Beauty and difficulty collide at Candler Hills Golf Club in Ocala

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

OCALA, Fla. -- Lush landscaping evoking a Palm Springs-style elegance and a top-notch design create the perfect marriage of beauty and challenge at Candler Hills Golf Club.

Candler Hills Golf Club - 17th
Huge bunkers await on the 202-yard, par-3 17 at Candler Hills Golf Club.
Candler Hills Golf Club - 17thCandler Hills Golf Club - 13thCandler Hills Golf Club - no. 13
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Candler Hills Golf Club

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Candler Hills Golf Club in Ocala was designed by Florida native Gordon G. Lewis. In a state that has no shortage of golf courses, Candler Hills manages to stand out. The layout offers plenty of length at 7,233 yards from the back tees.

18 Holes | Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 7233 yards | Book online | ... details »

Tall palm trees frame the fairways and native foliag dot waste bunkers to give the course a distinctly Central Florida personality.

Home to the Ocala Open, a three-day professional tournament staged every March, Candler Hills offers a superb challenge to the pros and a thoroughly enjoyable play experience for a wide range of handicaps.

The golf course is a centerpiece amenity along with a 25-acre nature preserve at the Candler Hills development, a golf-oriented residential community with attractively landscaped stucco homes.

Candler Hills Golf Club: Architect's analysis

"I was amazed and impressed the first time I saw the site," said Naples-based golf course architect Gordon Lewis. "It was beautiful pasture land with rolling hills. We didn't move much dirt, and the undulations give the course instant character."

Lewis -- whose other Florida designs include Sarasota National Golf Club in Sarasota, Arrowhead Golf Course in Naples and Savannahs Golf Course at Merritt Island -- is a hands-on designer who participated in every phase of the Candler Hills golf course development from planning and construction drawings to meetings and on-site inspections.

"The rolling hills really define this course," Lewis said. "They remind me of the subtle hills you see in Kansas where I grew up."

One of the most impressive aspects of Lewis' Candler Hills design is the variety in lengths of holes. The par 4s (from the back tees) range from the 329-yard No. 7 to the 453-yard No. 16. The par 5s range from the 514-yard No. 12 to the 669-yard No. 4, which is reportedly the longest hole in Florida.

"My goal was to require players to hit lots of different clubs at Candler Hills," said Lewis. "There are also some bump and run opportunities for players, which adds variety to the short game."

Lewis skillfully fashioned the greens to allow for some difficult pin placements for tournament play and easier ones in more flat, accessible areas for weekend golfers.

Candler Hills: Course strategy

Do not -- I repeat -- do not just stick your peg in the ground and hit some driving range-style tee shot with no thought to where it will land on the fairway.

"The landing areas are fairly wide," said Logan Stringer, assistant professional at Candler Hills. "However, you need to take a few moments to identify your target area to avoid the well-placed fairway bunkers."

To score well, Stringer said golfers must know when to play safe and when to "go for it."

Candler Hills Golf Club: Amenities

After the round, the restaurant -- a tastefully appointed room with dark-wood chairs and tables and white tablecloths -- offers indoor and outdoor dining, golf course views, and diverse lunch and dinner menus.

For lunch, popular choices include the Classic Reuben, Circle Square Burger of the Day and Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich. Dinner entrees include Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Marsala and Fire Roasted Salmon.

Other amenities include a fully stocked pro shop, private and group lessons and game-improvement clinics every Friday (10 a.m.) on topics such as "How to Execute Knock Down Shots," "Greenside Bunker Play," "How to Execute Shots in the Wind" and "Getting Out of Trouble." (Pre-registration is required by calling the pro shop no later than Thursday at 5 p.m.)

Candler Hills Golf Club: The verdict

Gordon Lewis artfully balanced his design so Candler Hills could serve as a professional tournament site but also be enjoyable to members and weekend amateur golfers.

There are five sets of tees on each hole giving golfers the opportunity to play the course from a distance suitable to their game and handicap.

Fact is, if you're a 15 handicap and you play the back tee, you'll be exposed quickly. If you play the correct tee, you'll have an enjoyable golf experience with a scorecard dotted with some pars and a birdie or two.

The difference in yardage between the back tees (7,233) and the member tees (5,978) is quite dramatic, so a quick glance at the scorecard before you tee off is highly recommended.

If you like your Florida golf courses with a some undulation in the fairways and greens, lots of variety in each hole design and fair pin placements, you'll love Candler Hills.

Ed SchmidtEd Schmidt, Contributor

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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