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Hawk’s Nest golf course now ranked one of Florida’s best

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of January 7, 2021)

For the first time since The Moorings acquired financially troubled Hawk’s Nest in 2015, the mainland golf course ranks among the best in the state of Florida, according to at least one influential golf industry website.

Hawk’s Nest at The Moorings was No. 30 in’s recently released, biennial rankings of Florida’s 1,300 courses.

“Without question, the Hawk’s Nest at The Moorings is the best course in Florida I had never heard of,” wrote Marc Bender, who runs three golf-related businesses in the state and serves as a rater on Top100’s course review team.

“I was shocked at what a solid and balanced test of golf this wonderful Florida course represents.”

The Moorings Golf Director Bob Gruber said Bender’s reaction was typical of golfers who play the 18-hole, championship-caliber Hawk’s Nest course for the first time.

Indeed, he said he fully expects the course, which has been refurbished but not redesigned since becoming a part of The Moorings Yacht & Country Club, to start appearing in other golf publications’ rankings.

“These rankings help significantly in terms of branding and notoriety, and the Hawk’s Nest course is the highest-ranked new entry in Florida,” Gruber said. “I’m thrilled, but I can’t say I’m surprised.

“Everybody who has played this course knows how great Hawk’s Nest is.”

Gruber said the course, designed by highly regarded architect Jim Fazio and built in 1987, often received industry recognition into the early 2000s, despite being overshadowed by John’s Island West, Orchid Island and, later, Quail Valley.

(Top100’s current Florida rankings had John’s Island West at No. 8, Quail Valley at No. 35, Orchid Island at No. 92 and RedStick at No. 93.)

But in 2008, the recession hit hard, and what was then Hawk’s Nest Golf Club began to struggle financially, as did many other golf clubs across America.

By the time Gruber was hired as the club’s general manager and golf director in 2014, the course was in decline – so much so that he stopped allowing raters from industry publications to review it.

“You can’t un-see something once you’ve seen it,” Gruber said, “and the course was in such poor shape.”

Under The Moorings’ banner for the past five years, however, the Hawk’s Nest course has enjoyed a renaissance.

After initially clearing some of the underbrush along the fairways, creating bail-out areas and adding tees to make a still-challenging layout less punitive and more playable, The Moorings replaced the course’s Tifway 419 grass with Celebration Bermuda-grass during the summer of 2018.

Gruber said the Celebration grass has become popular with many Florida golf clubs because it is “heartier” and more resistant to shade, drought and nematodes.

“Jim Fazio’s designs are timeless,” Gruber said. “The difference now is that we now have the staff and resources to properly and fully maintain the course, so, for the past couple of years, we’ve been ready to show it off.”

In fact, Gruber said he began inviting raters from golf publications to test drive the Hawk’s Nest course.

Already, though, The Moorings’ acquisition of the Hawk’s Nest course has paid dividends, attracting new and younger members to the club, which also operates The Moorings course, a shorter waterside Pete Dye-designed layout within the barrier island country club community.

“To have two terrific-but-different courses that complement each other is the best of all worlds – a win-win for everyone,” Gruber said, adding that the addition of the Hawk’s Nest course hasn’t diminished the appeal of The Moorings course.

“With the new members we’ve brought in, along with the Hawk’s Nest members who were given a great deal to come over, we’re pushing our maximum membership.

“Sometimes, one plus one equals more than two.”