Positively Polk County: PGA legends flock to design golf courses in Florida hot spot
The media spotlight has shone brightly on Polk County recently with the opening of the stunning Streamsong Resort complex near Fort Meade, Fla.
Golfers from near and far are seeking to play the two 18-hole layouts that were fashioned out of wildly undulating sandy terrain once used for phosphate mining.
In the mad dash to Streamsong Resort, however, golfers shouldn't overlook the many other superb golf courses in Polk County, which is located along the Interstate-4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando.
Dominated by ranch land, citrus groves and phosphate-mining areas, Polk County encompasses towns such as Lakeland, Winter Haven, Haines City, Davenport, Dundee and Lake Wales.
Several highly regarded course architects such as Greg Norman, Ron Garl, Steve Smyers and Mike Dasher have designed courses in Polk County.
Polk County Golf: Davenport dandies
For an exceptional, amenity-laden, resort-golf experience, the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate in Davenport has two Greg Norman-designed courses, The International and The National, as well as a par-3, nine-hole pitch and putt and the world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
The links-style International Course at ChampionsGate looks as if it was magically transported from the British Isles. Undulating sandy dunes covered with thick grasses, rectangular tee boxes and deep pot bunkers accentuate the British links feel of this long layout (7,363 from the back tees and 6,792 yards from the blues).
The National Course at ChampionsGate is a traditional, parkland-style layout with tricky doglegs and water in play on many holes.
Nearby, about a five-minute drive from ChampionsGate, is Providence Golf Club, a Mike Dasher design with exaggerated mounding and bunkering on terrain encompassing wetlands, fresh-water creeks, lakes and large oak trees. Despite being in a residential community, Providence has the feel of a nature preserve, especially on the back nine where there are no homes.
Polk County Golf: Near U.S. Highway 27
A major north/south highway in Polk County, U.S. 27 (also known as Claude Pepper Memorial Highway) has several excellent golf courses alongside or near the road. It's easily accessible off of Interstate-4.
In Haines City, the Joe Lee-designed Diamondback Golf Club is a great way to enjoy some of the best terrain in Polk County. You're presented with a little bit of everything, from rolling hills and natural wetland areas to dense woods and palmetto thickets. Most of the fairways are tight, but the scenic beauty and many shot-making opportunities are at the heart of Diamondback's appeal.
Haines City is also home to Southern Dunes, a Steve Smyer design with a 100-foot elevation change, humongous, undulating greens and massive, high-lipped bunkers.
For elevations that are the antithesis of flat-as-a-pancake Florida, Highlands Reserve Golf Club, a Mike Dasher design, rests on the edge of a long sand shelf called the Green Swamp Ridge. There are elevations as high as 120 feet on the course. Elevated tees, massive waste areas, undulating open fairways and spacious green complexes give Highlands Reserve a unique personality.
A 15-minute drive south from Highlands Reserve on U.S. 27 is Ridgewood Lakes Golf & Country Club, a Ted McAnlis design that's gimmick free with generous landing areas. From the back tees, it plays 7,031 yards, but it's definitely a playable layout for all skill levels with only one hole with a forced carry over water in front of the green.
Ridgewood also boasts that it's "the only central Florida course with Champions Turf greens."
Polk County Golf: Other options
Near Kissimmee, Stonegate Golf Club at Solivita has two 18-hole layouts that take full advantage of terrain that includes 100-year-old oak hammocks, lush foliage and waterways.
The Oaks Course, designed by Polk County-based architect Ron Garl, has eight holes with water and fun-to-play green complexes. The Cypress Course, aptly named for its century-old cypress trees lining the fairways, is a Clifton, Ezell & Clifton design with large bunkers and fast greens.
Garl, who has designed more than 150 courses in the U.S. and internationally, also fashioned Cypresswood Golf & Country Club in Winter Haven. Cypresswood has a wide-open feel with no adjacent fairways and each hole hidden from each other.
For an affordable and enjoyable municipal golf experience, Bartow Golf Course in Bartow has been a Polk County mainstay since opening in 1921. Designed by Donald Ross, the course is a straightforward test measuring 6,613 yards from the back tees with a 126 slope rating.