Head for the Hills: DeLand golfers head to Victoria Hills Golf Club

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DELAND, Fla. - Many old-time Floridians still pronounce the name of the little town of DeLand as "DEE-Land." And DeLand has indeed managed to stay fairly Old Florida, despite the ever-groping tentacles of Orlando just 35 miles north. DeLand and its 22,000 or so residents like their fishing, hunting, camping and boating - the city sits astride the north-flowing St. Johns River - but they seem strangely impervious to one of the state's better golf courses, Victoria Hills.

Victoria Hill's No. 1
Prepare for visual overload at Victoria Hill's No. 1.
Victoria Hill's No. 1Victoria Hills Golf ClubA Ron Garl design
If you go

Not much of the play at Victoria Hills Golf Club is local, aside from those who live in Victoria Park, the upscale development that boasts the course as its preeminent attraction. Orlando golfers often make the drive to DeLand, leaving one of the state's golf meccas to play this course. So do golfers from Daytona Beach 20 minutes to the east, and others from farther-off places where word of the course's quality has carried.

It's a well-deserved reputation that survived the battering the course took from three hurricanes in 2004 (200 trees and all the greens were lost). The course was designed by Ron Garl, probably Florida's most prolific architect, who jumped at the chance to transform this nearly unique piece of inland property into a showcase course.

The terrain is ideal, a layout waiting for a golf course. With rolling hills - up to 80 feet of elevation change - and sandy waste areas, Victoria Hills bucks the stereotype of flat and watery Florida courses. In fact, water is in play on only three holes.

Sand is the hazard here - that and the bucking, rolling fairways leading to greens that put up a variety of no-trespassing signs.

"This is a tough golf course," said Assistant Professional Brad Verman. "It's very undulating and you've got to have a good short game to get up and down. You can miss the green on the wrong side and it's impossible to get there in two strokes. It's a shot-maker's course if it's anything."

Take the elevated green at No. 3, in which you have to throw an almost perfect approach to stay on, or the two-tiered green at No. 6, or, especially, the severely sloping green at No. 7: "If you hit above the hole here, you're dead," Verman said. "You can putt right off the green."

Still, the sandy hazards are the ones that will jump out at you. There are 107 bunkers on the course, and even the fairway bunkers are deep - more like nasty green-side bunkers. Some say Garl went overboard with the sand; some may be reminded of Pine Valley. Fact is Garl did little more than take advantage of the natural sandy waste areas. As for the elevation, most of that is the way God and nature intended it; Garl did precious little earth-moving.

The only drawback for mid-handicappers is that the course was really designed from the back tees. Those playing from the middle or forward tees will miss much of Victoria Hills' jarring visual impact. That said, pick your tees wisely - and for once, I'm not talking about going too far back. If you play too far forward you're likely to run into hazards, like driving through the fairway or hitting into bunkers or waste areas you wouldn't normally reach.

Even so, you will enjoy this course as much for the beauty as for the challenge (a 142 slope rating and 6,854 yards from the back tees). There are some homes around the perimeter and more are going up, but there are still natural windings through the thick stands of oak and pine where deer and other critters wander. The course can appear overwhelming at times with all the sand - there seem to be endless series of waste areas and cross bunkers - but they can be avoided if you're reasonably accurate. As for the routing, the holes flow into one another effortlessly, and each gives you a completely different look and feel.

"When I play with somebody who's never played here, I say, 'Tell me when you see an ugly hole,'" mid-handicapper Greg Porter said. "They never do."

The Verdict

Green fees at Victoria Hills are in the $50-$85 range and it is more than worth it to play this top-notch track.

At the time of this writing the greens were in pretty rough shape, victims of Mother Nature, and course officials say they hope to have them close to their former shape by fall. It's a shame - according to Chris DiMarco the greens here were as good as at many PGA Tour venues.

Stay and Play

When you come to a place with "beach" in its name, you want to actually see it, right? Perry's Ocean Edge Resort comes through in that respect, sitting smack dab on the Atlantic Ocean; you can hear the waves crashing on shore from your room or balcony.

The resort, one of Daytona Beach's biggest, has more than 700 feet of landscaped oceanfront, a whirlpool/spa, two outdoor pools with a poolside bar and a heated indoor pool in a 10,000 square-foot atrium. It also has home-made doughnuts in the mornings that I defy you to pass up.

Perry's caters to families and has a children's activities program. It also offers volleyball, bocce ball, basketball, shuffleboard and horseshoes. There are about 20 golf courses within a 30-minute drive.

Dining Out

There is a small, casual restaurant adjacent to Perry's that serves breakfast and lunch. For fine dining, try Rains Supper Club on Seabreeze (the Chilean sea bass is a must), which also operates an upstairs nightclub from 9 p.m. Other first-rate choices are the Bonefish Grill, Chops and the Inlet Harbor Marina and Restaurant.

Fast Fact

Victoria Hills is the home course for the Stetson University men's and women's golf teams.

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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