STREAMSONG BLUE - 17 POINTS
The project at Streamsong is ambitious; to take a barren expanse of mining land in the middle of Florida and turn it into a premier golf resort that is open to all.
While not a Mike Keiser project, it encapsulates many of the same characteristics. Away from major conurbations, tick; multiple courses designed by the world’s best architects, tick; put walking at the heart of the experience, tick; stay on the property and play whenever you want, tick.
This couldn’t be described as a remote golf course. It only took me an hour and a half to drive there from Orlando so a trip is very doable for those visiting the big theme parks. However, this is as far from the usual manicured and coiffured Florida golf you can imagine.
I only played the Blue course as I had to be in and out in a morning but I spent quite a lot of time agonising over which one to play. There are more articles comparing the courses than you can shake a stick at. Have a look at this if you want to see some of the debates raging. From my research, having had a quick look round and chatting to other players and the caddies here would be my uneducated summary (many would no doubt challenge):
Red. Highest ranked so far. Coore and Crenshaw designed. Tightest of the three courses. Best suited to low handicappers.
Black. The new boy designed by Gill Hanse. Fairways wider than you may have ever seen before.
Blue. A Tom Doak creation. More playable than the Red but I was worried about the goofy greens I had read about. But I needn’t have worried. They were great.
So, I settled on the Blue - I was ‘fresh’ off a flight from the UK and largely hadn't played for the weeks before so I didn’t want to be too beaten up.
I had an 8am tee time and turned up at 7 to have a nosey round and hit a few balls. The welcome was efficient and warm. This was a place that was used to getting large numbers of golfers through, with very high service levels, and there were a lot of competent staff.
They knew their stuff too. I still get a little thrill when people comment on my MacKenzie Bag and the first words that greeted me were ‘wow, is that a MacKenzie?’!
I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that the clubhouse was more on clinical than cosy. It reminded me in some ways of the Trump Dubai creation. The pro shop welcome was warm; the bar and restaurant left me cold.
Anyway, I was off to the range. The Red and Blue courses both start near the clubhouse and share a range, short game area and putting green. To get to the range you jump on a golf cart for a short drive. Again, the little things are done very well - there were plenty of members of staff around to make sure you didn’t have any annoying waits for transport.
The range and short game area were very well laid out and it was lovely hitting balls into the rising sun.
The putting green ran very true, as, from what I heard, does every green on the complex. Its ‘thing’ though is there are no holes on the putting green, rather just pins to try and hit. It felt a little unnecessarily gimmicky to me, but I happy not to dwell on the situation!
I was paired up with three friends from Chicago who had come down for some sunshine golf. That worked well. They had a couple of caddies between them and, while I was happy to carry my own bag, they were good company. Of course, that is never a given with me (I have history with caddies which I have documented before!)
These guys knew their stuff though. My companions were quite high handicappers but the atmosphere was really relaxed and any advice offered was given in a really constructive and unobtrusive way.
David was a particular asset. He had played many of the top courses in the UK as an amateur, caddies in Cabot in the summer and has played some Challenge Tour golf in Europe, so he made for great conversation on the way round. A real asset to the club.
I won’t attempt to do a hole by hole analysis of this course here - people with a far better appreciation of such things have done so before. Ran at Golf Club Atlas has done a fantastic job here and the Fried Egg here and I’d urge you to look there for a really good dissection of the course. I also listened to a Fried Egg podcast with Tom Doak talking about the course on the flight over which really added a lot of flavour to my round.
One thing Doak talks about is that, before the course opened, he looked at where people hit the ball into trouble (like bushes) and just took the bushes out. He didn’t want to make this an punishing course and that really shows in what he achieved. This is resort golf and getting players round in a reasonable time is really important for everyone's enjoyment.
The course isn’t a pushover though. You will almost always know where your ball is off the tee, but where you put it will have a big impact on your ability to score well on any given hole.
To really go low you have to plot your way round. But, if you aren’t having a good day off the tee, you will still find the ball and have a shot towards the green though may find it hard to get it close to the hole.
Some highlights,if you want a flavour of the course-
Hole 1. Without a doubt it is a bit of a trek up the hill to the first tee, but the view you’ll get there is wonderful. Starting with a shortish par 4 with a view of the whole property is worth the walk.
5, 6, 7. A very interesting run of holes. A very short par 3 with a 74 yard green to start, followed by a short but befuddling par 4 with a huge dune behind, and then a long par 3 over water. This is a lovely looking hole and is probably the most photographed. However, it is a little out of kilter with the rest of the course. I can understand the temptation from Doak to build it and it will stick in everyone’s memory but it does slightly break up the routing I think. Also, my drawing 4 iron started on the pin and left me with a good three putt for bogey!
16, 17, 18 The hardest holes on the property start with a long par 3 into the prevailing wind before a par 5 that asks you with your second shot whether you want to attempt to go over some fantastic cross bunkering to leave you with a wedge into the green, or want to lay up and have a more intimidating shot in. I went for it and paid the price! 18 is a good length par 4 where a long drive will hit the chute and leave you with a wedge in, anything shorter will ask a lot of questions.
I couldn't get over how wide the fairways were in places, although the caddies assured me that they had nothing on the Black course. I had read some comments on the severity of the greens, Matt Ginella has been particularly critical. This was third Doak course I have played and I preferred it by quite a stretch to the Renaissance and Sebonack where I felt the greens were borderline punishing in places. This was a far more playable experience all round.
As you can tell, I liked this course a lot. There is plenty of sand and the dunes give the course a little bit of a Friar’s Head feeling in some places, a place that I really love!
The turf here means the ball runs a long way, you can play a bump and run around the green. Just be prepared for some random results when the ball lands, just like you’d get on any Scottish links course.
Doak said in his Fried Egg podcast that this was a wide open golf course but that there are land mines waiting to go off around the green. That sums it up perfectly, although if you approach it the right way those landmines won’t distract from your enjoyment.
I only got a small taste of the Streamsong experience but what I saw has definitely left me with an appetite for more!
BOOKING THE COURSE
This is resort course so set up to make it easy to get a round. You can book online or, further out, just give them a call. Green fees are higher in the winter than summer. I played it in early April and the fee had dropped from $260 to $175 as a non-resident. The cheapest you will get as a resident is $85 in the height of summer.
In the peak season walking is compulsory (it’s not a hard walk) but in the off season you can take a cart if you really must! With these greens, a caddie makes a lot of sense.
It’s an easy 1.5 hours down from Orlando and an hour from Tampa, but most people will want to stay on the property. You won’t get anyway else to stay locally as Streamsong is fairly remote.
There is a hotel on the premises and, according to my playing companions, the rooms are spacious but, by all accounts, a little lacking in flavour - a bit like the restaurant where the food was fine but the atmosphere wasn't great.
The staff on the property are really focussed on making sure you get the most out of your time here. On all three courses, the first 6 holes come back to the clubhouse so, after playing one round, if you don’t want to do another full 18, you can tack on 6 really easily. The team here will set that up no problem.
1000 Streamsong Drive,