The Crane Cup made its debut last week at Floridian in Palm City, Fla., and rarely does a mid/senior amateur event kick off with such an impressive field. As much as anything, that’s a tribute to the new owner of Floridian, Houston business magnate Jim Crane, as well as former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin Marsh.
Crane is a member of a very small society – people who own great golf clubs who play competitive golf and own a major league baseball team. In fact, he may be the only such member of this society. On the same day last April that he took control of Floridian from previous owner Wayne Huizenga, he also closed the deal to purchase the Houston Astros.
Crane went into the insurance business after school, and in 1984, he founded Eagle USA Airfreight. EGL Inc., as it was renamed, eventually moved into the supply chain management and information services business. The company was sold in 2007, and Crane formed Crane Capital Group, from which he currently operates.
Crane’s twin passions are golf and baseball. He was a pitcher at what is now called the University of Central Missouri, where the stadium is now named for him after he became the largest donor in a $1.2 million upgrade. He tried to buy the Texas Rangers with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, but they lost out to baseball legend Nolan Ryan. He then assembled a group that paid a reported $610 million to own the Astros.
To indulge his golf passion, Crane took control of the 300-acre Floridian and immediately set about renovating it. He gutted the clubhouse and added a 6,000-square-foot fitness spa overlooking the St. Lucie River. A world-class practice area was built with an end-to-end distance 400 yards. In the works is a plan to build more than 50 homes on the property, which currently sleeps 38 people comfortably.
Also added was a state-of-the-art Butch Harmon Learning Center. Harmon will make this his southeastern base, meaning you can expect to see more than a few PGA Tour pros hanging around, and his son Claude will run the facility day to day. The 4,500-square-foot learning center is out of this world. It has an indoor putting studio with SAM Puttlab software, a Titleist Performance component, and three hitting bays with various software diagnostic tools. Said Harmon, “This facility is going to be as fine as you will find anywhere in the country.”
Tom Fazio was enlisted to renovate the 1996 Gary Player- designed golf course. He essentially started from scratch, altering the routing almost completely. The only thing that didn’t change were the dramatic vistas of the water and distant land masses. Almost 250,000 square yards of dirt was moved, and the fairways and tees were seeded with TifGrand grass. Floridian is the only golf course in the world with this heat and shade tolerant hybrid. The fairways were sand-capped to ensure a fast playing surface, and the greens are made of MiniVerde Bermuda grass.
The course, which has coquina cart paths, now plays to par 71 and stretches back to 7,114 yards. It is a tight course, with plenty of trouble around if you miss the fairway. “You have to be straight off the tee at this place,” commented Crane Cup contestant Jim Lehman. To a player, the Crane Cup contestants raved about the redesign; they especially loved the firm and fast playing conditions, somewhat unique in Florida.
Floridian was a first-class operation when Crane got it, but now it has a better course and great amenities. Crane wants Floridian to be a national club made up of better players, perhaps reminiscent of Champions in Houston. He expects to cap membership at 300, as he wants it to be “a quiet place.” The club, which has 33 caddies and is walking friendly, will close June through September.
Crane enlisted personal friend Marsh to recruit the fields for the tournament, and he did an admirable job. Marsh won the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur and was runner-up in 2007, so he knows his way around the mid-am circuit. The field he built was of high quality. Besides Marsh, there were several former USGA champions in the field, including Paul Simson, George Zahringer and Tim Jackson.
Marsh got more commitments than he expected. A total of 104 entered, 68 mid-ams and 36 seniors. On the eve of the tournament, Marsh observed, “We are very fortunate to have such a high level of support from many of the top mid and senior amateurs in the country. It is an exceptional start to an inaugural event, and this gives us confidence that the Crane Cup will quickly become recognized as one of the best amateur championships in the country.”
Look for some international participation in 2013 and beyond.
Crane created his namesake tournament to be a celebration of competitive amateur golf, and he wants to turn it into an important amateur championship. If last week’s debut was any indication, he is well on his way to that goal.