Miakka Golf Club’s Secret: Zoysia Grass

by | May 1, 2024 | News

Ben Hogan is credited with saying that the “secret’’ to his golf swing “is in the dirt.’’ The existential meaning, of course, is that it was no secret other than the drive for perfection that began (and ended) with hours of practice.

Certainly, few players – or businessmen – in golf were as driven to success as Hogan. But Bradenton, FL., insurance executive, and entrepreneur Steve Herrig might be close.

“Steve is the most driven guy I’ve ever met – and I’m a driven guy,’’ said golf course architect Dana Fry, who, along with design partner Jason Straka, is creating Miakka Golf Club for Herrig. “His commitment to excellence is unbelievable.’’

Indeed. One can talk about the world-famous TerraNova Equestrian Center Herrig had built (and continues to build) for his daughter on 5,000-plus acres in Miakka, a few miles east of Sarasota. Or you can talk about the Miakka Golf Club – one of the more ambitious golf course projects of the past decade in the Southeast U.S.

Either way, you get a man willing to spare no expense to get every detail perfect.

Herrig’s 7,700-yard course, which includes four holes flush on the historic Myakka River in Southwest Florida, will feature all the bells and whistles of a high-end private golf club – from fishing shack-themed comfort stations to a 12-hole, par-3 course and 360-degree practice range. The Club is scheduled to open in the second half of 2025.

Former PGA Champion Paul Azinger, a Sarasota native, is consulting on the project.

“Everything about this Club, I want to be the best,’’ Herrig said.

It all begins, well, in the dirt. At Miakka Golf Club, that dirt is filled with two strains of Zoysia grass—Laser and Stadium. Neither is particularly new to agronomists in the Far East, but in Florida, Bermudagrass has reigned since Alexander Findlay and Donald Ross began building courses in the state more than 125 years ago.

Known for its rapid rate of growth and density, Zoysia Stadium could be the turf of the future on athletic fields. It’s already used on many soccer pitches in the Far East.

Zoysia Lazer, meanwhile, is known for its drought and shade resistance – each important way to fight Florida’s El Nino weather patterns.

Zoysia Lazer has been tested at facilities such PGA Frisco and Bluejack National – the latter being the Tiger Woods design near Houston.

The commitment to the Zoysia grasses (Lazer on the greens and Stadium on fairways and tees) runs deeper than just trying to be different. Miakka Golf Club, for example, has its own Zoysia sod farm on adjacent land – the first private course in Florida with its own such facility.

All 150 acres of turf area at Miakka Golf Club – except the greens – will be sodded, and the entire course will have substantial underdrains to ensure fast, firm playing conditions year-round.

“We (Fry/Straka) do a lot of work in Asia where the grass is predominantly Zoysia,’’ Straka said as he stood in the middle of the sod farm test center. “In the U.S., it has the moniker of being a ‘tropical’ grass. But it’s actually a transition grass.’’

The Zoysia Laser and Stadium grasses were developed by Bladerunner Farms from Houston in conjunction with the University of Georgia Turfgrass Management Program.

Sold on the grasses after a visit to Bladerunner on an icy Houston morning, Straka and Fry then went to Leibold Irrigation in Sarasota to build the drainage for the test center. Leibold President John Leibold is a long-time friend and former business partner of Herrig’s, so that might have been the easiest part of the project so far.

Herrig wanted his course to be firm, fast and sport a rugged look, something along the lines of Friar’s Head, the outstanding Coore/Crenshaw layout in Riverhead, N.Y.

Fry and Straka went even farther. They suggested the rugged designs of Australia’s famed Sandbelt region, where fast and firm is the norm.

“We kept testing the native (sugar) sand around here, but it didn’t drain very well,’’ Straka said. “We tested 28 different mixes and blends. We tested water-release curves and firmness ratings.

“We found the perfect blend at six inches that we could  obtain locally,  but it’s blended with 10 percent Profile.’’

Profile, understand, is giant company whose products include Profile Golf, high-performance vegetative and erosion-control products to improve grow-in.

Then came the hard part. Straka had to convince the Profile bosses that Miakka needed 150 acres of sandcap, not only for the golf golf course, but the practice range, 70-acre short course and two-plus acre putting course.

“They said, ‘Are you sure this is for real?’’’

Assured that the project was indeed real, Profile put a few other golf course projects on hold in order to accommodate Miakka Golf Club.

“The test center has been awesome,’’ Straka said. “We’ve been working for about a year putting the same kind of stresses on it as you would see on the course. We had no idea how it would react. Everything from 30 to 40 yards in will be Stadium. Once you get near the greens and chipping areas, it all will be Lazer. The greens and surrounding mowing difference will be a one-tenth of an inch.’’

“What’s interesting, too, is that we have found (Zoysia Lazer and Stadium) takes considerably less water, considerably less fertilizer and considerably less pesticide. So, environmentally,  this is far better. Now we’re having superintendents from other places want to see what we have here. It’s been an overwhelming experience.’’

Feature Rendering Courtesy of Miakka Golf Club


About the Author

<a href="https://golfonemedia.com/author/steve_pike/" target="_self">Steve Pike</a>

Steve Pike

Steve “Spike” Pike is a lifelong journalist whose career covers Major League Baseball, the NFL, and college basketball. For the past 26 years, Spike has been one of the more respected voices in the golf and travel industries, working for such publications as Golfweek, Golf World, and Golf Digest for The New York Times Magazine Group. In 1998, Spike helped launch the PGA.com website for the PGA of America. As a freelance travel and golf writer, Spike’s travels have taken him around the world. He has played golf from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews, walked the Great Wall of China, climbed an active volcano in the Canary Islands, been on safari in South Africa, and dived with sharks off Guadalupe, Baja California.