Red: GolfWeek Modern 31 (7.55)
Blue: GolfWeek Modern 39 (7.43)
I did not stay at the resort, but I did play both golf courses. First they are not Bandon as is being bandied about (what is) but they are very very good. Lots of hype a-flying, both are over-rated on every list I've seen, I suppose, but flat Florida is home to about 1 in 10 courses in the USA and anything good there is boosted.(Jupiter Hills, Calusa, Sawgrass) but some aren't. These however are by favourite architects and have all the right design elements visually. There are photos everywhere on the web, I didn't take many and I'll post a few later. The courses aren't Top 100 US Overall, but that's a tough nut to crack, especially for a public access track.
Unless you are lucky enough to have played most of the newest modern minimalist design courses, you will think I am crazy and while you are in what passes in Florida for heaven, you will curse me. Please don't, this is just what I do. These designs are a little on the forgiving side compared to the all out work these designers do, they need to be as regular golfers need a little extra leeway compared to the globe-trotting cognoscenti. Even with these small concessions rounds run five hours plus and nine holes ran over 3 hours at least once a day. That's really unfortunate.
I also don't personally think I'll ever visit in Summer as it is just miserable in these parts having lived in Tampa for 5 years. You can get here in under an hour from the east Tampa region near Brandon on route 60 which I did. The lodge was not open when I booked and I will try the lodge some day. I look forward to returning, just don't look for me between Easter and thanksgiving.
Some generalities and specifics: the two courses are inter-routed a bit making both routings compromised a bit especially providing a "signature" par 3 over a water feature - they wind up astride each other. Honestly, i'm guessing that this could have been done a bit better and reviewing the aerial photography of the land the driving range was probably a better spot for some holes to me. Thus we get a double cross-over on each routing although for the most part much of the Red is located on the perimeter of the Blue. Another point that must be made about the routings is that because of this slaving of each course to this one point it creates a string of mostly in the same direction play holes, something I don't care for not on a linksland ground. Consequently, I did not find either routing a particularly stellar one and the continuous string of mostly Par 4's mostly on the second nine of each course led to a little tedium. There is as much similarity to green styles and bunkering styles as there is differences.
Of note playing the first two holes of Blue as my first two holes I had a slight evocation of Ballyneal but I'm not certain that would have been as strong had I played Red first.
Red commences with 4 of the first five play holes decidedly moving left to right, part of it circling around a dune or two or three. One being 80 yards wide doesn't feel a play of one way or the other and aerially this is mostly borne out. It's just big.
Strictly using Doak's scale each course rates a seven, but collectively they are surely eight. Many will have a preference for a course or the other, but try as I may, I like each equally as well. There are stretches on each I love and others that drag a bit. These are however superior golf courses, just not top tier from either designer, that may sound negative, but I don't mean it that way. These courses are for all golfers and must have a more forgiving side than courses built for a private audience. The grass around the greens probably needs to be changed to accommodate the run-up shot a bit more as there is that expectation for these courses but a rescue chip works almost best almost every time. Again, these are really picky criticisms, what I think my closest friends expect from me - that which a stranger will this a disrespect is merely a very critical eye and mind. Enjoy these courses liberally!
If you really want cartball, do it elsewhere because you probably don't or won't know the difference between a fine walk and a cart to drink your six-packs from. The caddies are very good, but the need for a professional caddie is not as strong as it is at Bandon Resort, ironically I had a new fellow, fresh from Bandon with Professional Men's Tour experience. Other than in the water, it is hard to lose a ball here and most will be able to read most greens, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't take a caddie, by all means, do, they are quite good. There is no reason not to walk unless you have a medical certificate. This is expensive golf at $300 including a caddie which is really the thing to do, they are rather good and worth the $100 note. This place is really special, just not Bandon special. There is talk of two more courses, not sure where they are planning, but some earth-moving will take place as the land around is not as interesting nor as exposed as the current two courses, but I hear there will be two more and it will be welcome. Some regular non $300-400 lodging on site would be good, too.The courses are certainly Bucket List material and the food is even better! Enjoy.
This will be a random mix of architectural notes, anecdotes and playing notes as I think out loud or something like that...
1 - Not your typical starter by most folks design style. Most architects now want to get you into a round with a gentle start, this can only be described as a long par 4 with a perched green to make it play longer. A very wide fairway, but just getting to the green is the demand so there is no strategic variety to the tee shot. Three shots for most, not much compelling here. A different loosening up, getting into the round hole …. Meh, long Par 4’s bore me as much as long Par 3 ‘s in the last 3 holes
2 - Tom Fazio has made a career out of this hole and a lot of architects use it. You will hear most people call it a Cape Hole, but it’s not mostly because no one really knows why a true Cape is called a ‘Cape”. A “cape” (as in capes & bays) is what that “finger” sticking into a bunker is, it’s a geographical terminology if you want to be technical. What it means to most is “bite off what you can chew” and Macdonald’s Cape (5th at Mid-Ocean) had and still has both features. Since the fairways here are generous, you should be pretty safe if you know your game – this hole moves left to right as do most of the move play holes at the start. Two bunkers – one short and one tight right with an enormous green reminiscent of ripples in a stream greets you.
3 – Medium Left to Right dogleg with a shelf above the left side of the green which releases amost none. Right side of fairway always gives you the best angle into the green, a bunker right protects you from the lateral hazard.
4 – The first really intriguing hole, a nearly drivable Par 4 with a sort of Principal’s Nose – Lion’s Mouth kind of bunker making for some rather segmented portions of the green and making you think about playing the hole right from the start. A long central bunker (but not creating a true “Bottle”) makes you think about your layup tee shot and also about your two-cheek driver off the tee. The green coupled with the bisected fairway make this a superior short hole and one that would probably be the most interesting hole on the property to play over and over on different days with different pin positions. This is the duo at their very best.
6 – A short to medium Par 3 with an enormous green. A fine dune behind the green makes this hole visually spectacular. The large green is simple to hit, but the task is to hit the proper portion of the green. I’m a little mixed about this hole for all but a few really cool pins, I’d call it a post card shot.
7 – For a three-shot Par 5 it will all come down to a precision wedge shot. As a two-shotter, without a monster drive, you will need a curling shot to get it on in two, but it will need to be only for specific pins. I found this hole rather inviting and birdied it with a very challenging pin position. As a three shot hole, the second shot winding up in the left quarter of the fairway will almost always give you the preferred approach.
8 – A Gem of a Par 3 hole, mostly a short shot with a differing angle front (straight on) to angled (from the right). Lots of pins, again like number 4 another hole you’d like to play every pin position. Another birdie with another wedge to 3-4 feet. Front third of the green probably most interesting shots with the angle form the back.
9 – Pin position and short grass short par 4, be cautious about the slopes, cute hole, nothing more, no strategy, all defence. It can be called unfair by some very easily. Doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a par 4. I generally liked this hole, probably would lay it up to 100 – 120 if I wanted to guarantee a score.
11 – Hitting it in the bunkers unless you are against a forward lip is not a penalty, strange double fairway, to the right adds so many clubs and left doesn’t work for left green, so I guess you can call it a “Backwards Bottle” template. You have to execute a more difficult tee shot to have a longer iron in. Rees Jones built a version this hole as #11 at Huntsville National in the suburbs of Scranton, PA. Doesn’t feel good either place, because it is backwards. Makes little sense. I felt better playing out of the bunker that I would have up top because it was 3-4 less clubs.
12 – A bit awkward in a good way but another hole that probably will come off as unfair as the fairway slopes and the corner cannot be cut.
13 – A bunker to mess with you off the tee, but it’s irrelevant because you must have the angle on the third. Not a two-shotter for many. All these details get lost in the shuffle if everything about the hole dictates that teh hole must play in from a very small area.
15 – Another three shot Par 4, meh. For most it is humourless and a tedium with no real strategy possible. It is very long, plays uphill and has a perched green as well.
16 – So the property built a “Biarritz”. Over the water, just like France. But, it’s a silly one I’m going to rip apart because it has faults a public golfer should not encounter in his or her first Biarritz. If you hit the green I suppose you’re in the swale a lot. The front pins, you might wind up there because you don’t want to be short. The front is massive, OK. The swale is deep. OK. The rear – there is a kicker on the back left that ruins many shots getting up there because they have no spin in most folks hands if it’s run up on the back tier, will come back to the swale. Couple this with only the back tee having a straight go at the green, every other tee comes from the left so if you are weaker, you more likely slice so the back tier is ridiculous for you. This hole was backed up both days and I’ll bet is backed up for the first group.
17 – Tee shot is a lot like the 16th at Pine Valley but not so in the forced carry aspect but in picking your carry line. As you go right you are rewarded with a nicer angle. It works, it’s quality architecture, it’s definitely one breather.
18 – Probably the most reachable Par 5 on the property by going with sheer abandon. A feel good ending. There is even a shorter way left of the massive left bunker, but hitting it in that bunker doesn’t keep you from making birdie, you can hit a lofted fairway wood like a 5 or a lofted rescue as you are likely to roll away from the face.
All in all
Routing: Could be better, more walkable distance wise than the Blue, but still these are flat courses. This is pretty unnatural terrain and although it seems natural, just look at aerials on the internet to see the surrounding flora.
Overall Hole Quality: 3’s above average. 4’s above average but short & long, not many mid length variety. 5’s are probably average but looking good.
Green Complexes: Way above average
Bunkering Schema: Rough, rugged, you can generally tack your way around them. Overall, the fine feathering of edges fit the overall site well.
Conditioning: Excellent, but the putting surface surrounds could be firmer and the grass less grabby.
Vegetation: Perfectly done.
Ideality: I think all levels of players are OK, although this is the more heavily water hazard-laden course, it is still very manageable due to width.
Clubhouse & All: First rate, excellent food.
Overall: Definitely worth the trip, repeat trips and while sorta Bandon East, it’s not Bandon. The weather in the off-season (Summer) here will be intolerable without cartball.
Blue’s turn …
Overall, I usually like Doak’s courses clearly better than Coore & Crenshaw’s because of the big round nature of the curves. I’m the anti-butt boy of critics on the internet, I have not one but at least 5 architects to vie for the top group of abilities. Here, side by side C&C seemingly ramped up more large contours and Doak held back a bit compared to usual is how it comes off and visually, I would think a novice would have a very hard time differentiating the two architects if playing the holes by being blindfolded and taken to a new hole out of order. Bottom line is both are really good golf courses, neither is truly world-class as a course, but few can really opine on that. The biggest excluder/separator is the extreme width used off the tee on each course – pretty much mandated by the clientele. There I not the attendant strategy for greatness demanded with such extreme width. That doesn't mean inferiority in any way, in fact it is for playability, key here.
My caddie is a Bandon looper by trade basically brand new to the Streamsong Resort and holds the Doak sway generally, but the similarities in design finish elements are closer between the two courses than further away to be supremely honest. The Blue routing is more interior on the whole save a short stretch at the numerical turn at the very northern end of the property which adds more land to the 36-hole project, but more than not provides play holes mostly to the west northwest (WNW for crossword buffs) more than a little bit like Red’s 7-11 stretch. I can’t help but do mental exercises about routing on this property. It is a mess, but the straight stretch on Blue is superior with some real interest. A great majority of holes on both courses run in the diagonal between NW and SE. A little loop to start the Red seems added on and is the most visually different of the entire property. My caddie-partner thinks the Blue has longer green to tee walks, but what does happen is that the Blue has better direction changes and has one awkward stretch to include the water Par 3 (which is the better of the two) of the dueling holes from each course. If it weren’t for the seemingly endless 16 (and where in the game it comes to wholly disturb pace of play) this outstandingly better set of par 3’s would be more so. Again, these are my opinionated observations and love them or hate them you know I own them.
1 – A loverly little starter playing to get a wedge in your hand for a clever and rolly green. Playing from a dunetop and especially with the visual and other similarities between Blue #2 and Ballyneal’s #4 as I said, I had a strong sense of place – probably comparable for Sand Hills and the few massive blow-outs on the biggest par 4’s on Red. This first green is semi-blind for most and falls away toward the back especially left side. I personally endorse this sort of starter and Doak believes very strongly in this kind of beginning, perhaps learned at Dye’s side, I believe that he once told me just this.
2 – I really thought the evocation of Ballyneal was very strong here to a compliment/homage. The fairway is a lot less contoured and the green is not as raised but the fairway flow is reminiscent. This hole allows an attack in two without mandating a bunker third if not executed.
3 – A very much outside of dogleg style of hole with far better angles for most of the green from the longer right side. The false front was very much in play (a common theme one day) where a fine iron 10 – 15 feet too far right wound off quite a way from putting surface. This as other greens are rather large so over-clubbing is often (but not always) safe – an interesting thought where a lot of golfers playing here will have never over-clubbed in their lives. A thought to consider as you personally explore this course.