Category Archives: Florida Golf Blog

Florida Golf Blog

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.

Juliette Falls, Dunnellon FL – A Great Place to Golf. A Better Place to Live

Ask anyone that has taken up residence here and they will tell you that the Ocala area has it all. The nearby Rainbow Springs connects to the sparkling Rainbow River and produces more than 460 million gallons of crystal clear water daily. The Gulf of Mexico and all its wonderful beaches is about half an hour away.  And as Florida goes, the climate is perfect; just look at the live oak trees, many of which are hundreds of years old; you’ll see them throughout the property. The area also offers endless recreational opportunities directed towards seniors. In short, it’s a great place to live.

One community that exemplifies a laid-back style of living and offers fantastic recreation is Juliette Falls in Dunnellon, about 40 minutes southwest of Ocala on US-40, and about 35 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. Juliette Falls boasts 540 golf home sites on 546 acres; 136 acres of which are part of a nature preserve.  The nature preserves feature 5 miles of trails, perfect for walkers, bikers and hikers, and offers a sometimes much needed “get-away-from-it-all” ambiance. The homes in Juliette Falls are concrete block with stucco with floor plans and range from 3 to 6 bedrooms and 1,500 to over 7,000 square feet. Home prices range from $200,000 on the low end to over $1 million. Garbage collection, satellite TV, internet and lawn maintenance are all included in monthly HOA.

The centerpiece of the Juliette Falls community is the par 72, John Sanford-designed championship golf course. Sanford Design has been a part of over 60 course projects worldwide, in such locations as Japan, Egypt and Canada. Golf Aficionados may recognize the Sanford name from his days with Nicklaus Design.

Juliette Falls is consistently ranked as one of the best golf communities and courses you can play in the entire state of Florida. Shortly after opening in 2008, Golf Digest ranked Juliette Falls in the top five “Top Ten New Courses You Can Play” in the country. The next year, the magazine ranked it #5 “Top Ten Best New Courses”. Another accolade bestowed upon the course comes from WorldGolf.com, who in 2016, ranked it #4 on their “Best Under-Publicized Golf Courses in Florida” list; which is great for golfers looking to get on a great course relatively easy.

From the back tees, Juliette Falls plays 7,236 yards with a course rating of 75.4 and a slope of 143. The White Tees will give most golfers all they can handle from 6,269 yards (70.4/130) and still allow them to leave with some dignity. Ladies will have an enjoyable time playing the Red Tees (5,071/69.3/123). Five sets of tee boxes make Juliette Falls fun and challenging for all golfers who choose to play from the set of tees that best suits their game.

The rolling hills of Ocala’s horse country have paved the way for this beautiful, thought-provoking golf course. Juliette Falls winds its way through mature pines, live oaks, flowering magnolias and seasonal annual flowers which adorn the property. For most, the four man-made waterfalls are the aesthetic highlights of the course, especially on the par 3, 13th, aptly dubbed “The Falls”. Wide open fairways give way to well-manicured sand bunkers and waste bunkers lying in wait for errant shots. Water comes into play on 6 holes and creates a dramatic approach shot to the 18th green.

In addition to one of the best golf courses in the area, Juliette Falls also has some of the best practice facilities. This 10-acre practice facility makes working on your golf game fun and you can practice from dawn until dusk. The practice facility includes a state-of-the-art turf range with multiple target greens and bunkers that create a sense of actually playing the course. There’s also a short game area directly behind the driving range complete with a practice bunker and a huge, undulating putting green to get you ready for what you’re about to face.

The clubhouse features a pro shop with all of your favorite logoed apparel and golf accessories as well as separate bar and dining areas. Prime rib is featured on the last Friday of every month and at $20 a plate, attracts a large area following. The rest of the time, Kitchen Manager Scott Bartman serves up some great sandwiches and burgers. No fries though; Juliette Falls has gone the healthier route and rid their kitchen of deep fryers. Sides include potato salad, coleslaw and Miss Vickie’s Chips.

Here are some highlights from the golf course:

Most Memorable Hole: Number 17, “Double Trouble”, Par 4, 362 yards. Waterfalls aside, I’ll always remember the large waste bunker on #17 that splits the fairway in two. Keep It left and you’re more likely to hit the fairway; there’s also a lot less carry over sand to get to it. The right side is the more direct route. Either way, a good drive will leave a mid-iron slightly downhill to a green well protected by sand.

Favorite Par 3: Number 13. “The Falls”. If I can only pick one, this has to be Juliette Falls signature hole; it is by far the easiest on the eyes. At only 147 yards, it’s the shortest – and easiest – hole on the course. Water makes up the left side of the green and left pin placements can be tricky as you’ll have to fly it on if you want to get it close. The green is long, narrow and well undulated. No matter how good – or bad – you do on the green, look at the waterfall behind it and you’ll forget all about your score.

Favorite Par 4: Number 18, 408 yards. Although it plays slightly downhill, it’s going to take two well struck shots to reach the green on “Viking Challenge.” If the 408 yards is a little more than you can handle in two shots, play down the left side of the fairway. That will take the water on the right side of the green out of play. Sand left and water right makes this the most challenging hole on the back side.

Favorite (and Toughest) Par 5: Number 6, 517 yards. “Reflection Lake”. This is your first glimpse of water on the course and it only requires a short carry to put it in the rear-view mirror. Playing down the right side of the fairway takes the long waste bunker on the left out of play. Hitting your layup shot across the fairway to the left side will take the largest of the greenside bunkers out of play. Your approach shot is uphill to an elevated green that can be hard to hold. With all the roll in the green, a two-putt is good.

 Last Word: Juliette Falls is more than a place to live or a place to play golf; it’s more about a lifestyle. While the community and clubhouse may have a laid-back feel, the course is anything but. Pick the tees that best suit your handicap and you’re guaranteed a fun – and challenging – round. The course is well manicured and the greens roll true. Most holes have plenty of room off the tee, setting up what Juliette Falls is all about – the second shot.

Approaches are challenging, although unlike many Florida courses, it’s not the water that will get you, it’s the sand! And it’s everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, Waste bunkers, pot bunkers, fairway bunkers, greenside bunkers; play your round without encountering one and you deserve some sort of prize. Juliette Falls is a great test of golf with great people; every staff member I encountered was outgoing and eager to answer any questions.

For more information on joining or living at Juliette Falls, visit their website at www.JulietteFalls.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