Category Archives: Courses

Harbor Club on Lake Oconee – Still Worthy of Praise After 25 Years

Harbor Club on Lake Oconee opened over 25 years ago and is still receiving high praise from golfers, writers and magazines alike. In fact, Harbor Club has been given 4½ out of 5 stars by Golf Digest as a “Best Places to Play” for the past 3 years running. Earlier this year, Golfweek Magazine rated Harbor Club #3 on its State-by-State list of Best Courses You Can Play in the State of Georgia.

With six sets of tees, Harbor Club offers a suitable distance for every caliber of golfer. The course measures 7,048 yards from the tips with a course rating of 73.6 and a slope of 138. Most guys will find the Green Tees (6,223 yards, 70.0/129) to be a challenge that still leaves them with a little bit of dignity intact. The Ladies Tees play 5,169 yards (66.6/111). Remember to choose the set of tees that best suit your game and you’re sure to have a good time.

This Tom Weiskopf – Jay Morrish designed golf course is nestled along the coastline of Lake Oconee and is fun to play for players of all skill levels. From the tees, you’ll find undulating fairways with generous landing areas, although fairway bunkers have been strategically placed to catch some errant tee shots. Almost every hole is tree lined, and, although the trees are not densely packed, if you’re in them, you’ll find yourself having to punch out, thus wasting a shot. For the most part, Lake Oconee provides visual aesthetics and really only comes into play on four holes.

In addition to a fabulous golf course, Harbor Club has some great practice facilities including a full-length driving range with targets, where you can hit every club in the bag, along with a short game area and large practice putting green. The pro shop is home to some of the latest golf fashions and logoed apparel.

Memorable Holes (All Yardages are from the Blue Tees)

Number 3: Par 4, 345 yards. Leave driver in the bag on number 3. “Stone Bridge” plays 345 yards and features water all down the right side and out of bounds left of the cart path. An accurate second shot is needed with the water guarding the right side, almost to the edge of the green.

Number 4: Par 4: 430 yards. The par 4 5th hole has an interesting moniker – “Horses Won’t Cross the Creek”. The hole brings into focus Lake Oconee for the first time and creates a wonderful backdrop behind the green on this lengthy par 4. Your second shot plays downhill, giving back some of the overall length, but be sure to hit the right club on approach. The long, narrow green creates a three-club difference between front and back pins. Number 4 is what I would consider to be a true test of golf.

Number 11: Par 5, 553 yards. The dogleg left 11th is nicknamed “The Chimney” and is just flat out long. It’s tree-lined to keep you honest off the tee and the fairway bunkers that flank both sides of the landing area have seen their fair share of action. The green is well protected in the front by bunkers on both sides. A front pin placement can make for an interesting approach shot.

Number 14: Par 5, 523 yards. Perhaps the most intriguing risk/reward hole at Harbor Club is the #1 handicap par 5, 14th nicknamed “Wildflower”. For the average player, the hole plays as a dogleg left, around a large oak tree and treed marsh area. However, for the thrill seeker, you can play your drive left of the giant oak off the tee, taking the dogleg out of play and giving yourself a clear, albeit lengthy, shot to the green. A great drive from the Blue Tees will still leave a shot of over 230 yards to the middle of the green, of which about 200 is carry over the marsh. Two good shots back to back and this feat is easily accomplished. Even if you just clear the marsh area, you’ll be looking at a makeable up and down. This has to be one of the most challenging risk/reward opportunities in the state.

Number 15: Par 4, 281 yards. After the thrill of conquering the course’s toughest hole, it’s on to the shortest par 4 on the course. “Hidden Springs” plays 281 yards from the Blue Tees and from an elevated tee box, you get the idea that driving the green shouldn’t be a problem. Many will try, most will come up short, which isn’t a bad thing (unless your buddies succeed); you’ll have a manageable up and down with a good drive. If you decide to play it as a two-shot hole, be sure to avoid the fairway bunkers on either side off the tee. The water behind the right side of the green shouldn’t come into play.

Number 17: Par 3, 174 yards. If the bunker between the water and the green on “The Marsh” par 3 17th were longer, it would be a carbon copy of number 17 at Bay Hill. From the Blue Tees, it plays about the same length as Bay Hill’s Gold Tees, with the same carry over water to an angular green. It’s a great par 3.

Number 18: Par 4, 415 yards.Double Cross” is a very challenging finishing hole that requires a well-executed tee shot over a creek, which runs parallel to the fairway the entire length of the hole. You’ll need to carry the water a second time in order to reach the green. The green is large and features some significant undulations, making for some interesting pin placements. Take a par and run.

Last Word: After your round, be sure to stop by the clubhouse for your favorite post round libations or a bite to eat. Lunch is served Tuesday – Saturday from 11 am – 5 pm and you can grab dinner Thursday – Saturday from 5 pm – 9 pm.

The lunch menu features some amazing sandwiches and burgers, including a “Build Your Own Burger” where you select from a number of toppings. The French Dip, Reuben and Chicken Sandwiches are also great choices.

The Culinary Team at Harbor Club pulls out all the stops for dinner. Start off with a basket of eggplant French fries and then indulge in entrees such as Salmon Paillard, Shrimp Angel Hair Pasta or Rack of Lamb. After dinner, treat yourself to a Chocolate Martini, made with brownie cubes, chocolate mousse, whipped cream and candied nuts. After all, you deserve it!

If you’re looking to relocate to the Lake Oconee area, look no further than Harbor Club. There’s a lot more here than just an outstanding golf course. There’s a junior Olympic size pool, tennis and pickleball courts, and the 12-acre Grove – a complex that includes a state-of-the-art fitness center, hiking and Fit-Trails, a quarter-mile running track and an event/sports field.

Boat enthusiasts will feel right at home at Harbor Club. The award-winning Lake Oconee Marina (Best Recreational Facility in the Southeast) provides easy access to the lake as well as boat storage and a wide variety of services to help you enjoy life on the lake. This includes a 72-slip dry stack boat (soon to be 300 slip) storage facility, boat ramps, fueling, watercraft rentals and a convenience store. If that’s not enough, there’s always Harbor Club’s Boathouse Restaurant, where you can motor in by boat or by car and enjoy burgers, BBQ, ribs and fried catfish all tastefully presented and served piping hot. During the summer, there’s live music at the Boathouse on Friday and Saturday nights from 11am to 9pm, and Sundays from 11am to 7pm, May through September. It’s also available to host private events.

Harbor Club is also a great venue for weddings. The Stables provide a beautiful, pastoral setting for weddings, receptions and other special events.

As you can see, Harbor Club has a lot to offer. The golf course is one of the few courses on Lake Oconee that the public has access to and I suspect at some time it too will go private. Until then, if you’re in the area and are looking for a great place to play and be treated like you belong, give Harbor Club a try. You can call them at (706) 453-9690 or visit them online at www.harborclub.com. The site also has all kinds of information on the community and surrounding area.

Forest Lake Golf Club – Just You, Nature and That Little White Ball

For me, the back nine at Forest Lake had a lot of character

As Florida golf courses go, Forest Lake is an anomaly. Oh sure, it has all the trappings of your typical Florida daily fee golf facility: pristine, natural lakes, a wide variety of Florida flora and fauna, gently rolling fairways and large undulating greens. But what sets Forest Lake apart from other courses in the Orlando area is the homes – or in this case, the lack thereof. It is a true Parkland golf experience.

Forest Lake is located in Ocoee, FL, and sits on over 218 acres of Central Florida’s ridge area, which provided the golf course design firm of Clifton, Ezell and Clifton tons of superb sandy loam. The course also sits atop the City’s effluent disposal field, giving them adequate access to water for irrigation, a precious commodity in the Florida golf industry. Also, the course drains very well, so you just might find yourself being able to get out and play a round of golf here, while other courses remain closed after inclement weather.

The course opened in 1994 and has been rated 4-Stars by Golf Digest in their Places to Play. Forest Lake features five sets of tees, setting up a playable yardage for all golfers, from seasoned professionals to beginners. From the back tees, the course measures 7,221 yards with a slope of 133. Most golfers will find that the Blue Tees (6387 yards/126 slope) will provide all the golf course they can handle and still leave with a little dignity. Ladies will be challenged from the Red Tees which measure 5065 yards with a slope rating of 117.

Forest Lake boasts a pretty impressive practice facility. There’s a full length driving range where you can hit every club in the bag, a chipping area with “blast” bunker and a large practice putting green. On our visit, the range was packed with players of all ages and abilities.

Lush, rolling fairways are generous off the tees and give way to large, undulating greens that can be hard to read for a first-time player, as I experienced. They may not be the quickest in the area, but they roll true and are consistent from hole to hole. The more you play them, the better you’re going to do.

The front side has some modest roll to it and the first hole demands an accurate tee shot between a couple of lakes, but from there the hole opens up. For most players it’s a three-shot par 5, however with a great tee shot, the green is reachable. Sand guards the front left side of the green with large mounding protecting the right front.

The par 3 holes out here are very challenging; from the back tees: you won’t find one less than 210 yards.  The second hole is the only one without water and features a very long and deceptive tiered green. Anyone who feels that par 3s are the easiest holes on a golf course needs to book a round on Forest Lake!

Holes 3-7 are situated on the western side of the 429 Expressway; you get there by taking the tunnel underneath the road. Like most of the holes they are tree lined; you better have control of your irons if you’re going to score well over here.  The seventh hole is the shortest par 4 and, depending on the tee placement could be in reach for big hitters. The green is protected by a deep greenside bunker.

If your tendency is to hit the ball left, number 9 could prove to be a bit of a problem. It’s a 405-yard (Blue Tees) par 4, with a large fairway bunker on the left side in the landing area and another large bunker that guards the entire left side. Keep it right and your problems will be limited.

For me, the back nine had a lot of character and featured more subtle elevation changes from hole to hole. The final six holes were all memorable, especially the par 3 holes. Number 13 is a long double dogleg par 5 that demands an accurate tee shot to avoid the massive waste bunker on the right and fairway bunker on the left, and then an accurate layup shot that makes it to the second dogleg, yet avoids the fairway bunker in the landing area. Success to this point will leave a short pitch shot to a small, softly undulating green. Three well executed shots from tee to green can result in a low number.

Number 14 is a par 3 and is undoubtedly the course’s signature hole. From the Blue Tees, it plays 170 yards and is not only the most photographed on the course, it’s one of the toughest par 3s in the area. It’s all carry over water with expansive bunkers front left and back right. The green features some deceptive undulations.

The 15th hole plays 342 yards (Blue Tees) and is very photogenic, with a creek crossing the middle of the fairway. If you’re playing either of the back two sets of tees, the creek can easily come into play, however from all other tee boxes it’s easy to carry and the hole becomes a relatively short dogleg right. If you want to cut the corner of the dogleg, go for it. Just be wary of the trees that can impair your approach shot to a long but narrow green that’s well protected by bunkers. Believe it or not, this hole is handicapped the toughest on the back side. From the back tees, I can see why.

If the first par 3 on the back side didn’t get your attention, Number 16 certainly will. It plays about the same length – 163 yards from the Blue Tees – but offers a little bit of relief with a bailout area left of the green. Anything right will find the water or foliage and anything long will find the sand. This is another par 3 where par is good.

Number 17 is a dogleg left par 4 that plays 342 yards and, if you haven’t played the course before, you might think it goes right. The landing area is framed by bunkers and there is a fair amount of sand to the right of the green. Two well struck shots can set up a make able birdie opportunity.

Forest Lake finishes strong with a 425 yard, par 4 dogleg left that requires an accurate tee shot between two bunkers. This leaves a long to mid iron slightly uphill into a small green surrounded by sand. A challenging end to a challenging golf course.

Last Word: Forest Lake is a Take-Your-Clubs-Out-Of-The-Trunk-Throw-Them-on-A-Cart-And -Head-To-The-First-Tee kind of place. The bag drop is easily accessible and the carts are right there. Greens fees are some of the lowest in the area, year-round! The staff is friendly and knowledgeable and leaves you feeling welcome and wanting to return. The beverage cart runs every day!  In fact, the guys who designed the course years ago – George Clifton and Ken Ezell – still own and operate it; that’s how much they think of Forest Lake.

All carts are equipped with the Pro Shot GPS system which provides accurate yardage to the front, center and middle of the green as well as distance to and over hazards. No maps, everything is displayed in text format. Simple is definitely better.

Water comes into play on about 8 holes and with the exception of the two par 3s on the back, there are no unmanageable forced caries. For the most part, the wet stuff can be found on the peripheries of the fairways, forcing you to hit it straight or pay the price.

The day we played, the pace of play was fantastic. We played as a twosome and had a threesome in front of us. I felt like we were constantly being held up, yet we finished the round in a little more than 4 hours including a short brake at their Rusty Niblick Grill. And, in case you’re wondering, they did end up letting us play through!

Forest Lakes offers an annual membership that includes year-round discounts on greens and cart fees, 8-day advanced tee times, USGA handicap service, discounted range balls and a 10% discount on pro shop merchandise. You’ll also be eligible for Forest Lake’s annual tournaments including the Club Championship.

For more information or directions to the course, visit www.forestlakegolf.com.

Gainesville Country Club – A Fresh New Look. A Fresh New Start

Gainesville CC logoSince its opening in 1963, the mission of Gainesville Country Club has always been the same: To offer its members a lifestyle that includes high quality recreational facilities, member services and social opportunities in an open, friendly and family-oriented environment.

The first part – high quality recreational facilities – has easily been accomplished. Since taking over management of the facility in March 2016, Brown Golf has made capital improvements to the golf course, tennis center and pool, including a GainesvilleCountryClub_5C-Belinda Theoretnew filtration system. As country club pools go, this Olympic size pools at the top of the list for swimming events and a separate diving area. There’s also a spacious sun deck that affords members ma modicum of privacy.

The tennis center features six beautiful Har-Tru courts that are lit for night play and according to members, are the best GainesvilleCountryClub_4C-Belinda Theoretcourts in the city. There’s also a full-service tennis pro shop and a full schedule of activities to accommodate every level of player. The men’s and women’s Tennis clubs are very active and play host to numerous citywide events.

The golf course is a special part of the equation here at Gainesville Country Club. It was originally designed by architect George Cobb and opened in 1963. In 1992, Mark McCumber and Associates rebuilt the greens and brought them up to USGA standards. Playing anywhere between 5,163 and 6,866 yards, the course is well suited for anyone from beginner to touring professional.

While there are many outstanding holes, my favorite is the first hole, a dogleg right, par 4, that plays 399 yards from the White Tees. Number one portrays the challenge of the course and brings several elements into play: elevation changes – GainesvilleCountryClub_1C-Belinda Theoretwhich are prevalent here – water and sand. You’ll need to avoid the trees on the right side of the fairway off the tee if you’re going to get off to a good start. Favoring the left side gives you a good approach to the green which sits well below the fairway. Your approach shot is played downhill, over water to a large green, well bunkered on the left. A very challenging and scenic opening hole that sets the stage for what’s in store!

Most of the members I spoke with favored Number 16, a short par 4 that GainesvilleCountryClub_2C-Belinda Theoretplays slightly uphill to a well contoured green surrounded by bunkers. Most players will need to fly the ball onto the putting surface. The green features a lot of undulation and can be tricky depending on pin placement.

One of the more interesting features of the course is the monster moss-draped oak tree that sits between #16 green and #17 tee. Some of the members told me the tree is over 200 years old and has been hit it least twice by lightning. Its massive branches stretch down into the ground, making for some incredible photo opportunities.

OK, so Gainesville Country Club has successfully fulfilled part one of its Mission Statement, now for the second – high quality member services and social opportunities. This aspect is being addressed as we speak. Shortly after taking over management of the course, a water leak destroyed a good portion of the clubhouse. Brown Golf Management saw this as an opportunity to make major upgrades and set in motion plans to revamp the men’s locker room, bar area and create a multi-purpose room.

Changes to the men’s locker room include a complete huge makeover with new lockers, a lounge area with big screen TVs and a media area with high speed Internet access. There are several tables for games and a pass thru window from the bar so that your favorite libations are close at hand.

The bar area will be a little smaller but a lot more functional and will have multiple big screen TVs. It will be located adjacent to the dining area and will provide service to diners as well. A new multi-purpose room is being added between the men’s locker room and dining area and is perfect for small family gatherings and private parties.

Presentation is everything and the food at Gainesville Country Club is not only exceptional, it looks great when it arrives at the table. Little touches such as shaved parmesan cheese on the French fries add a nice touch. The food is so outstanding, I saw a table of 18 women in the dining room and not one was eating a salad! Pretty impressive! The head waiter Phillip has been there for years and practically knows every patron by name. If you’re unsure of what to order, he’s a great help and will never steer you wrong.

Gainesville Country Club is pulling out all the stops when it comes to attracting new members. The grand opening of the new clubhouse is set for May 17th and beginning that day for a limited time, GCC is offering a “Summer Preview Experience” that will let non-club members +see firsthand all that this private club has to offer on an “a la carte” basis with limited restrictions. The program will run from April 24th – October 15th and prospective members will have access to all club social events, dining services, the pool facilities and tennis as well as complimentary Junior Golf and Tennis programs. This is a great opportunity for those who are thinking about joining a private club to experience Gainesville Country Club.

For membership information on this outstanding facility, you can reach them by phone at (352) 372-1458 or visit them online at www.gainesvillecc.com. If you’re looking for a private club where you can meet new people with similar interests and get the kids involved, check out their Summer Preview Experience.

All photos:Belinda Theoret