Focusing on the community: M.G. Orender and Hampton Golf, Inc.

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you want to know the secret to running a string of successful golf courses you could do worse than to ask M.G. Orender.

M.G. Orender
M.G. Orender, president of Hampton Golf, Inc.
M.G. Orender
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As President of Hampton Golf, Inc. Orender is directly responsible for a quartet of daily-fee clubs that have redefined the standard of service and excellence for First Coast golf developments. One of the keys to Orender's ability to produce such a high caliber of public golf is his partnership arrangement with developer Ed Burr, founder, President, and CEO of LandMar Group. Both men understand that the symbiotic relationship between a golf course and its surrounding community can be beneficial to both. Golf is never relegated to second-citizen status in a Hampton/LandMar product, a rare achievement that anyone who has ever played golf in Florida will appreciate.

Orender, who has been a player in Florida golf management since 1974, is also vice president of the PGA of America. In January of 1999, he was approached by Burr to form Hampton Golf, a venture in which the better aspects of golf course planning would be combined with LandMar's real estate acumen. Under the guidance of Orender and Burr, Hampton Golf seeks to produce and operate player-friendly, club-like courses surrounded by attractive, upscale homes. It's an arrangement that, in just three years, has been as successful as it has been unique.

The first Hampton Golf product hit the market in late 1999 with the opening of The Golf Club at South Hampton, a gentle Mark McCumber design just south of Jacksonville.

While South Hampton was being built, the group next purchased the Jack Nicklaus-designed Grand Haven (at right) 20 miles south, formerly the strong link in the Palm Coast Resort rotation.

When The Golf Club at North Hampton debuted last year, Hampton Golf finally had a course worthy of recognition beyond the region. North Hampton is bold and masculine, one of the more extreme courses Arnold Palmer Course Design has built to date. Finally, Osprey Cove, generally considered among the top daily-fee courses in Georgia, was purchased in December of 2001 to punctuate Hampton's dominant streak.

"Ed and I started Hampton Golf in January of 1999, so in three short years we've done pretty well," Orender says.

"We put a lot back in our properties. Our golf courses are in incredible condition and we've got very good superintendents. We personally hire all the inside personnel and everything we do is incredibly golf-oriented. I'm proud of the service levels at our clubs, and when you see what we do, it is honestly second to none. You get an experience like you are at an incredibly high end daily fee club or a private club and it's a very moderately price golf experience"

"We try to give more than (what) the consumer is paying for in services and conditions"

Hampton Golf's desire to emphasize harmonious, understated interaction between golf and residence is evident in each of the four golf course developments. None of the 72 holes, spread from St. Marys, Georgia down the I-95 corridor south to Palm Coast, have housing on more than one boundary, and many possess none.

Despite their ever-present partnership with real estate, Hampton Golf's courses manage to play independent of the surrounding development without having to separate themselves completely. To each of the four courses there is a feeling of space -- even at tight Osprey Cove, due to the expansive vistas over St. Marys River basin. That is a rare commodity in northeast Florida.

Hampton's initial focus has been the greater Jacksonville area, in part because the golf scene, outside of the Ponte Vedra area to the south, is relatively unexploited on a large scale. Orender and Burr believe that right now there is greater opportunity in this part of the state than any other.

"Jacksonville is one of the great undiscovered markets anywhere," Orender states emphatically. "I travel the country and people will regularly say to me, 'We're going to Florida this winter for vacation and we're thinking of Boca, or West Palm Beach, or Naples,' and I look at them and I say 'Why not Jacksonville?'

"We have an incredible array of places to come and stay that match anything in this country," Orender continues, citing resorts from the Ponte Vedra Beach area north to Amelia Island. "We're just very bullish as a company on this whole market up here"

As successful, and hopefully influential, as Hampton Golf has been in northeast Florida, the company is nevertheless branching out. Hampton and LandMar are actively seeking new development opportunities, searching for properties throughout the state from Jacksonville to Tampa and as far south as Sarasota.

One development that is sure to pique the interest of golfers throughout the state is a project about to break ground north of Tampa. Hampton Golf and LandMar has secured 1,800 acres of property near the Brooksville area for a new development and have already hired Pete Dye as golf course architect. Those familiar with this part of the state understand the fascinating land opportunities the area affords. Three courses already in existence there are among the most distinctive and charismatic in Florida: World Woods' Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks and The Dunes at Seville.

"We're very fortunate there," Orender explains. "We have retained Pete Dye, we have a land plan, and we're in the permitting and approval process as we speak. God willing, that will all be wrapped up here pretty soon"
"The property that's there, the topography, is incredible. We have four hills on the property that are around 80' above sea level and the property's rise in four different points is up to 280' above sea level, which in Florida is mountainous"

"It's going to lend itself to a pretty incredible golf course," Orender says of the heavily timbered land that was formerly part nursery, part orange grove, and part cow pasture. "Then you throw Pete Dye in the mix and you're always guaranteed a pretty incredible golf course"

Orender speaks highly of Dye, whom he has known and worked with in the past. "When it comes to drainage, he could write the book. When he looks at a piece of property he can in a matter of minutes tell you what needs to be done to make it efficiently drain. He is an absolute, positive, bona fide genius"

After the Brooksville project, Orender doesn't expect Hampton Golf to build another golf course development for some time. Instead the company will concentrate on acquiring existing developments.

"We love to look at communities that (for whatever reason) there is a development with a golf course in place that we can buy for a fair price that we think we can turn around. We have an incredible golf team but we also have an incredible development team (under) Ed Burr. We have everything in-house so we go in and can literally turn a community around pretty quickly, and that group did that at Grand Haven and they're in the process of revitalizing the Osprey Cove project" Unfortunately for the public, the success that Orender and Hampton Golf have engineered can ultimately be too great. In this case, such success means that Grand Haven will likely turn private in August or September of this year, with Osprey Cove following suit in roughly two years. The Florida golfer who wants to experience this refreshing brand of development golf must hurry out to see these courses while they're still available.

And which of the four courses should they play first? Though each could rightfully stake a claim to being the flagship property, Orender won't tip his hat to any one specifically.

"It's like if you had four sons and one was an All-American in football, one in baseball, one in golf and one in tennis. You're proud of them all and you're into whatever one you're watching at the time"

So while the rest of the state awaits further developments from Brooksville, golfers on the First Coast will happily indulge in Jacksonville's All-American lineup courtesy of Hampton Golf.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.


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