Florida's Ironwood Golf Course: Uninspiring and Underwhelming

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

Sometimes during a round of golf you might catch yourself paying more attention to the course than to your game. This is fine if the reason is because the course is challenging, visually stunning, dramatic, inspiring, or any of the other characteristics that make us love and talk about golf courses.

Ironwood Golf Course - Gainesville
Ironwood Golf Course in Gainesville, Florida
Ironwood Golf Course - Gainesville
If you go

At Ironwood Golf Course, progressing through the 18 holes, I found myself concentrating more on the course than my swing, but not because I was in any way enamored with it. On the contrary, I kept waiting to see something good, or at least something interesting, from the course. It never came.

The highlight of my round, little did I know as I hesitantly stepped into the primitive, inadequate clubhouse, was the $14 green fee. In fairness, a new clubhouse is under construction (it can't help but be an improvement), but it makes one wonder how they could have operated for as long as they have with the building that is currently being used. Soda machines and folding tables is not the "clubhouse feel" that most golfers desire.

Unfortunately the half-minded clubhouse and cramped practice areas are preludes to what lies ahead on the course. The words that continually come to mind when thinking about Ironwood are "uninspiring" first, and "average" second. Everything about the golf experience here is average.

From the layout, to shot making demand, to feel, there is little to recommend or remember. This may seem too critical of a popular municipal course that receives so much play, but there are design flaws here that seriously impede playability and enjoyment.

Ironwood is a fairly short golf course that measures 6,088 yards from the middle tees and 6,465 yards from the back tees. A wide open par 5 opens the round, and standing on the tee you'll experience for the first time a recurring theme: aimlessness. Though the hole is attractive, the fairway is poorly defined and there is really no clear target at which to shoot.

This is typical of most of the holes here. On far too many holes there are no perceptibly clear targets or landing areas, or any other clues as to where your ball should be. So even though the fairways are wide, it is no small feat to hit them. If you do find the fairway, you are not necessarily out-of-the-woods yet, so to speak. Many small, unseen hazards await you. Be wary of the small creek that crosses the fairway seventy yard shy of the first green-it is invisible from your second shot.

There is something else that is sorely lacking at Ironwood-a route plan on the scorecard, or even individual diagrams of the holes. Other than the simplistic etchings near the tee markers there is no indication of what is ahead. If you are unfortunate enough to be by yourself or paired with someone else who has not played the course before you'll be in "unseen" trouble all day and have little idea of where to strategically place your shots.

So with no visual targets at which to aim, few defined landing areas, and no knowledge of the hole beyond what your eyes can see, playing at Ironwood is akin to playing blind. When this mystery is combined with the charmlessness of the golf course, you may find your round quickly souring.

The course is as flat as they come, with virtually no elevation changes. The layout on the front nine is hideously dull as most of the holes are aligned adjacent to each other, back and forth, with only token stands of trees between them. Standing on the fourth tee, a straightforward, open, 144-yard par 3, you can see all of or parts of seven of the first nine holes.

The third hole is the number one handicap, a fairly typical 398-yard par four that doglegs left around a small pond. I remember thinking, "That's it? That's the number one handicap?" Play a fairway wood off the tee here to keep the ball in the fairway and avoid the water. The hazard is closer than it looks.

On the straight, 389 yard eighth hole the visual targets are so poor that on my approach shot to the green I was actually shooting at the flag on the first green, which is behind and to the left. Only when I was walking up to the green did I realize where the eighth pin really was.

The ninth is the best hole on the front. At 495 yards it is a respectable five par with trees all along the left. A small pond threatens the right on your second shot, and, oh yes, a stream crosses the fairway at the ninety yard marker, completely invisible from over two hundred yards out. Hopefully your first knowledge of it will not be a spray of water.

The back nine is the better of the two, at least in regards to layout. After the 10th, a short, chippy par three, the course begins to unwind through the trees and stretch out a little more. The fairways tighten beginning with the eleventh, a 368-yard par 4 that doglegs right around a grove of trees.

This hole is typical of what you'll find on the back: lots of doglegs around a cluster of trees followed by flat shots to big greens. Be careful because what is around the corner of these doglegs, distances and angles, will be unknown to you, so it is better to lay back off the tee with a fairway wood or long iron. Blasting away with a driver, even if you land in the fairway, can seriously put you out of position on your second shot. Again, caution is the best play because you'll most likely be guessing as to what is the best way to attack the hole.

Both the fifteenth and sixteenth holes are short par fours, sharp doglegs right and left respectively, with blind tee shots. This is frustrating pair to the Ironwood neophyte because these are simple holes, chances to make par or birdie if you put your ball in the fairway, but you can't gauge that standing on the tee.

There is no indication of where you should aim or land your ball. This is more of that "aimless" theme, playing itself out. The course ends on a flat note as well. It's not uncommon for a designer to try to make a lasting impression with the eighteenth hole, but here it seemed like he just wanted to get it over with. You might feel the same way as you tee off on this 306-yard, bland, dogleg left par four. From a review standpoint, any further hole descriptions would begin to all sound the same.

Despite these tactical problems with the layout, the condition of the course is good, and this perception is bolstered primarily by the greens. They are by and large rolling and generous, and they putt true. The fairways too are well kept in general, and the only places where the ground is sparse or burnt to any significant degree is in the rough on certain holes, where you don't want to play from anyway.

They are perhaps not as full and even as they could be, but for the most part they are attractive. There is no real quibbling overall, however, due to the condition of the greens. Having the entire course green and lush is usually too much to ask of a municipal course, and if the greens are as fresh as they are here then the rest can be forgiven.

Generally, Ironwood is a ho-hum golf course that leaves little or no impression, inspires few feelings, and whose layout is fundamentally flawed. I'm not familiar with the architect's other designs, but I'm sure he has done better. You're certainly not getting any favors from him. I would be remiss if I didn't call to attention a major design error, or carelessness, at Ironwood. The final three holes on the front side play to the southwest, directly into the sun in the afternoon or late afternoon, depending on the season.

Several of the finishing holes on the back nine are routed in the same direction. Understandably on any given course there will be certain holes in which the sun may be a factor late in the day, but I have never had to hit so many shots directly into the sun as I did on this course.

Most architects do their best to route finishing holes away from where the sun sets. That was not a consideration here. Basically play early or mid-day at latest if you do not want your irises seared or your golf ball traveling where you can't see it.

Golf is played for a variety of reasons and if the thrill of being impressed or challenged by a particular course is why you play, choose another course. Play Ironwood because it is accessible, if you want fresh air and a good walk, if you're non-discriminating about where you play, or if you are on a budget.

If you enjoy hitting the same shots over and over, play Ironwood. Because while this is not a "bad" golf course, it's just less than interesting to play. As far as golf experiences go, Ironwood is an uninspired day.

Ironwood Golf Course
2100 NE 39th Ave.
Gainesville, FL 32609
(352) 334-3120

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Duncan

    Eric wrote on: Mar 13, 2016

    This is a local course that people enjoy. In a town with limited public golf courses, Ironwood is home course to many good golfer. Take your long drawn out criticism back to Atlanta where maybe you can hit a fairway.