Course Architect to Watch John Sanford


John Sanford is a quietly-rising star in a golf course design field already crowded with architects like Jim Engh, Gil Hanse, Randy Heckenkemper and, most notably, Tom Doak.
Their names dont resonate yet like Nicklaus, Fazio, Dye or the Jones brothers, Rees and Robert Trent Jr. But their work is increasingly fighting its way onto golfs radar screen in increasingly high profile places.
For his part, Sanford comes by his self-effacing style honestly. His father, Jack Sanford, won more than 100 games in a distinguished major league career highlighted by a 24-7 record with the 1962 San Francisco Giants.
Juliette Falls
Juliette Falls is located in Ocala, Fla.
When Jack Sanford passed away in 2000, Bob Stevens of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote these words: He was a bulky guy who would be a small-size right tackle on the football team. He wasnt delicate. He was out there to throw the baseball and he did it well. He wasnt afraid to brush back a hitter. He was an old school pitcher. He wasnt a Cadillac but he was a damn good Buick.
John Sanfords latest design is called Juliette Falls. It wasnt meant to be a fully-loaded Cadillac. But it is upscale. And it is a terrific ride.
Juliette Falls meanders through the horse country of north central Florida near Ocala. And it is a wonderful blend of tumbling land (rare in Florida, the flattest state in the Union) and water hazards that command attention but dont punish a well-struck shot.
Sanford, based in Jupiter on the east coast of Florida, has partnered with Champions Tour player Bruce Fleisher and Nicklaus Design on more than 60 courses around the world.
In Juliette Falls, which opened in October and is slated to become part of a private golf and spa living community, Sanford has produced just the kind of home run his father made a living preventing.
It stretches to 7,300 yards (Par 72) from the tips and the developers let Sanford to what Sanford felt he needed to do. They didnt squeeze me on the land, Sanford said after a recent round there. They didnt pigeonhole me.
Golf Magazine recently thought enough of Juliette Falls to name it one its Top 10 Best New Courses in America for 2007.
Wrote the magazines editors: Architect John Sanford has coaxed a classic parkland layout from gently rolling terrain, and while there are a few bells and whistles'four waterfall features and eye-catching waste bunkers dotted with shrubbery and wire grass'the courses strength lies in the variety of its par 4s and the standout quartet of par 3s, two which feature Daliesque greens that seemingly melt into the water. Gallop over here before it goes private sometime down the road.
That, of course, is part of the problem with writing a course review about a course that is private or soon to become private. I could recommend Augusta National, too. But its a tough invite to coax.
Juliette Falls, to me, is a smart design. Its long par 3 third (239 from the back) allows for a low hard cut that offers a naturally friendly kick off a left sidewall to the player who makes the proper decision and plays the right strike.
It has more than one par 4 that slopes downhill to the green. Elevated greens are fine. But too many designers build too many of them with no better justification than easy drainage.
To be sure, Juliette Falls will not be pigeonholed. The whole experience reminded me of the first time I ever played a Tom Doak course (High Pointe in Michigan) or a Jim Engh course (Tullymore, also in Michigan).
I immediately knew I wanted to follow their subsequent works closely. Doak delivered with Pacific Dunes. Sanford, who openly talks about his admiration for the designs of the late Seth Raynor (one of my two or three favorite architects of all time), now goes on that list of designers I will watch closely in the future.
Jack Sanfords arm spoke for him. John Sanford lets his eye do the talking.
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