeast. There's even a story about a former member's jilted wife driving the family car in through the front door of the clubhouse.
Whatever the early days were like, The Fox Club is a decidedly low-drama club now. In 2004, it was bought by a group of investors former Northern Irish golf pro Eoghan O'Connell, and renovated at O'Connell's direction, as well as that of Darren Clarke. Under its new ownership and name, The Fox Club came to become one of a handful of area clubs frequented by professional golfers, particularly the over-50 set. Larry Laoretti, Gene Sauers and Fred Funk are a few of the PGA Tour Champions set who have been linked to the club over time.
One of the newest members of The Fox Club is Jesper Parnevik. Swedish meatballs are on the menu in the clubhouse restaurant. This is not entirely coincidental, as in the last couple years, the club came under the ownership of a new group, one that includes retired Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg.
The new Swedish influence has not supplanted the old regime, but merely further diversified the vibe. The Fox Club's Director of Golf is Mark Murphy, an affable Irishman who won The Big Break: Ireland in 2011. Murphy oversees a membership that includes several low-handicappers; the Wednesday and Saturday Stableford games are birdie-fests on a course whose back tees don't stretch too far (about 7,100 yards), but offer up a stern test.
Bottom line: This is not your stereotypical South Florida Club.
The culture of The Fox Club is distinct; the course, somewhat less so. O'Connell and Clarke expanded some fairways and reworked some bunkers in 2004, but the course does have familiar South Florida features. "Whatever you do, keep it in front of you," said one experienced player I talked to. He was right - accuracy off the tee is a must. The par-4 sixth is not a long hole, but with a slightly offset left-to-right running fairway that is scarcely more than 25 yards wide at any point, it can fray the nerves of a wild hitter. This is one of the reasons why elite competitive players laud The Fox Club - if you can drive it straight there, you can hit fairways anywhere.
If you can get yourself in play, scoring chances do appear as long as you don't force the issue (patience: another virtue of competitive golf). The very first hole is a 500-yard par five with a small elevated green, but one where contours can help gather an approach shot close to the cup. Gamblers will have to wait until the eighth, a fun double-dogleg par five with water in play on every shot and an ivy-covered bridge connecting two sections of fairway, to roll the dice.
"Fairways and greens" continues to be the motto all the way around the course, culminating at a final candy cane-shaped par five that curls around a lake, with hazard lining both sides of the tee shot landing area. Bold tee shots are rewarded with the chance for a heroic carry across the lake and a potential eagle or easy birdie chance. But less-skilled players have to tack the long way around, in which case making par can be a struggle.
My favorite aspect of The Fox Club course is the greens, which tend to be more undulating than most in South Florida. One odd exception: the third green, which is both the biggest and the flattest on the course. The short par-4 second green has three distinct sections, requiring three different wedge approaches. The par-4 16th has a long, skinny putting surface that swells up about three feet in the middle; the approach plays totally differently depending on whether the pin is on the front or back (you'd better pray for it not to be in the middle, on top of the ridge).
Along the ninth fairway sits a four-bedroom lodge that sleeps up to six golfers and is available for $600 per night. Guests who stay there (reservations are available by contacting the club) receive playing privileges at the course, and a chance to enjoy the unique culture of the place. If you bring your A-game, you'll have a good time.