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Personal Golf Courses

Jones's revelation turned into a masterstroke of condensed geometry and back-and-forth play complicated enough to require a yardage book: Wandering fairways—two dramatically separated by hillocks and a grassy, gaping bunker oriented to two directions of play—intersect to add up to eighteen holes (four par fives, six par threes and a mix of long and short par fours a side) when toured twice. What makes it all work are the green complexes, each roughly the size of Asia. Within those continents, separate nations emerge—each with its own red, white or blue flag marking the appropriate one to hit to—their boundaries formed by the discrete tiers that allow for distinct pin placements and, hence, distinct angles of attack from similar approaches. Four tee shots demand forced carries over two of the ponds, and the short par-four fifth (and fourteenth) require the deft avoidance of the "Fish House," an old farm outbuilding resurrected as a lushly appointed halfway house known to reward wayward drives with favorable caroms.

Gordon, who died of cancer in 2000, loved his playpen and loved sharing it with his bipartisan stew of friends—including Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Senators Al D'Amato and Frank Lautenberg, Governor Gray Davis and financier Carl Icahn, whose nameplate remains on a shoe locker in the pro shop)—both at informal get-togethers and huge July Fourth and Labor Day bashes. Before a round, Gordon would invite them into the pro shop to select a logo cap and shirt that he'd playfully ring up on his antique cash register. Instead of collecting payment, he'd ask that a contribution be sent in the amount of "the sale" to a favorite charity.

If Three Ponds Farm sounds like your golf dream, it can be your golf reality, as well. Ed's widow, Cheryl, has put it on the market—for $75 million. The price includes the fourteen gardens, grass tennis court, seventy-five-foot pool and guest cottage . . . as well as a 20,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom, twelve-bathroom house.

NOT IN THEIR BACKYARDS

And then there are H. Wayne and Marti Huizenga's Floridian Golf and Yacht Club north of Palm Beach, and Dave and Gail Liniger's Sanctuary outside Denver. Both measure up to a few of the essential yardsticks of a backyard course: They're on private land, and the landowners are the only members. But that's where these estate courses veer off course. They're not in any yards at all.

The Huizengas—he's the Blockbuster video billionaire—first envisioned the Floridian as an exclusive 300-acre development of private residences around an eighteen-hole course he was planning on land he owned on the St. Lucie River. The Linigers, whose own home overlooks a fairway at Castle Pines Golf Club, originally planned to turn their 222 acres in nearby Sedalia, Colorado, into a ranch for their Arabian horses. Luckily for their friends who play golf, both families took a mulligan.

The more the Huizengas walked the land with architect Gary Player, the more they began seeing holes weaving where houses were to spring; finally, Marti suggested to her husband that they ditch the houses entirely, and they did. When the nearly 7,000-yard layout (replete with four sets of tee markers commemorating the sports franchises Wayne Huizenga has owned) opened in 1996, the Huizengas were its only members—as they remain—though they annually bestow, on a rotating basis, honorary membership (i.e., free golf) on about 100 fortunate friends, business associates and relatives, including former Dolphins quarterbacks Dan Marino and Bob Griese, and retired GE head Jack Welch. Today, in addition to the course, the Floridian boasts such amenities as a pair of helicopter pads, guest cottages, a marina with sixty-eight slips and a clubhouse that displays some interesting sporting hardware: the World Series and Super Bowl trophies won by Huizenga's Florida Marlins and the Miami Dolphins, respectively.

Once the Linigers, founders of the real estate franchiser RE/MAX, realized the Sedalia property wasn't the right habitat for their show horses, they opted to attract another species: golfers. Designer Jim Engh routed the spectacular 7,033-yard track through a mountainous terrain of pines, scrub and rock outcroppings with the kind of abrupt elevation changes that require a good supply of Dramamine. Since opening in 1997, Sanctuary has been a regular in various rankings of the Top 100 American courses. It's also a big moneymaker for charity. In addition to themselves, family and friends, the Linigers open the course annually to some two dozen benefit outings, thus offering Sanctuary to nearly 10,000 rounds a year.

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