The story behind Michael Jordan’s ultra-private, ultra-exclusive personal golf course

Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — Michael Jordan cherishes his little corner of the world more than anywhere else—his own haven of athletic bliss.

But it’s not in Chicago. In fact, there was no basketball court or hoops in sight.

Despite his claims in the 1990s that he was the greatest player of all time in the NBA, the Bulls icon remained a regular on the golf course. But now I have a master.

Grove XXIII – a nod to his iconic No. 23 jersey – is Jordan’s own golf haven, a private club tucked away in the suburbs of Hobe Bay, Florida. Super exclusive, very few people have seen it, and even fewer have played it.

first contact

For Bobby Weed, it was both the simplest and most difficult brief he had ever received: “Build me the best golf course. Build me the best driving range.”

Already had a lot of panties before. A protégé and later close friend of legendary course designer Pete Dye, the South Carolina native served as chief designer on the PGA Tour before starting his own course design company in 1994.

For nearly three decades, Bobby Weed Golf Design has built more than 20 courses from the ground up—from Stillwater, Minnesota to Mito, Japan—and renovated many more, including the 2015 Hob Sound Medalist Golf Club.

With Tiger Woods at the top of a membership list that reads like a who’s who of the sport’s elite, Medal Winners Club is a private club that attracts star-studded visitors. Among them was Jordan, who was a fan of the renovation and began the search for a course designer in late 2017.

At a later meeting, Weed’s team signed on to build a golf kingdom fit for “his air.” One of the most famous athletes in history, with a net worth of nearly $2 billion, according to Forbes, Jordan was a special kind of customer.

“I knew this was going to get a lot of attention because of Jordan,” Weed, 68, told CNN.

“I knew it was going to cause some buzz and I didn’t want to let him down.”

Soon after, the land was locked up, a former citrus grove covering more than 200 acres adjacent to Atlantic Ridge State Park. As he often does on projects, Weed lived on site, traveling 265 miles across the state from Ponte Vedra Beach.

Weed was all in and encouraged Jordan to participate in the development on his own terms, inviting him to come out once a week to track progress. Jordan often visits multiple times a week.

Wade prefers his role as a field architect to that of a quarterback: making phone calls to an army of consultants. Seeing Jordan discuss it with the team in an early meeting gave him an impression of the coach’s interaction with the players.

“I think one of his qualities is that he’s a good listener and he absorbs everything you’re talking about,” Weed said.

“He didn’t come out and say, ‘Do this or do that.'” “He came out and observed, was a good listener, and he let me do my job.”

“Slaughterhouse 23”

Wade has the two pillars of a great golf course – an engaged owner and a good piece of property, even if the latter needs some polish.

The biggest challenge for him and his team was transforming a flat, “featureless” site — bordered by two long drainage channels — into the manicured park-like feel of Augusta National Park A combination of the rural layout of Pine Valley.

Digging dirt from the lagoons to build the stadium and its features solved the flatness problem and left six large lakes – the same number of NBA championships Jordan won. It’s a coincidence, but ultimately fits the theme of the course and is best adapted to its owner’s style.

Jordan wanted a course that was firm and fast that would both excite and challenge members, many of whom would become current stars on the PGA Tour. The double-helix layout, with “crossovers” on holes 5 and 14, provides the flexibility to play continuous internal circuits on three-, six- or nine-hole loops – perfect for Jordan’s busy schedule.

However, a course needs to do more than just suit its owner’s style of play, it needs to improve upon it.

“You don’t think I spend so much money but don’t have any advantages, do you?” Wade recalled what Jordan said.

Combined with the five-time MVP’s gambling penchant, which will be familiar to viewers of the documentary “The Last Dance,” it has, of course, earned some members a new name: “Slaughterhouse 23.”

“It’s his golf course, so it’s set up perfectly for him,” former world No. 1 Rickie Fowler said on the Subpar Podcast in 2020.

Even during construction, weeds were included in the payroll.

“I remember we were playing in the dirt, hitting balls outside and doing some gambling. It was very fun and interactive,” he said.

“Without friendly betting, it would be hard not to go out there and play MJ in a game.”

To fulfill the second requirement in Jordan’s brief, Weed’s team set aside 20 acres to build a state-of-the-art utility facility that the designers believed was unparalleled.

Two 400-yard double-driving lanes may be reserved under certain conditions, such as U.S. Open or PGA Tour-style fairways, with “target greens” in 25-yard increments. Each green has built-in Pods that track extensive shot information, combined with PGA Tour ShotLink data.

The green is divided into four quadrants with incremental slopes ranging from 0-1% to 3-4%. Even the grass on the tee boxes is customizable, with different types to mimic warm or cool seasons.

“This is a paradise for tour players to practice their game,” Weed said.


Nichols Architects had far less experience with golf courses than Bobby Weed Golf Design, but it did have a key advantage in beating out other bids to build The Grove XXIII clubhouse.

The firm specializes in hotel, residential and commercial design and has designed Miami’s W South Beach – a favorite hotel of Jordan’s wife, Yvette Prieto.

Teams threw at Jordan mercilessly. “You’re not going to confuse this clubhouse with a roadside clubhouse or anything like that, that’s what we’re selling you,” planning and design partner Igor Reyes told CNN pitch process and likened it to that in the “Air” movie where Nike had to lure rookie Jordan out of his deal with Adidas.

“You really have to create an architecturally iconic shape, and you can feel it swaying through the landscape almost immediately. Hopefully you can almost read the concept without anyone having to tell you,” Reyes said.

A key aspect of the deal, outlined to Jordan in an on-course video, was the shape of the clubhouse, which was inspired by the smooth, “almost machine-like” perfection of a golf swing.

Reyes said his team heard about Jordan’s alleged early swing struggles and built a grid of columns in the video that mapped the structure of the building onto the trajectory of Tiger Woods’ club. Jordan was smitten and told the company on the spot that it would get the contract.

“When you first walk into the room with him, you don’t want to get too close or anything like that, which is kind of weird,” Reyes said. “But by the second or third meeting we were talking to him like a ‘regular’ with great respect.

“There was definitely a sense of, ‘This is not just a guy with a lot of money who wants to do something. This is a guy who knows what he’s doing, knows what he likes, and knows how to make it happen.”

elephant on the roof

The 15,000 square feet of space inside leaves plenty of room for men’s and women’s lockers, indoor and outdoor seating areas, kitchen and dining facilities and even a shop. Hotel services are a priority and the underground level means that all services as well as golf cart storage can be managed from underground.

Just like the court, Jordan’s identity is imprinted everywhere. Pillars are set further inside below the overhanging roof to mimic the hanging time that inspired the “Air Jordan” tag, while the elephant pattern used on some of his shoes is incorporated into the sintered glass roof, allowing sunlight to shine through.

As PGA Tour pro Jimmy Walker shared on Instagram after a round on the course in March 2021, the customization extends right down to the Air Jordan logo on the ice.

Like Wade, Reyes believes active customer involvement makes his job easier.

“He was involved in a lot of the decisions… We were not going to change the color without his knowledge,” Reyes said.

“We’ve worked with other celebrities but they won’t talk to you and just say ‘I just want this’ or something like, ‘Get out of the way’. But he realized there was a lot of creativity here and he wanted to be in it a part of.”

“I’d rather be somewhere else”

Given Jordan’s regular visits to the site, the owners didn’t reveal much when Grove XXIII officially opened in the fall of 2019, but some did when Wade joined him for his first round.

After the game, the architect found himself wrapped in a 6-foot-6 bear hug.

“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m lucky, I can go anywhere in the world, but there’s no place I’d rather be than here,'” Wade recalled.

“It was like the ultimate compliment…to have his own golf course and to shape and mold it to him and his friends, it was exactly where he wanted it to be. It was just a great place that evolved into something Great stuff.

“As long as he’s playing, he’s going to enjoy it and then it’s passed on to the next generation – that’s one of the great things about golf and why it’s continued to grow over the centuries.”

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