DADE CITY, FL - When the ownership group called Lake Jovita Joint Ventures settled on the site for Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club, they must have realized that a course on this property would certainly come to be recognized as one of the state's most attractive. Any layout blessed with over 200 feet of elevation change - 94 feet of it on one hole - and plenty of towering oak trees, is certain to get the attention of Floridians.
Lake Jovita has indeed developed into one of the state's most beautiful and admired golf courses. Its superior topography is on display from the very beginning with a dramatically elevated first hole drive. From there its collection of strikingly modern golf holes trundles downward throughout the development, reaching high points again at 10 and 11 before dropping to the property's lakes, wetlands, and rippling hillscapes below.
This 7,153-yard design in eastern Pasco County, 30 minutes north of Tampa near the town of Dade City, has even earned far-flung acclaim, it's reputation reaching to members in places as far as New England. The marketing for the course touts Lake Jovita as a slice of Carolina, but it's all the more impressive because it's located in Florida. Golf Digest rates it as the state's 11th best course in its 2001 rankings.
But don't think its all beauty and no brains.
What elevates Lake Jovita into the upper echelon is not just scenery but a remarkably varied playability and turf condition that most clubs in the South would kill for.
Architect Kurt Sandness's design, with input from PGA Tour player Tom Lehman, doesn't attempt to compete with the bountiful site. Instead, Lake Jovita is built to rather low-profile specs, even when the holes are mounted on the significant hills near the clubhouse. The routing rides the undulation when it's there but is content to lay flat where there's no relief. There's little in the way of superfluous mounding.
This flattering approach helps to illustrate distinctions in the land, allowing for a consistently clean and sharp looking golf course to exist over a range of terrains. Within this scheme, Sandness has created a tremendous variety of shotmaking opportunities, with excellent short and long par 4's (two play less than 370 yards, three play over 450 yards) and a balance of left and right bending holes.
Lake Jovita's diversity is complimented in the quality and condition of the turf. The course plays faster and firmer than one might expect for an area that receives so much rain. It appears ready for a photograph at each turn but it's not the soft, sopping course it might appear to be on film.
"We have Tif Eagle greens," says Head Golf Professional Christopher Brandt, "and sometimes maintaining those takes more work, but our Superintendent, Tony Disano, knows exactly what he's doing."
In addition to Disano's efforts, Brandt cites the course's drainage and sand and clay base as the reasons that Lake Jovita can play firm and still remain green, even after heavy rains. It's a model other courses in Central Florida would do well to follow.
Just as its greenness enhances the visual presentation - especially contrasted against the white bunker sand - the quickness of the bermuda adds to the playability. "The greens may appear to be subtle but there's contour in them," Brandt says. "You may not be able to detect it at first, but then your ball rolls an extra two or three feet."
"As far as playability goes," he says, "it's a course that's set up to appear more difficult than it really is. Wherever there seems to be trouble, there's always an out. It's a good course for the average player."
During Lehman's visits to the course, he offered suggestions primarily in regard to tee placement, angles, and hazard arrangements. One might surmise his biggest input was in the green complexes that at first glance seem to be ideally catered to professional scoring.
High, spinning shots have a distinct advantage in holding the firm putting surfaces. The greens possess subtle break, but as a group would not be considered highly contoured. Putts roll fast and true. And despite the frequency of greenside bunkers, nearly all are submerged below ground level with little or no lip obstruction, fodder for the professional short game.
Brandt, however, also points out that many of these same characteristics aid the average player, particularly the shallow bunkers and uniform sand. Additionally, most of the greens are open at the front so balls can be bounced into them.
As for the big, straightforward, and gently sloping greens he says, "That's the first time I've ever heard them described that way. That's certainly not how our membership thinks about them."
"I guarantee you, we can get downright mean with some of the pin placements. For instance, you don't want to be toward the middle front on number 6 (a 456-yard par 4 with an elevated rear right segment), or right on number 7 (202-yard par 3). Anywhere on 10 is tough because you can't feel the slope."
The pins must have been tucked during the seeding round for this year's Florida State Match Play Championship when the lowest score was 70. At tournaments such as these, prime spectator positions would be the 368-yard 3rd where players must decide how much of the lake to bite off attempting to get close to the green; the outstanding par 5 ninth with the green positioned behind water on the right and mammoth oaks guarding the direct line in; and the par 5 11th with over 90 feet of drop from tee to green.
Kurt Sandness is back at work at Lake Jovita, this time without Lehman. Nine of his holes on the North Course will open in early 2003, with the second nine due to be revealed the following year.
According to Brandt the new course will be similar to the South Course in length and routing, but "the differences are that only about half the course has the huge, majestic trees like the other course, and it's a little more traditional Florida in style."
Eventually the membership at Lake Jovita will tally over 700 and at that time the entire 36-hole facility will go private. In the meantime, the club is nearing the goal of 325 members and will limit public play when it does.
12900 Lake Jovita Blvd.
Dade City, FL 33525
Since it's one of the loveliest golf courses in the state, Lake Jovita will impress all players on a sensory level. It's faultless conditioning and professional appearance will attract those willing to pay for quality and an upscale experience. The tight cut of the turf and straightforward green contour should have scratch players licking their chops.
Architect: Kurt Sandness, with Tom Lehman
Yardage: 7,153 yards; 6,690; 6,206; 5,145
Lake Jovita is located southwest of Dade City, closer to the small town of St. Antonio and St. Leo's University. From I-75 exit Highway 52 east (old exit 59). Go five miles east on 52 and turn left on Lake Jovita Blvd. to the clubhouse.
Rates are $85 through mid-October and $115 from October until Spring.
Walking is permitted at any time. Holes 1, 10, and 11 feature dramatic elevation changes but play downhill. Several of the distances between green and tee are lengthy, particularly 8 to 9, 9 to 10, and 10 to 11.
Conditions: 4.5 (out of 5)
Par 3's: 3
Par 4's: 4
Par 5's: 3.5
Practice Facilities: 4
Club House/Pro Shop: 4.5
Pace of Play: 3
Overall Rating: 4
September 14, 2002