Streamsong, Florida — After several visits to this Central Florida resort since its opening in 2013, I developed a strong affection for this most incongruous of golf destinations. I use that adjective because the first two courses here – the Red, which was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the Blue, which was created by Tom Doak – were constructed on sand-based soil where phosphate was once mined. Quite surprisingly for this part of the world, the land is full of interesting contours and rugged blowout bunkers so big in some cases that you could fit entire double-wides inside them. As a result, the architects were able to fashion links-style layouts of the highest quality, giving golfers the chance to experience the game in its most traditional and enjoyable form. Only the occasional sighting of an alligator in and around the ponds on the property gives one the sense that they are teeing it in the Sunshine State.
This past fall, Streamsong brought a third track on-line. Dubbed the Black and designed by Gil Hanse, it boasts a similarly Old World feel that encourages players to employ a ground game and be creative with their shots, with five par-5s, a fine quartet of 3-pars that require anything from a 3-wood to a wedge off the tee and a collection of par-4s of various lengths that boast interesting angles of attack off the tees and on approaches.
And my assessment after a recent visit is that the addition of the Hanse layout makes Streamsong among the finest public-access resorts anywhere – and perhaps the best winter escape for golfers in America.
Thousands of words extolling the virtues of the Red and Blue have already been written, and after playing those tracks again, I would only add that they are indeed among the finest modern courses in the U.S and are only getting better with age.
As for the Black, which is routed on some 300 acres of land near but not next to the Red and Blue, it will soon make those same rosters – and with good reason. The track begins with a terrific throat-clearer of a par-5, where a massive fairway gives golfers plenty of room on which to land their first drives of the day and then an ample green that is very accepting of approaches from most any distance. No. 2 is a short 4-par that in most cases requires little more than a wedge for a second shot. But holding that oblong, angled green is easier said than done, and the wedges I hit into it the two times I played rolled into the collection area behind it after initially landing on the putting surface. Frustrating as that was, however, I delighted in the demands those misses put on my short game, and was quite happy to get up-and-down on day two.
What else did I like about the Black? The uphill, dune-top par-3 on No. 5, with a cavernous bunker on the right. And the short, 300-yard par-4 that follows it, which compels those who hit solid drives to then decide whether to bump-and-run a short iron to the pin, or fly a sand wedge. I also fell hard for No. 9, where the classic punchbowl green is surrounded on all sides but the front apron by grassy mounds and then sand – and backed by a windmill.
The second nine is just as enchanting, with two of the first three holes par-5s. I especially enjoyed No. 12, with its slightly elevated island green all circled by sand. The two-green options on the par-4 13th evoke the 8th and 9th at Pine Valley, and I could not get enough of the par-4 14th; a tick under 300 yards in length, it tempted me to go for the green with my driver both days. I managed to card a pair of birdies there but for some reason could only muster doubles on the uber-short 3-par that followed, probably because I do not get many chances to hit gap wedges off the tee.
Those horrible scores notwithstanding, I thought that having to use that club on a 3-par was a gas, and ditto the ones we played on the next 3-par, No. 17, where the green is set almost perpendicular to the teeing area and the optimum drive puts a mid-iron on the hill to the left of the green and lets the ball trickle down to the putting surface and then toward the pin, often to the shouts of players hoping it somehow finds its way into the hole.
The sense among my foursome after our round was that the Black was an exceptional golf course. To be fair, we did have some issues with the way even the best approaches into the No. 2 green skittered so easily off the back. And the split-fairway, par-5 4th, which features a stream running down the middle that comes into play on drives and second shots, seems needlessly over-the-top difficult, as it often leaves a medium-length golfer like myself with a long-iron or hybrid into the green on their third shots. But those blemishes aside, we were enthralled with the routing and also with how easy the course was to walk. The greens rolled beautifully, too, and had just the right amount of spice, making them very interesting to putt.
Of equal importance was the overall experience, and I found it to be as good as the golf, with first-rate caddies adding greatly to the pleasure of our rounds. The halfway house fare was a bonus, too, with the one on the Black serving up superb empanadas (the chili dog and buffalo chicken versions are especially good) that nicely compliment the pulled pork available at the turn on the Red and the fish tacos on the Blue. And all three boast extensive drink menus, with beverages alcoholic and otherwise.
I’ll be sure to return next winter.