Riding around the newly reopened International Links Miami-Melreese Country Club is a stop-and-go proposition, particularly when Charlie DeLucca Jr. is driving the golf cart while narrating a tour of the spruced-up course.
First stop: “Look at the view of the Miami skyline you get from this tee,” DeLucca says. “It’s incredible. And all the tees have been rebuilt.” Go about 20 yards, and it’s stop again. “Look at that trap over there, it’s perfect. Has a liner underneath it so small rocks don’t work their way up.”
Go again, and another quick stop: “See those fairways,” DeLucca says. “Completely new grass on all the fairways. Paspalum grass. The ball sits up beautifully. The best fairway grass you can get.” Go time again, and back in the cart with DeLucca stepping on the pedal. This time the visit is to a green: “All the greens are completely new. They’re TifEagle grass. We can make them as fast or slow as we want. Smooth as can be.”
And so it goes — you risk whiplash when you ride with DeLucca.
There’s no doubt, at age 77, DeLucca is tough to keep up with. Every time he sees a divot that hasn’t been replaced, he jumps out of the cart and fills in the spot and smooths out the sand with his foot or hand. He doesn’t fill in just one or two divots. No, he patches up dozens upon dozens of them.
“What’s wrong with people?” DeLucca asks about the unreplaced divots. “We’re supposed to have signs telling golfers to replace their divots. Where are those signs? Have to get those signs out on the course.”
DeLucca is the guy that makes International Links one of the most-used courses in Miami, as well as heading up the First Tee program at the course that teaches youth, in a purposeful order of priority, education, values and then, finally, golf.
Fixing up the course had International Links shut down from mid-May until its reopening three weeks ago.
DeLucca could not be prouder about how things turned out.
“Look at it, it’s a championship course,” DeLucca said.
The public and members have rushed back since the reopening on Oct.1. The reviews have all been good, including Miami’s most famous golfer, PGA pro Erik Compton, who finished tied for second in this year’s U.S. Open.
Compton has been playing International Links since he was an 8-year-old, and he walked away totally impressed with the new version.
“He loved it because the course is set up in [PGA] Tour conditions,” DeLucca said.
The greens are much larger than they used to be.
“They were brought back to their 1997 size,” DeLucca explained. “Over the years the grass had grown in from the edges and reduced the green size. We’ve increased them in size by about a third. Before we started this project, they averaged around 4,500 square feet. Now they are 6,000 to 7,000.”
Having bigger greens to aim for doesn’t necessarily mean an easier course to play. You may plunk your approach on the green, but it’s a lot easier to three-putt when you are 60 feet away rather than 20 feet away. In addition, there are more bends and contours on the new greens.
Some $2 million was spent bettering the City of Miami course, but by not farming out the work and using virtually every employee at International Links to do all the heavy lifting and earth moving, DeLucca estimated there was $1.5 million saved.
Did DeLucca get his hands dirty?
“Sure did,” DeLucca said. “I pulled a lot of weeds.”
Finally, DeLucca stopped the cart and looked around at the final product.
“This is like a private club,” he said, “but we’re not snooty here at all. This is a fun place.”
THAT’S A FACT, JACK
After ranking first for the past seven years, Tiger Woods has dropped to second on Forbes’ list of the 10 most valuable athlete brands. Take a guess who replaced him. It’s Miami’s (well, ex-Miami) own LeBron James.