Silva retools Ocean Course at The Breakers

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

PALM BEACH, -- Even the oldest and the best of them have to be put down for a while so they can get better. The Ocean Course at The Breakers Palm Beach, Florida's oldest 18-hole layout, will close in mid-May so as to undergo a comprehensive, $4 million renovation by architect Brian Silva. This historic design, whose original holes were laid out by Alex Findlay in 1897, is scheduled to reopen for resort play in November.

Guest access to the luxury hotel's alternate course, Breakers West Golf Club, will not be affected by the Ocean Course project, according to Dan St. Louis, director of golf at the oceanfront resort.

"With Silva heading this revitalization effort, we can expect to transform the Ocean Course into one of the finest vintage courses in the U.S.," St. Louis explained. "We will raise the bar on The Breakers golf experience to a premium level that complements the highest standards found throughout the resort. Ultimately, we feel the Ocean Course renovation will benefit the overall guest and member experience."

While his recent original designs (Cape Cod National GC in Brewster, Mass.; Waverly Oaks GC in Plymouth, Mass.) earned him 1999 "Architect of the Year" honors from Golf World magazine, Silva remains one of golf's leading practitioners of vintage course restoration. The architect's list of clients in Florida alone -- Seminole, Gulfstream, CC of Orlando, Card Sound, Riviera and Jupiter Island Club -- is long and impressive; it's also ultra private. At The Breakers resort, guests and members will finally see for themselves why Silva's skills are in such demand.

"The goal at The Breakers is to end up with a golf course that offers the best possible playing conditions while looking and playing more like a vintage golf course," said Silva, a partner with Uxbridge, Mass.-based Cornish, Silva and Mungeam, Inc. (CSM). "We all agreed the layout needed to be brought up to a level of quality consistent with the hotel. The footprint of a great golf course is here, but we have to re-inject what's been lost to the rigors of time."

The Ocean Course has been tinkered with on many occasions; its proximity to the Atlantic has exposed it to the elements non-stop for more than a century. In other words, very little of Findlay's original work remains. Silva has undertaken a thorough overhaul, rather than just painting over the existing canvas: 18 new putting surfaces, 88 new or rebuilt bunkers, state-of-the-art turfgrass tee to green, dozens of mature palm and tropical-flowering trees and new cart paths.

Silva has added 200 yards to the layout, which will play to a same par (70 from the back tees, 72 from the front). The hole locations remain the same, but their order of play has been recast to reduce the necessary road crossings from four to two.

"By hiring Brian Silva, we felt we could best maintain the classic style of the course, the 'Old Palm Beach' character," added St. Louis. "We're never going to host a tour event here; we're restoring an heirloom, creating something unique. These are extraordinary improvements, but we are determined NOT to do anything out of character here."

The concurrent construction of a brand new 30,000 square foot golf & tennis clubhouse will complement the course renovation.

The Breakers Palm Beach, home to the Todd Anderson Golf Academy, is a Mobil Five-Star, AAA five diamond resort, and is regarded by many as the crown jewel of Florida's east coast. The 569-room, Italian Renaissance-style hotel is located in the heart of Palm Beach and resides on 140 acres of oceanfront property. Founded in 1896 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel recently completed a $100 million revitalization and expansion effort, complementing Silva's work at the Ocean Course.

Outside Florida, Silva's recent restoration credits also include the Donald Ross-designed Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, N.C., site of last year's USGA Women's Amateur. In Pittsburgh, the architect is currently preparing Seth Raynor's Fox Chapel Golf Club for the Curtis Cup Matches in 2002.

In addition to its course restoration work, CSM will open five original layouts in 2000, including Black Creek Club (Silva's hotly anticipated Raynor homage in Chattanooga, Tenn.) and Mark Mungeam's Colt's Neck (N.J.) Golf & Country Club. Partners Geoffrey Cornish, Silva and Mungeam currently have projects under construction as far afield as Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and Guatemala, not to mention all six New England states, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois, where Mungeam is now preparing the North Course at Olympia Fields CC for the 2003 U.S. Open.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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