ORLANDO, FL - Compiling "best of" lists is always controversial, particularly when the goal of the list is to make a splash. Not to say that TravelGolf.com would purposely attempt to buck convention, but we realize many worthy golf holes go unnoticed in any competitive market due to lack of advertising budget or location beyond comfortable travel parameters. Some holes on our lists will be new to readers while others are simply outstanding golf holes by any measure.
In this space Travelgolf.com attempts to identify in the greater Orlando/Central Florida area those par three holes that distinguish themselves as the most strategic, complex, unnerving and stately, not necessarily the prettiest or hardest. In one way or another, these holes separate themselves from the field.
TravelGolf.com has touted the greens at Mystic Dunes as the most extreme in Central Florida. A stunning example of the maddening contour here is found at the 17th, a 248-yard gargantuan that ranks among the most unwelcome of sights when trying to hold together a decent score late in the round. Though the hole is long (222-yards from the men's tee) there are no dire hazards between the player and the cup other than air, grass, and a raised damnable putting surface that doesn't sit still.
Set along one of the highest ridges on the course, Mystic Dunes' 17th is susceptible to whatever wind is blowing. With few straightforward pin placements in its tumultuous folds, three putts are generally the rule rather than the exception. Anything less than three well-played shots will not yield par at this fascinating hole that nearly makes up for the other one-shotter on this nine and the only substandard hole on the course, the horrendous 11th.
One of the most difficult considerations when compiling this list was which of the four par threes at Southern Dunes to include. All are worthy, but ironically for a course known for its intense bunkering, the one we deem most profound has no bunker that directly effects play: the 216-yard 11th.
The stout 11th (197 yards for the men) brings with it one of the most memorable sights on a course where the memories are forever forged in the shapes and vacillations of mind-boggling bunkerwork. From an elevated tee a player looks out over the crest of several gaping bunkers (that do not come into play) down to a plateau-like green that falls away steeply to both sides and the rear. Hitting the green is not the end of the hole as the putting surface consists of an upraised back section and a center knob that duly influences nearly all putts. Not only is this hole artistically done, it's a great measurement of accuracy and length.
Few things in golf infuriate the novice, and sometimes the accomplished player, as much as a blind shot. This is especially true on a one shot hole, where perhaps more than in any other instance the player wants to watch his or her ball land on the green. The 6th hole at Orange County National's Crooked Cat is blind in that only the flagstick but not the putting surface can be seen due to its gentle uphill slope. The uncertainty of the shot carries psychological weight as the sinewy fronting bunkers and solitary flagstick against the horizon are plenty enough to make players fidgety on the tee.
Most of its character comes from the discomfort of not knowing where the ball is until the bunkers are breached at the end of the 204-yard incline (145 to 180 yards for the men). The fact that the hole is situated in the middle of a gusty plain and leans heavily on its wavy green for additional defense adds to the drama. The 6th is by no means the most picturesque of Orange County National's 36 holes, but it is the most vexing.
No compilation of fine Orlando area par threes would be complete without at least one highlighted by a significant water feature, the official hole defense of the State of Florida. Better yet, the list needs a hole with a significant carry over said water feature.
This is the most fiercely contested category of the list as virtually every course in Orlando can nominate at least one movie star par three that involves water.
Yet one of the finest across-hazard shots is located at a water skiing school in Clermont, about 40 minutes west of Orlando. The second at Swiss Fairways calls for a 175-205 yard shot across the bow of jet boats pulling skiers back and forth on the water run fronting the green. The shallow putting surface, set deeply in an amphitheater of long grass and fern, would look like something from the Emerald Isle if not for the hazard that begins only one pace shy of the putting surface.
This hole is unique to be sure, but it's also a brutal demand at such an early stage in the round.
When surveying Orlando's par threes, several glaring shortcomings are revealed. One is that there isn't a truly good short hole or pitch shot par three, and the second being there exist few natural holes that didn't have to be created. One generally has to travel west of the city to locate interesting land formations, but a natural hole can be found at Diamond Players Club of Clermont, where the 173-yard 14th is as close as most Floridians will come to experiencing "The Dell" hole at Lahinch without having to travel to Ireland.
While this breezy hole set at the high, northwestern-most corner of the rugged property can't match its Irish ancestor for setting, quirk or depth (there's no white marking stone), it does feature a green set into a bowl obscured by two dunes in front and one rear. When the pin is cut to the center of the shallow green it's visible through a gap in the dunes; otherwise it calls for a semi-blind shot left or right with balls that miss the green frequently rebounding off the surrounding slopes onto the putting surface.
Best of all, as the hole plays slightly downhill, it fits in well with the rambunctious up-and-down character of the Diamond Player's Club second nine.
Just missing the cut were the following holes:
The prodigious 221-yard 14th at Forest Lake was a runner-up in the "Carry Shot" category, and might have made the A-List if it hadn't been cancelled out by votes for it's partner hole, the 218-yard 16th, also a blast over a lake. The 16th is the more natural hole, but the manmade mounding, the pure carry, and tilted green make the 14th a more difficult par.
The New Course at Grand Cypress Resort is known as an homage to St. Andrews, and one of the more reflective holes on the course is the 182-yard 7th. A faithful adaptation of one of the most influential par threes in golf, the 11th "High (In)" hole at The Old Course (also known as "Eden"), the 7th replicates the deep Strath pot bunker in front and the deeper Hill bunker to the left of the double green, if not quite the original's fearsome back-to-front slope or backdrop.
The battle for the second-best par three at Southern Dunes was well fought, but the 6th, at 187 downhill yards, wins out for originality. A large slope that obscures part of the green, especially from the left side tees, can be used to carom the ball forward onto the left parenthesis-shaped green. The right side is guarded by three disc-shaped bunkers cut into an opposing hillside.
Some of the region's most attractive par threes:
The 2nd at Victoria Hills in Deland is a postcard, downhill 183-yard shot to a green set in a ringlet of trees and bunkers.
Panther Lake's downhill 11th at Orange County National, tucked behind a deep, curly bunker, is lovely when the wildflowers are in bloom, recalling visions of the Great Plains or Northern Michigan in the summer.
The third hole of the Highlands Course at Errol Estate Country Club and the fourth at Legends of Clermont are both one-shotters across valleys to natural benched greens, with the Errol Estate hole being the prettier of the two, the Legends hole the more challenging.
The tee at the 7th hole at Palisades provides a beautiful look down on the small green below and all of Lake County beyond.
No list of "pretty" holes would be complete without something from Tom Fazio, so we include The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lake's serene 17th, a simple and lovely 168-yard hole surrounded by oaks.
These are the most difficult single shots we know:
The king of all difficult par threes has to be the 17th at Bay Hill. How could one of the hardest par threes on the PGA Tour not be on the list?
The 210-yard 13th at Crooked Cat is also a terror. The green is crowned and surrounded by bunkers, but none of that matters if the long carry over the hazard can't be made.
Because of the angle of the green, running left to right away from the tee and fronted by a bulkhead-lined wetland, the 210-yard 11th at Magnolia Plantation can be brutal, especially when the pin is cut toward the rear and you're not playing well.
Mystic Dunes Golf Club at The Palms
7900 Palms Parkway
Kissimmee, FL 34747
2888 Southern Dunes Blvd.
Haines City, FL
Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge
16301 Phil Ritson Way
Winter Garden, FL 34787
13114 Skiing Paradise Blvd.
Clermont, FL 34711
Diamond Players Club Clermont
2601 Diamond Club Drive
Clermont, FL 34711
Forest Lake Golf Club of Ocoee
10521 Clarcona-Ocoee Road
Ocoee, FL 34761
Grand Cypress Resort
1 N. Jicaranda
Orlando, FL 32836
Victoria Hills Golf Club
300 Spalding Way
DeLand, FL 32724
Errol Estate Country Club
1355 Errol Parkway
Apopka, FL 32712
Legends Golf & Country Club of Clermont
1700 Legendary Blvd.
Clermont, FL 34711
Palisades Golf Course
16510 Palisades Blvd.
Clermont, FL 34711
The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes
1700 Alaqua Lake Blvd.
Longwood, FL 32779
Magnolia Plantation Golf Club
600 Shadowmoss Circle
Lake Mary, FL 32746
July 17, 2002