Note the name: Boca Rio Golf Club. Unlike many South Florida clubs, Boca Rio – tucked away in western Boca Raton – is all about golf. There are no million-dollar homes lining the fairways; no pool, no spa, no movie theater, no “country club’’ in its name. The two tennis courts are seldom used.
“It’s a club that’s generally for people who love golf,’’ Boca Rio Golf Club President Paul Shapiro said. “That means they really enjoy golf and want to play a lot of golf. We are intentionally a small club.’’
A small club (membership capped at 150) that from Jan. 20-26, will open up – if only for a few days -when it hosts the inaugural Gainbridge LPGA. The $2 million tournament will bring many of the game’s top female players to its 200 acres of heaven. Among those players will be Morgan Pressel, who grew up in Boca Raton (St. Andrew’s High School), is a five-time winner on the LPGA, and honorary member of Boca Rio.
Wanting to return the LPGA to South Florida, Pressel lobbied club and LPGA officials for a tournament spot. Gainbridge parent Group 1001 CEO President Dan Towriss, a member at Boca Rio, made the deal happen in early 2019. It helped, too, that Group 1001 is presenting sponsor of LPGA Indy Women in Tech Championship at Brickyard Crossing inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“The Gainbridge LPGA gives us the opportunity to be a leader in women’s sports and at the same time support the next generation of female athletes and leaders,’’ said Melissa Jacobs, vice president of sponsorships for Group 1001. “Gainbridge is a brand platform to manage life insurance annuities on line. The (tournament) gives us more of an opportunity to reach this consumer and demographic. But more important, it gives us an opportunity to elevate women’s sports.’’
The Gainbridge LPGA is the first outside tournament ever at Boca Rio Golf Club. Its 7,100-yard (from the tips), par 72 layout, designed by Robert von Hagge, will offer plenty of challenges, particularly on the contoured greens, most of which are heavily protected by bunkers.
The green on the 425-yard, par-four 18th hole, for example, is guarded on the left side by a huge bunker that also has with a tree in the middle of the bunker complex. And sporting a narrow landing area off the tee and water down the right side, the 18th could be where the tournament’s outcome is decided.
Opened in 1968, Boca Rio was one of the first South Florida golf courses that had any noticeable movement in the fairways. Boca Rio is considered one of von Hagge’s top designs – high praise considering that one-time protégé’ of the legendary architect Dick Wilson built the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral in Miami, Is Arenas in Italy, and the White Witch in Jamaica.
“I think the players will find the course very challenging,’’ Shapiro said. “Those who have played practice rounds have been extremely complimentary.
“Very few people know about us. It’s a great course and this is an opportunity to show it off to the world.’’