Like most U.S. golf course architects, Erik
Larsen has done some soul-searching in
recent years. After spending nearly three
decades in the security of Arnold Palmer’s
design company, he’s now been on his own
since 2011, fighting to establish his identity in a smaller, more competitive industry.
“If I’m going to continue putting bread
on the table,” he acknowledges, “I either
have to reinvent myself or change careers.”
Larsen has chosen the former, and
he thinks he’s found his niche. He hasn’t
given his idea a catchy name, so for the
time being let’s call it Revivalism — which
is appropriate, seeing as how it involves
conversions, rebirth and economic salvation.
The idea began percolating three years
ago, when a group of developers hired
Larsen to redesign the golf course at Selva
Marina Country Club. A half-century earlier, Selva Marina had been one of the premier private clubs in greater Jacksonville,
Fla. It hosted events that attracted the biggest stars in professional golf, Palmer and
Sam Snead among them. Jack Nicklaus
scored the only double eagle of his career
on the club’s 18th hole.
In 2014, however, Selva Marina was
fighting for survival. Its golf course was
hardly worthy of a high-school tournament, and the rest of its facilities were
showing their age. Members were leaving;
revenues were shrinking.
So, with little to lose, Selva Marina’s
members and shareholders bought what
the developers were selling: a promise to
transform their forlorn club into an asset
they could be proud of, with a new club-
house, an expansive practice center and a
golf course that would be the talk of the
town. In exchange, the developers wanted
50 acres to build a contemporary hous-
ing community with amenities tailored to
attract younger home buyers, who might
provide the club with a financial lifeline.
When the club reopened in 2015, it
had a more marketable name — Atlantic
Beach County Club — and it exceeded
most everyone’s expectations. Golf Digest
named Larsen’s track one of the Best New
Courses of 2014. The club’s membership
rolls began to swell. It is now near capacity, with more than 300 full members and
770 total members. And, the developers
have sold all but a half-dozen of the 178
What’s more, the PGA Tour awarded last
year’s Web.com Tour Championship to the
club. The event had to be canceled because
of Hurricane Matthew, but Atlantic Beach
will be host to its 2017 championship.
When that happens, the club will be show-
cased on the Golf Channel.
Larsen is betting his future on what he’s
achieved at Atlantic Beach. He’s assembled
a still-unnamed team — his partners are a
developer, a home builder and a financier
— that aims to rejuvenate other struggling
U.S. golf properties. They are marketing
their experience and services that can
relieve the headaches involved in securing
approvals, permits and funding.
“This kind of conversion is the future
golf course development,” Larsen said.
“What we’re doing is reviving courses that
might otherwise close with a model that
can get them back on their feet and give
them new income streams.”
Larsen is the team’s course architect,
land planner and promoter. For months,
he’s been combing the eastern part of
Architect Erik Larsen is selling hope to aging golf courses with
redesign plans that include houses and family-friendly amenities.
BY ROBERT J. VASILAK
Erik Larsen has created
a unique strategy for