When I embarked on my mission to play the top 100 golf courses you can play in 2010, I knew that I
would be attempting to hit a moving target. My hope was that any changes to the list would be at the
back end, and, therefore, not necessary. Unfortunately, Streamsong, came on-line strong, with the Red Course hitting the chart at number 12 and Blue coming in at a strong 16. (Other than Pronghorn in Oregon no other changes involved courses in the top 50.) As such, I have deemed it necessary to travel to the middle of Florida to experience these new layouts.
When my golfing friends from La Costa were trying to book a trip last year, it opened up the opportunity for a Florida run. (Copperhead, Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass formed the basis for an unbelievable golf extravaganza.) Candidly, I pushed this trip since there are few excuses for a San Diegan to make the trek to Streamsong.
Streamsong is Florida’s answer to Bandon Dunes in Oregon. At present there are two courses, with a
third under construction. An additional two venues could ultimately be added. Like Bandon, Streamsong is situated in the middle of nowhere. Also, like Bandon, the courses are focused on a links design. Two of Bandon’s architects have created the courses at Streamsong; Tom Doak (Blue) and Coore and Crenshaw (Red). I would note that there is even less potential for outside activities at Streamsong. At least Bandon Dunes has Coos Bay. Despite the similarities, there are also significant differences. Florida is a wee bit warmer than the Oregon Coast, with wind and fog being less of a factor. On the other hand, Streamsong is built on an old phosphate quarry in the center of the state, while Bandon Dunes is situated along the Pacific Ocean. Architecturally, Streamsong is very edgy. There is no way to adequately describe the hotel and clubhouse without pictures (here and here). Bandon took the conservative route with a more minimalist approach to all of the buildings on-site. Streamsong is uber cool, but feels somewhat out of place.
Location and crazy architecture aside, the attraction of Streamsong is the golf. My expectations were
huge, based upon the rankings and the on-line photos here and here. It is usually hard to meet expectations, with Bandon Dunes being the best example. The two Streamsong courses were really good, but I am not sure they quite lived up to the hype. Remembering that this trip included three PGA venues in pristine condition, the bar was set pretty high.
I found both courses equally desirable. The Red course felt more extreme, with the Coore/Crenshaw
team creating a slew of really short holes and really long ones. You definitely needed to hit all the clubs in the bag. The start is impressive, even if Number 1 should be a par 5, as it plays longer than the 464 yards from the tees we played. Number 2 is a very cool par 5, with an intimidating tee shot with plenty of carry required. Both of the front side par 5’s were terrific, but my favorite hole was the par 3 16th. The course has a great start and great finish, although I felt holes 8 through 11 to be a bit pedestrian.
Doak was up to his usual tricks on the Blue course. I liked this design better than Old Macdonald, but
less than Pacific Dunes; his two Bandon courses. The par 3 7th is the signature hole, and lives up to
expectations. I also thought Number 17, was a great par 5, but maybe that is because I managed a
birdie. Nearly all of the holes rated out at 8, or better (1-10 scale), with plenty of challenges throughout.
Absolutely Must Play? Yes to both. Red and Blue both require a lot of attention. You will hit every shot in the bag. Water on the courses comes into play often and there are a few blind shots. These are walking courses, although they seem more liberal about allowing carts during certain hours and times of the year. (I suspect the summer is brutally hot.) Take a caddie, as course knowledge is at a premium. Given the access, and need to play each course a couple of times, you might as well book a package and eat at the restaurants on-site. Streamsong is not cheap, but neither is Bandon. As long as you are playing during peak season, you should get your money’s worth. You will also enjoy the wildlife, including a plethora of alligators, birds of prey and other critters.
My Rating: 9 for both courses given the challenge and inspired design that will make you think, as well as execute. This is not a place to bring a non-golfer, despite the presence of a spa. My biggest complaint is the unusual pricing policy for caddies, which makes no sense.
Weekly Observation: Congrats to Danny Willett, who seems like a decent guy, for winning the Masters. Overall, however, there was too much carnage to make this one a classic. Ernie Els’ six putt on the first hole, Fowler’s eight over effort on day one, Michelson’s back to back in the water while trying to make the cut, Day’s six on Number 16, and ultimately, Spieth’s quadruple on 12 took some of the magic away from golf’s best event.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and
design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top
100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.