By Dave Allen
When Matt Gault bought Aqua Greens in 2002, one of his very first calls was to The Ocean Club Course at Hutchinson Island Beach Resort in Stuart, Fla. The 18-hole executive course was one of a few courses in South Florida to have an aqua range at the time, only they had buoys as targets, not actual target greens or island greens.
“They were 20 years deep in my contact list,” Gault says.
Then last summer, the Marriott franchise came under new ownership and management. One of the first things on their agenda was to upgrade the aqua range, make it more of a destination for golfers and resort guests, not just birds and turtles.
“We had some buoys out there, but after a hurricane they sank,” said Joe Ryan, the long-time director of golf at the Marriott Hutchinson Island Beach Resort Golf & Marina. “Then one of our guys built a homemade green. Unfortunately, it took on water and began to look a lot like the Titanic. The birds and turtles loved it, turned it into their own oasis out there.”
Ryan had waited years to make over the range, and as soon as he got the green light from ownership he reached out to Gault. This July, with the heat index often running well into the 100s, Gault and his team installed three target greens—a 9 x 12-foot, kidney-shaped green, 10’ x 15’ oval-shaped green and 15’ x 20’ oval. The biggest oval sits approximately 130 yards from the teeing area, while the other floats at 80 yards and the kidney green at 50 yards.
The limited-distance range is approximately 200 yards in length, and with a parking lot sitting on the other side of the range, installing any additional targets in for the driver and fairway woods is not a viable option.
“I wish we had a bigger range,” says Ryan, “because I’d load the thing up. I’d have them all over there. There’s just a really fun vibe to the range now, whether you’re warming up to play or you want to bring your family over to hit balls. They [resort guests] hit the green, and they love it.”
In addition to his role as director of golf, Ryan also serves as the club’s head professional. In the short time the new aqua range has been in place, Ryan says he notices a big difference in the quality of lessons he’s able to give, now that his students have actual targets to aim at.
“That’s the good and bad side of teaching on an aqua range—a ball in the water can still be a good shot,” Ryan says. “But now I can say, ‘Let’s aim at the middle of that green.’ That’s going to help the student immensely because that’s what you do when you’re on the course. A lot of my students are also at that stage where we’re trying to club them, and figure out how far they hit certain clubs. So, it they’re hitting one of their wedges 80 yards, that’s very helpful for when they go out and play.”
One of Ryan’s favorite features about the greens is that they’re pitched from back to front, so the golfer can see the surface of the green from the tee. All three target greens are also visible from just about anywhere in the clubhouse, from the pro shop to the retail space to the meeting/dining area (pictured).
“I’m really happy about it,” Gault says. “The product looks good on their range, but it also looks good from inside the golf operations, in the clubhouse. It’s good that they bought some nice greens because they’re going to look at them every day inside the building. Before we left the tee line was swamped with people hitting balls and having a heck of a good time.”
It was 20 years in the making, but it seems like it was well worth the wait for everyone involved.