Cleveland Heights Golf Course a little oasis in downtown Lakeland
LAKELAND, Fla. -- These days golfers make their way around a course in GPS-equipped carts. When Cleveland Heights Golf Course opened, players reached the first two holes, set back on a hill, by horse and buggy.
The course was born in the mid-1920s when a Cleveland mogul named H.A Stahl, impressed by a tour of burgeoning Lakeland, built a development in the middle of what is now downtown. For recreation, he hired architect and fellow Ohioan H.P. Whitworth to design a golf course. Hence the name.
When the Florida real-estate boom went bust in the late '20s, Stahl was forced to put the course up for sale. The city of Lakeland took over Cleveland Heights and has owned it ever since.
The golf course is a little oasis in the middle of bustling, growing Lakeland, with lakes, ponds and the sort of critters you don't normally associate with a downtown. Peacocks, alligators, geese and hawks look at home amid the water and the moss-draped oaks. There is a noticeable lack of urban noise.
"This is probably the nicest piece of property in Polk County," said course general manager Brock Witmyer, a former Florida Southern University baseball player.
The course sits up on a little hill, offering a few glimpses of the busy people going about their Lakeland business. A small canal connects the two lakes, Little John and Big John. Stone bridges add some old-time flavor to the layout, though they are fairly recent additions.
Typically for the era in which it was built, the 27-hole course is short -- little more than 6,000 yards for any combination of 18. Donald Ross contemporary W.S. Flynn helped with the design, and Ross' influence shows. The greens are small and elevated and drop off frequently on all sides, making up-and-downs rather difficult.
Typical of Ross-influenced layouts, Cleveland Heights favors strategy over brawn, with a nice variety of doglegs and risk/reward options.
It's good enough for Paula Creamer to have played here, along with several luminaries from the Detroit Tigers, who make their spring-training home in Lakeland. Zach Johnson won a Hooters Tour tournament here five years ago.
Cleveland Heights Golf Course: The verdict
Cleveland Heights is what a municipal golf course should be: accessible, cheap, very walkable and an all-around pleasant play. The staff is genuinely excited about it, if a recent round with three course employees is any indication.
Atypically for a muni, it has a clubhouse with a restaurant and a seafood bar where you can get steamed clams. The clubhouse was renovated in 2001 and hosts frequent wedding receptions.
Witmyer said the city isn't shy about investing in upgrades. A driving range was added three years ago. There are plans to work on the tee boxes and cart paths.
The 80,000 rounds a year the course hosts show in the greens, but overall Cleveland Heights is in pretty good shape.
"We don't have a lot of flower gardens, but it's real green," Witmyer said. We keep it nice and it gets lots of play."
Lakeland-area hotel options
The 171-room Holiday Inn on Florida Avenue in Lakeland is a good base if you want to explore Polk County's golf courses. It's centrally located, a few blocks from downtown with easy access to Interstate 4 and other main arteries. There's a bar, fitness center, outdoor pool, whirlpool, free continental breakfast and an Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita.
October 26, 2007