Aqua Range Serves Many Purposes for New Golf Community

One of the advantages to having an aqua range, at least from a developer’s standpoint, is the amount of extra dirt that can be utilized to build up the golf course and surrounding homes in the community. Dirt is gold in the swamplands of Florida, and by excavating several acres to create a water range, developers can spread that dirt around and save tons of money.

“Instead of taking five acres of dry land to build a driving range, they build a pond, use the dirt, save the money and then contract me to put floating greens out there,” said Aqua Greens Owner Matthew Gault. “It’s sort of like a win-win-win situation. The only loser is the guy who likes to hit the long ball because he’s going to lose about 8 percent of his distance [with the floater balls].”  

Moving dirt wasn’t the primary reason behind the aqua range at the brand newEsplanade at Azario Lakewood Ranch, a dynamic 18-hole championship golf course located 20 miles northeast of Sarasota, Fla. It was a contributing factor, however, says Esplanade at Azario General Manager Yasvani Barreiro, noting that the large pond also serves as a backup water supply.

“This is my first experience with an aqua range,” said Barreiro, who previously served as the assistant GM at Butler National Golf Club outside of Chicago and golf operations manager at Trump National Doral in Miami. “From a practice standpoint, obviously you have limitations to the range balls you have to use and all of that, but in a developer-driven world, it’s sometimes necessary. The goal was to make the best of it and give our members and guests the best range possible, and that’s where Matt and his guys came in. They executed exactly what we asked of them.”

Aqua Greens installed four floating greens on the large, 17-acre aqua range—two 15 x 20-foot oval target greens, one 9 x 12 kidney target green and one 10-foot circle target green. The greens were set in place during the third week of March, just as many states were going into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida didn’t go into shutdown mode until early April, but it was still an anxious time for the crew of two that was sent down to install the greens. Fortunately, nobody got sick, but it would be Aqua Greens’ last installation project for several months.

Esplanade at Azario Lakewood Ranch opened to the general public for a limited time only on May 18, 2020. Designed by noted golf course architect Chris Wilczynski, who also designed nearby Esplanade Golf & Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, the course is the HOA centerpiece of the private, luxury resort community. Developed by award-winning homebuilder Taylor Morrison, resort amenities will include the golf course, a resort-style swimming pool, Bahama Bar, fitness and wellness center, fire pits and more. Once a certain occupancy is established, then the HOA will determine whether the course remains open to the public or goes private or semi-private.

The course has six sets of tees ranging from 3,703 to 7,007 yards, and also has the additional flexibility to extend to 7,350 yards since the tees are not your typical segmented boxed tees. The plates and pin locations can be moved to make certain holes play longer or significantly shorter, adding a risk-award element to play.

“One of the problems when you have the same architect designing two courses within 4 miles of each other is that there can many similarities,” said Barreiro. “But it’s a completely different design. There’s more character around the greens and more variability with all of the different tee settings. It’s challenging but it’s playable for all levels of golfers, and families.”

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