New Course at Grand Cypress pays tribute to Old Course in Scotland - but don't get "burned"

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - The New Course at Grand Cypress Villas is Jack Nicklaus's homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews, and it is much more of a "links-style" course than you are likely to see outside of the Scottish coast.

Of course, "links-style" courses are advertised everywhere in the U.S., and are usually nothing more than marketing slogans: they cut the trees, throw in some fescue, put in a pot bunker or two, and you're expected to believe you're looking out at the Orkney Islands across the North Sea.

This being Orlando, there may be a faux version of the North Sea somewhere in the land of Disney, but short of real North Sea salt spray in your face, the New course lives up to its name in giving you links-style play, even if it is in the heart of the vast expanse of central Florida with nary a sea in sight.

When you first gaze out at the New Course, part of the 45 Jack Nicklaus-designed holes at Grand Cypress, it looks like an incredibly well-groomed cow pasture. It's as wide as Kansas and green as Ireland.

For the American golfer used to being led around by the nose by many modern architects, or those used to target golf in the Western desert, the New Course can be a little disorienting at first.

"It is a little peculiar, especially the first time you play it," said head pro Jason Tomaras. "It's almost like you're at a private golf club that doesn't mark the holes. When you go out there and you get in the tee box, which is marked, of course, you look out and there's fairways everywhere and fescue grass and you're thinking, 'OK, which green am I hitting at?' "

Mistakes can happen. It's relatively easy to shoot for the wrong green.

"It's unique in that respect," Tomaras said. "We have a lot of double greens. The GPS, and the starter, hopefully, will tell you to play the white (tees) on the front and the yellows on the back - and ideally you're targeting the right green - but if you mis-hit a shot, if you pull or push it, you might have a 120-foot putt. It's just something you don't get anywhere here in Florida for certain and very few places in the United States. I mean, two-acre greens."

Mistakes of the normal kind can also happen, but this being links-style golf, you are forgiven more than those modern courses with tight fairways and hazards awaiting slices and hooks.

"It's a lot of fun, especially for people playing their first round," Tomaras said. "They feel like they can just get out there and hit and warm up a lot easier because it's all fairway. It's a confidence-builder in that respect, if you get the lucky bounces and don't end up in the pot bunkers. They can spray the ball a little bit, if they haven't played in a few months, without a whole heck of a lot of penalty. Granted, they might be behind some grasses or in the wrong fairway, but they're able to get the club on the ball without penalty a lot of the time."

We must be careful to say it isn't a true replica course, this being a world of copyright laws, but No. 1 and No. 18 are as close to the Old Course as you can get, and the famous hell bunker is the same dimensions as the real one at St. Andrews.

The course is set down in the middle of an open meadow and, aside from the deep pot bunkers and stone walls and bridges, there are also long, grassy mounds and burns. Very little water and even fewer trees - just like the grizzled old Scots like it.

The Verdict

Don't be fooled into thinking you can swing with impunity. There are hidden hazards, particularly those hideous pot bunkers; they didn't nickname it the "hell bunker" for the sake of being quaint.

"It's one of those courses where, if you've seen it once, you know that there is trouble out there," Tomaras said. "There are these pot bunkers - it looks like a vast fairway and all of a sudden your ball disappears and you have to take a few steps down into the bunker. It's one of those courses that's going to require some definite course management the second time you play it, and the third time and so on. The first time is almost looking for pure luck, some of the rolls and bounces that you're going to get."

True enough, the course may look flat, but there is quite a bit of roll to the fairway; it isn't easy to get a consistently flat lie.

"I thought it was going to be ridiculously easy the first time I played it," said Joey Savale, a mid-handicapper who has played the course several times. "But, it's got some tricks you don't see off the tee."

It doesn't come cheap, however: green fees are $180 January through April, $115 May through September and $175 October through December.

Stay and Play

The Grand Cypress villas have club suites and one, two and three-bedroom Mediterranean style units with waterway and fairway views of the North course. The villas have twice-daily housekeeping, concierge and valet service, 24-hour room service, full kitchens, fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and private terraces.

There is plenty to do for the non-golfer: the villas have a renowned equestrian center, with scenic trail rides, lessons in dressage, a lighted, covered arena and riding instruction.

There are also 12 tennis courts - eight clay courts and four synthetic turf. The tennis facility features five lighted courts and daily clinics.

For non-tennis or golfers, there are exercise trails, swimming, hiking, biking, fishing and jogging on nature trails. The villas also provides transportation to nearby attractions.

Dining Out

The villas have seven full-service restaurants, five lounges and two poolside snack bars. The Black Swan is the ritzy one - try the jumbo prawns stuffed with crab meat and coated with a tempura and cocoanut batter.

The Club and White Horse are sports bars, La Coquina has a great Sunday brunch and Hemingways tries for the old Key West flavor.

Cascades has a giant statue of a mermaid and is a two-story, atrium-style restaurant.

Fast fact

You're probably familiar with Scottish lingo if you're a links fan, but for those who aren't, a "burn" is nothing more than a creek. I don't know why they just don't call it a creek.

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.

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