There are no springs at Rainbow Springs Golf and Country Club, but there are plenty of bunkers and angles

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DUNNELLON, Fla. - With a name like Rainbow Springs Golf and Country Club, you might expect a beautiful golf course with some sparkling, multi-hued watery hazards.

Rainbow Springs Golf & CC - Fairways
Rainbow Springs Golf and Country Club has narrow, tree-lined fairways.
Rainbow Springs Golf & CC - FairwaysRainbow Springs Golf Course - No. 5Rainbow Springs Golf & CC - Doglegs
If you go

You'd be half right. Rainbow Springs is a very picturesque layout in a very picturesque part of Florida, but there's not a drop of water to swallow your golf ball.

The semi-private course is practically the next door neighbor of the Rainbow River state park, which showcases the 6-mile-long Rainbow River. The spring-fed, crystal-clear little river has natural springs up and down its length that gush between 400 and 600 million gallons of fresh water daily, before flowing into the North Withlacoochee River at the funky little nearby town of Dunnellon.

It's so pretty here, they used to have glass-bottom boat rides, like the more famous Silver Springs on the other side of Ocala. In fact, the area is one of those old, Florida tourist attractions that fell by the wayside when the interstates, in this case I-75, was built for the tourist hordes hellbent on their way south.

Lucky for the golfer, because the log raft rides, rodeos and submarine tours don't clog the traffic into the course.

Despite not being flavored by the lovely river, the course is still a beauty. It plays through the semi-rolling hills in this part of the state, 20 miles south of Ocala in the southwest part of Marion County. It's surrounded by rivers and the Gulf of Mexico further to the west, but the course itself is water-free.

Rainbow Springs shares most of the flora and fauna the river attracts, like summer wildflowers, magnolia and dogwood trees, where wading birds, red-shoulder hawks and swallowtail kites can be spotted.

That's where all this pretty talk ends, however, because the course itself can be as mean as one of those red-shouldered hawks.

It's a Joe Lee design, 6,721 yards from the back tees, and the lack of water is made up for with plenty of bunkers, trees and just plain difficult holes.

No. 1, for example, is a par 5 that zigzags along through overhanging trees with a green that sits at a left angle to the fairway. The dogleg off the tee is extremely awkward, as is the second dogleg that leads to the green. You could hit three irons on this hole. Get in trouble here, and your round will be over before it ever had a chance to get started.

"One thing about Rainbow Springs, I play better on every other course I play," said Dan Lee, playing in a late November foursome.

The verdict: Rainbow Springs Golf and Country Club

Rainbow Springs is a very pretty course with some awkward and difficult holes, though that shouldn't scare you off. Most of the challenge comes from the dense trees, particularly the oaks whose limbs sometimes cover nearly half the fairways. The bunkers can also be nasty. Some of the doglegs are sharp and well-guarded by the towering oaks. The greens are big and well-conditioned, with good slope, but not much undulation.

Hint: If you're playing it for the first time, play it with some locals. I did, though it didn't do much good since money - a very small amount - was at stake.

It's a fairly intricate course that begs repeat play.

"It's a course you don't get tired of playing," said Charlie Terjesen, a New Jersey snowbird. "I've been here three years, and I've never gotten tired of playing it."

It's also a busy place, with weekly events for the folks at the surrounding community, the Villages of Rainbow Springs.

The course has a nice clubhouse and practice area, and the service is good. It has a nine-hole sister course, Rainbow's End.

Ocala-area hotels

The Fairfield Inn Marriott in Ocala is in a great spot to enjoy the golf the area has to offer. It's right off I-75, on State Road 200.

The hotel has all the amenities you expect from a Marriott property, including large guest rooms with in-room, high-speed Internet access, an outdoor swimming pool with a whirlpool and fitness center.

The three-story building has nearly 100 rooms. The Fairfield has a free continental breakfast. There is no restaurant but several are nearby.

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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