Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Orlando/Tampa Trip

Before things became crazy with the virus, I was fortunate enough to make my semi-annual trip to Central Florida.  This time, the focus was on some courses in the Orlando and Tampa area with a side trip to one of the more uniquely bad courses I have played.

The trip began just outside Orlando at the Nick Faldo and Steve Smyers designed Club at Bella Collina in Montverde, Florida.  This was my first Nick Faldo design and I was pleasantly surprised by the course.  The aerial reminded of me of a very typical Smyers course with big and bold bunkers but, when I was on the ground, the course had solid greens, and a very good mix of holes.
Bella Collina, Par four 1st Hole with 6th green on far right

Bella Collina, Par three 11th Hole
Day two of the trip began at Streamsong and the Tom Doak designed Blue course.  I always treasure the opportunity to play my second favorite golf course in the state of Florida.  We teed off right at sunrise which allowed me to get a very cool picture of the 5th Hole:
Sunrise at Streamsong
After our round at Streamsong and a very satisfying "brunch" at Waffle House, we headed to Lakeland to play the newly renovated Links at Sandpiper. 

Side note: One of the things I miss most during this virus quarantine is going to Waffle House.  I love sitting at the counter and watching my favorite foods being made.  The smells are amazing.  You better believe I'll be at Waffle House as soon as restaurants open!

The Links at Sandpiper recently undertook a renovation that involved the last five holes across the entrance road.  The renovation was done to make room for some housing going up on the original 18th hole.
Links at Sandpiper, Par four 9th Hole

Links at Sandpiper, Par three 15th Hole
The front nine was pretty solid and we were all enjoying the course, but then we crossed the road and played the last five holes.  Our experience went from "this is pretty nice" to "WTF!"  Before I get deep into this rant, let me say that I completely understand when golf courses have to take land to build houses.  You must do whatever you can to survive in this very difficult time and I get that, but if you are going to do something like this, perhaps you should at least seek out some advice from people who have done it before.  

I understand if you can't afford a real architect, but don't let your desire to keep a par 72 golf course turn your golf course into probably the dumbest closing stretch in Florida.  The closing five holes feature two Par fives, two par fours and a par three. The property available could have easily become three very good par fours and two par threes but that would make the par 70 or below so instead we get two par 5's with severe internal OB, a "driveable" par four with OB so tight you can be OB 20 feet off the green, and one decent par 3.  They also built a pond for no apparent reason where there is no place to drop the ball so they included this:
Links of Sandpiper, WTF????

I spent the third day of the trip playing some resort courses around Orlando.  First up was the New Course at Grand Cypress Resort designed by Jack Nicklaus to be a tribute to the Old Course at St. Andrews.  I was happy to see that they understood the principles of the ground game that are so important in Scotland and were able to incorporate them successfully in this design.
New Course at Grand Cypress, Par four 9th Hole
New Course at Grand Cypress, 18th green at sunrise

Up next on my Orlando Resort tour was Reunion Resort.  Reunion features courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Watson.  The Watson course and it's 200+ plus bunkers was first up on my itinerary.
Reunion Resort, Watson Course, Par four 11th Hole

Reunion Resort, Watson Course, Par three 12th Hole

After my round on the Watson, the amazing staff at Reunion got me right back out on the Palmer course.
Reunion Resort, Palmer Course, Par four 7th Hole
Reunion Resort, Palmer Course, Par three 16th Hole

Day four of the trip featured golf in the Tampa area.  I began at sunrise on the Tom Fazio designed Hunter's Green Country Club.  This early Fazio design features a solid collection of holes with bunkering that isn't quite as bold as what we would see from Fazio later in his design career.
Hunter's Green, Par three 7th Hole
Hunter's Green, Par five 12th Hole

Before I headed to the course that was the main reason for my visit to Tampa, I squeezed in nine holes at Pebble Creek Golf course, a 1967 Bill Amick design.
Pebble Creek, Par three 6th Hole

Finally I ended the day in Tampa at a course I have been trying to play for a very long time: Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club.  The original course at Palma Ceia was designed by Tom Bendelow with changes later made by Donald Ross.  I had a tee time at the course in 2014 but a new job forced me to cancel the trip.  I have been haunted by the missed opportunity ever since and it was great to finally play this gem of a golf course with a very strong set of par threes.
Palma Ceia, Par three 4th Hole
Palma Ceia, Par three 13th Hole

Palma Ceia, Par three 17th Hole

On my drive home from Florida, I stopped in at Sea Island Resort to check out the recently renovated Retreat Course.  I played the Seaside course fourteen years ago and hadn't had a chance to return to the resort to check out the other two courses.  I am now anxious to get back to see what Davis Love III and his design team did with the Plantation course after seeing his great work at the Retreat course.
Sea Island Resort, Retreat Course, Par four 6th Hole with Egret in foreground

Sea Island Resort, Retreat Course, Par three 16th Hole

Sea Island Resort, Retreat Course, Par four 18th Hole



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