Course Review: Streamsong (Polk County, Florida)
Designers: Red – Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw; Blue – Tom Doak
Opens: December, 2012
Overview: First there was Bandon Dunes. Then there was Bandon Dunes East (Cabot Links and the next course in Nova Scotia, apparently to be called Cabot Cliffs). Now with Streamsong, a resort in a rural area about an hour and a half south-west of Orlando, there’s Bandon Dunes South.
There similarities are there. The Red course was designed by Bill Coore and his partner Ben Crenshaw, with the second course, the blue course, designed by Tom Doak. Both have designed courses at Bandon Dunes, and Coore/Crenshaw are tapped to do the second course at Cabot Links as well.
I had a chance to see all 36 holes – and play about 31 of them – last week. They are impressive and distinct, and I suspect the character of each designer is reflected in their respective course.
Needless to say, Streamsong raises the bar on Florida golf in a significant way, perhaps the first public courses to do so since World Woods did, and frankly, these two are more intriguing, more visually stunning and more original than Fazio’s work to the north. This is impressive design and the resulting courses are fun, intriguing and smart.
A quick note on the “red” and “blue” distinctions. I thought it was a silly way of separating the courses, but apparently Coore routed his course in red while Doak’s was blue, and the names stuck. So at least there’s a reason for names that seem relatively dull at first.
- The site is without question the surprise, especially for Florida. One expects holding ponds and slightly raised fairways. Instead you get 80 foot dunes and courses that play like links, with on-grade greens. It is all more remarkable when you consider both courses are readily walkable.
- The mix of holes by both designers is splendid. Coore/Crenshaw offer up a 312-yard ninth hole, and a 500-yard 12th – both par fours. Doak starts off with a relatively meek opener at 338-yards, but finishes with a top-notch closer, at 478-yards. Doak offers a slight, 157-yard par three on a ridge line (with a 70-yard green), and a 237-yard monster at 16. Coore/Crenshaw offer up the amazing Biarritz hole at 16, and offer no other two-shot hole longer than 185 yards.
- The routing between the two designers is clever, with neither getting all of the best land. Both courses end with terrific closers, and the routing is easily traversed.
- There are numerous holes vying for “best” status. On Doak’s course, the 4th, with its dramatic greensite set on a plateau and guarded by a vast bunker; the drivable 6th, with its green set at the base of a dune; the 7th, with its green resting amidst massive dunes; the 15th, with its watery approach, and the 18th, with its speed slot and lay-of-the-land green, were all tremendous. Coore’s opens with a great par four, the terrific downhill 12th, the spot-on Biarritz at 16, and a tremendous par five finale.
- Doak’s only awkward bit is the walk back from the tremendous 7th hole, a par three that plays over a pond to a green set in the dunes, which requires the golfer to walk back over the bridge and up a steep path to get to the 8th hole. A great hole, but it has to be to justify a walk back.
- The main difference between the courses – at least for most – will be the greens. Doak really adds a lot of internal movement, sometimes to the extreme. At 11 on the stimp, that made some of them tough to play. It’ll be interesting to see how people take to the big lumps and bumps in greens like 6, 12, 15. At some places I wonder if the movement in the greens feels a little forced.
- This isn’t exactly a criticism, but Coore’s work isn’t always obvious. There are little elements of the design – the shelf to the left of the green on 17, for example – that one won’t pick out the first time, yet offer interesting alternatives for play. Not as much a criticism as a disappointment on my part – I wanted to go back out and try the holes again immediately, but had to fly home to Ontario.
The final tally:
I’ve played a fair number of designs by both architects now – and I can say this ranks up there with the best by each. Coore/Crenshaw’s work isn’t far off Friar’s Head, the illustrious private course on Long Island that ranks among my favourites, and Doak’s is only lacking the ocean for this to rival Pacific Dunes.
The startling thing about the project is it is the work of a corporation – Mosaic – that used the site to mine phosphorus. Rarely would a corporation hit a home run like this or have the focus to hire the best two designers in the game.
Golf development in North America has slowed dramatically – and justifiably so. But if we’re going to build new courses it can’t be obvious, dull real estate efforts. It needs to be dramatic, mind-altering work that captures the imagination and draws you back time and again. Streamsong does just that. After you finish your round you’re going to want to head back out and try to figure out the nuances of each course. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the two courses intertwine and are both walkable in a state where walkable golf is unusual. Impressive.