Golf Club at Bridgewater destined to be a star course in Lakeland

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

LAKELAND, Fla. — There's nothing like a brand new golf course, especially when you know it's going to grow up to be a star.

The Golf Club at Bridgewater - Lakeland
Bridgewater is a brand new golf course, just off Interstate-4 in Lakeland.
The Golf Club at Bridgewater - LakelandThe Golf Club at Bridgewater - Steve SmyersThe Golf Club at Bridgewater - Front Nine
If you go

The Golf Club at Bridgewater is younger than new — it hasn't even been born yet. Actually, that isn't technically true. The golf course itself is raring to go, it just needs someone to play it.

The course is inside the Bridgewater development, just off Interstate 4 in Lakeland. It's surrounded by acres and acres of empty land, most of it marked with stakes. Construction has started on only a few homes, but for the most part, only the dirt is there to play with the wind that seemingly never ends here.

"I've been here for more than a year, and this is usually the way it is," said Superintendent Sean Klotzbach, as a 20-25 mph breeze kicked up dust in the empty parking lot. "It's brutal."

He could have been describing the course itself, or at least the front nine. Steve Smyers, the well-known architect who has done a lot of golf courses in Florida, took land that had been abused for years as a phosphate mining site, and turned it into something more useful — at least to golfers — and certainly something that is more aesthetically pleasing.

Smyers reclaimed the abused wetlands and used all that dirt to push up the greens and install high banks on the fairways and high lips on the bunkers.

"We moved a lot of dirt, but it was all local," Klotzbach said. "We didn't truck anything in. We took all native materials and made it work."

That they did. The course is a beauty, and a handful. There are all the wetlands, for starters, which has already attracted wildlife and will almost surely attract quite a bit more. Much of the water is lateral, but it frequently comes into play.

That's the least of your worries. Smyers scraped out a series of deep, nasty, grass-faced bunkers that are dotted all over the course, most of them in strategic places like landing areas and around greens. Some of them, you'll need cable and a bucket truck to get out of, with elevations of 12 feet or more.

The rough around the bunkers and on the sides is thick and worrisome; if you happen to get a sidehill lie, say halfway down the face of one of the deeper ones, good luck, brother.

Then there are the greens. They're huge, about 4 1/2 acres in all, averaging about 10,000 square feet, with some of them much larger. Many lay at awkward angles to the fairway, some have severe slope, and all of them are undulation, with dips, valleys, ridges and any assortment of other non-flat lines — these greens have a topography all their own.

"They look like fairways," said Kris Krepios of the Lakeland Chamber.

Well, at least Smyers cut us a break on the fairways. Most are wide with generous landing areas, though there are always more deep bunkers to avoid. Even the shortest hole, the 135-yard, par-3 16th, can be treacherous with its angled green and deep bunkers front and back.

Golf Club at Bridgewater: The verdict

The back nine is much tamer than the front, though it still has its challenges. Still, the two nines have drastically different personalities.

Most of the par-3 holes are long and difficult — the third is 256 yards from the medal tees — and there are some long par 4s as well, including the 491-yard 10th.

They planted 500 trees to go with the few existing stands, mostly oak, pine and magnolia, so when the course matures, the trees will help break the wind somewhat, though not a lot. The wind adds an extremely challenging element, as much as a three or four club difference on some holes, depending on the direction.

Bridgewater is scheduled to make its grand opening either later this year or early next year, but it is basically ready to go now, though some planting of native grasses remains to be done.

As of now, there is no clubhouse, not even a temporary one. That should also change soon, and a permanent one is planned for next year.

When this course does open, it will be talked about.

Lakeland hotels

The Holiday Inn on Florida Ave. is a good place to base a visit to Lakeland, if you want to explore Polk County's golf courses. It's a central location, with easy access to I-4 and other main arteries.

If you happen to come during spring training time, expect to see a lot of Michigan plates; Lakeland is the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers, and the motel isn't far from Joker Marchant Stadium.

It's a two-story hotel, with 171 rooms with a free continental breakfast and an Italian restaurant, La Dolce Vita.

There is a bar, fitness center, outdoor pool and whirlpool. With its central location, there are a variety of restaurants nearby, and downtown is located only a few blocks away.

Fast Fact

Smyers also designed Old Memorial in Tampa.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • bridgrwater closed years ago

    gil wrote on: Jan 12, 2020

    this place is just weeds, it closed about 3 years ago never opened again, it is an industrial site now....stupid website