Renovations under way for Gilchrist practice facility

Renovations are under way at Sarabande Golf Club to create a new state-of-the-art practice facility for students at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy.

For now, Sarabande Golf Club looks more like a motocross track than a golf course. But by the end of August, Ben Pauluhn hopes it will provide students at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy a one-of-a-kind practice experience.

Renovations began in April on the 18-hole course, closed in June 2011 by the previous owner, that will make it a state-of-the-art practice facility for the roughly 80 students who study under the academy’s namesake instructor. Pauluhn, project manager for the Sarabande renovations, hopes the new facilities will add another facet to Gilchrist’s academy. Since its inception in 2008, the academy has outgrown the facilities at Mission Inn. Pauluhn said Sarabande, tucked across the street from the resort in tiny Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., about an hour north of Orlando, can help address that growth.

Pauluhn, formerly the operations manager at the academy, oversees Sarabande Property Company, which is redeveloping the property for use by the Gilchrist Academy. The Sarabande facilities will also be available to a small number of residents in the surrounding Sarabande community.

The first phase of the renovation project will turn three of the previous holes into a 16-acre practice facility with a short-game area, putting green, driving range and target greens. Pauluhn hopes the first ball can be struck there by Aug. 20.

On Pauluhn’s wish list for the next phase of the project, for which permitting is still in the works, is a range building that includes indoor hitting bays, a putting studio, a golf conference room and a club-fitting studio. A fitness center also is on that list.

“We’re doing it because we believe it’s unique and offers a totally different way to train than just going out and hitting balls down a driving range,” Pauluhn said. “It’s such a small, intimate, private environment that it allows the students to walk out of their town homes and play all day without anyone bothering them.”

Golf course architect Tim Liddy has been called in for the project. Liddy, an understudy of Pete Dye’s whose resume includes a handful of college practice facilities, said he took into consideration the Gilchrist teaching method of one coach for a pod of students.

“It’s a beautiful piece of ground, surrounded by trees and trees in between the fairways,” Liddy said. “We’re trying to design everything and trying to lay everything out for eight kids at a time.”

Though vast, the facility is intimate, Liddy says, and he hopes it will represent the academy lifestyle -- one that has Gilchrist’s 83 students ages 13-23 up early for school followed by a long day of golf practice, fitness training and homework.

“Kids being kids, they might want to hit balls for 20 minutes, but then they might do something different, so you want to be able to have all the different tenets of golf practice,” he said.

These kids being these kids -- ones who eat, sleep and breathe golf -- it seems Sarabande is about to be known as heaven.

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