When he was in high school, Dustin Johnson used to hit balls long into the night at Weed Hill Driving Range outside Columbia, S.C., a practice facility that course architect Bobby Weed built when he was a teenager himself. While Weed Hill closed in 2015, Johnson is still honing his game at another practice complex created by Weed—at the exclusive Grove XXIII in Hobe Sound, Fla.
DJ isn’t the only South Florida-based tour pro working on his or her game at The Grove, and for good reason. Weed says the private club, founded by basketball Hall of Famer and golf nut Michael Jordan, is home to the most technologically advanced practice facility in the world.
“One of the reasons he became arguably the greatest player in the history of the NBA has a lot to do with how he pushed himself in the practice arena,” Weed said of Jordan, a six-time NBA champion and five-time league MVP. “He equated that to golf, saying let’s build a practice facility that offers up a session that is so challenging that it would exceed what you would experience on a golf course. So, if you practice at that high a level, then don’t you think it’s going to better prepare you for playing the last nine on Sunday afternoon? I would think so.”
Ahead of his victory at the 2020 Masters Tournament, Johnson trained at the 20-acre practice facility at The Grove XXIII, which boasts a 400-yard, double-ended range with scaled target greens and distinct driving “corridors” separated by ridges, including one that Weed says is U.S. Open width. The short-game area features a semi-circle “wedge tee” for shots 35 to 90 yards that can be practiced toward pins cut into the lobes of an amoeba-shaped target green. There’s an 80-foot-wide performance putting green with four quadrants that have fixed slopes varying from 1–4 percent, allowing players to practice breaking putts of different speeds.
A separate, four-acre wing of the practice area is dedicated to a flagship “Every Ball Counts” training facility. The science and data-driven concept incorporates the PGA Tour’s ShotLink data into a game-improvement package that precisely measures and calibrates more than a dozen different skills. A series of target greens are built in 25-yard increments from 50 to 200 yards, each separated into four sections. This side of the range, the south, is designed for more skilled players seeking to hit to specific areas in the various quadrants, with all data recorded.
Another practice green features four “runways” that allow for different approach shots: a flatter one for bump and runs all the way to one that’s four to five feet below the putting surface and necessitates deft flop shots.
“We utilized every square foot of space. We’ve got areas on a couple of greens you can hit to that mimic the back right pin placement on No. 10 on Riviera, the left front pin placement on No. 15 at Augusta National, and a couple of other areas,” says Weed. “We have the slope exactly like they have it and we try to mimic the speeds. What we’ve designed and built is something that nobody has ever seen before.”
So, why care about a practice facility at an ultra-exclusive private club that most of us will never experience?
Because the concept is ultimately scalable. Weed says he’s already been talking with several universities about emulating it at college courses to potentially provide them an edge in the ever-growing “arms race.”
“If they put these things in, it would be the greatest recruiting tool of all time,” says Weed.
Almost immediately after its opening, The Grove XXIII has already been regarded as one of the top courses in the country and Weed is understandably proud of his unique design. But he’s also particularly proud of the one-of-a-kind training facility that was commissioned by Jordan, a transcendent star who knows a thing or two about practice making perfect—at least in basketball. And Weed certainly has an experienced background as well, from creating Weed Hill driving range as a high school junior to building the practice facility at nearby Medalist Golf Club that he calls a “thumbnail sketch” of what’s at the Grove.
“He wanted the best practice facility possible with state-of-the art technology,” Weed says. “I think it’s safe to say we did that. It’s mind-boggling what the science and technology is affording these players to work on.”