Typically, the only hills one sees when visiting Orlando come at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It is interesting then to consider one’s tee shot on the first hole at Bella Collina, which features more than 50 feet of elevation change down to the green on this long par four. Although this and the rest of the rolling turf at Bella may seem unnatural for typically-flat Florida, it’s actually a gem of a property find for those operating the residential development within.
Steve Smyers and Nick Faldo may not have needed to do much with the hills, but they certainly went all-out with regards to sand. Huge expanses of waste hazard cover the property, along with more traditional white sand bunkers. The architects seem to be replacing Florida golf’s frequent use of ponds with sand instead.
The residential development underwent financial struggles immediately after the course opened during 2008 (no doubt tied to the financial crisis) but it has bounced back nicely. The state of the clubhouse speaks to Collina's brand; a $55 million-dollar golf manor, allegedly constructed with the thought to compete with the ultra-exclusive Isleworth.
Bella Collina is not your typical FL course, it actually has hills. A Faldo/Smyers collaboration, although the club does not mention Steve much.
The first hole is welcoming a downhill par four. Large waste bunker right, two deep front right bunkers and one left. The 2nd hole is a good birdie oppty. From the tips it is 600 yards so only reachable by a few. This hole leans a little left and the contour is hard right, which of course is where the trouble is. Huge waste bunker running down the right side and fairway bunkers left and right. Ideal 2nd shot is over the cross bunker that should leave you with an attack wedge to an elevated green. There is a BAB deep right front. The 3rd hole is a long valley par four. Ideal drive is over the left fairway bunkers. Too far right and you may be blocked out by the tree or worse in the bunker. This elevated green has a deep front right bunker and three bunkers left. The first par three is long with bunkers front left, right and rear. Favor the right side as everything trundles hard left. The fifth is a long dogleg left with bunkers on the inside and outside elbow. The green has a deep bunker left, favor the right side of the green. The short uphill par four 6th is a fun hole, that is driveable by some. It weirdly has a split fairway, for those going for glory the landing area is small and contours left to the large fairway bunkers. Conversely, left is wide open and a conservative player can choose their yardage to attack the pin. I was surprised to learn the long uphill par 3 7th is considered the signature hole, the bunkers short and the contour is right to left. The 8th is a long downhill left leaning par four. It is also the number one handicap hole which surprised me. The key is avoid the bunkers on the left side. Additionally, if you blow thru the fairway on the right you will be in a waste area. The par 5 9th bends right and for the uphill tee shot go right over the right fairway bunker. Big boys can reach this elevated green in two, everyone else play your second down the right side. The contour is hard left and the right provides the best angle. The green is raised with bunker right and front left and also rolls right to left.
The back starts with the easiest rated hole on the course. A downhill right bender with a gaggle of bunkers down the right side. A decent drive left or over the bunkers should leave you with an attack iron. The uphill par 3 11th is a pretty hole. Uphill with a bunker front right, it plays longer than the yardage. I was surprised it was rated the 8th toughest hole. The 12th is the longest par five and has a boatload of bunkers on both sides. Play it as a 3 shotter. Take an extra club to this elevated two tier green. The 13th bends right, it is a birdie oppty if you find the fairway. You want to aim down the right side and bit off as much as you are comfortable with. My drive was a good ten yards right of the cut and I ended up ten yards in the left rough. My friend, Carlos, was 20 yards right of me and we did not think his would come all the way down, he was in the middle of the fairway. The short 14th is also a birdie oppty. Fly the right fairway bunkers, however, if you have hook spin you will end up in the left bunker. Trust me. The last par five has an uphill tee shot. It is potentially reachable but not if you dump it in the right fairway bunker that does not have any rakes. We played end of the day and it looked like landmines had gone off. This raised green has a bunker left. The 16th is a valley par 3 with 3 bunkers front below the hole. Two tiered green with the right front position almost unattainable. The 17th is a super hole. The hole leans left and there is a hill sloping left to right. Ideal line is down the left side. The green is elevated with a deep BAB front right, however, there is a lot of room behind this bunker. Also, the contour greenside is left to right with a backstop. Carlos yanked his approach left, crested at about 2/3 of the way up the slope and then trundled down to about 6 feet. Sadly, he left his birdie putt short. The 18th leans left and has a blind tee shot. There is a concrete or rock triangle marker above the left fairway bunker. We speculated that this may be the target line. My drive was a wee bit right of it with a draw and ended up in the fairway on the right side by a yard. There are fairway bunkers right and if you are right of those there is a steep fall off. The green is surrounded by three bunkers. It was my favorite hole. I did not leave my birdie putt short.
For a supposedly high end club the fairway grass count was really skinny. Lots of bunkers and blind shots. Overall, I would categorize it as over-priced. Glad I went, I will not be like MacArthur.
To one of your opening points: It's amusing to note that both Faldo and Smyers list Bella Collina among their own designs on their respective websites...neither mentions the other's collaboration.
Far less known than many Florida golf courses, Bella Collina is located in Montverde, FL, about 40 mins from Orlando. The course opened in 2008 and can play to over 7500 yards from the tips. Unlike the vast majority of Florida courses, Bella Collina is on a great piece of land with rolling terrain and substantial elevation change, creating great interest in many of the holes. Steve Smyers and Sir Nick Faldo designed this course and they did an excellent job at using the natural terrain to route a fun yet very challenging championship golf course.
Overall the course is very playable and the par’s are excellent. With a premium on conditioning, Bella Collina is always a treat to play and certainly never gets boring. While the vast majority of the course is right in front of you, there are a couple of blind shots on the course that come into play on the 9th and 18th holes where playing them for the first time can be intimidating, but after seeing them once you know exactly where to go and have good sight lines to pick. Several holes here are candidates to be their signature hole so picking just one is difficult, but particularly memorable are the par 3 11th and 17th hole which plays uphill and has an incredible approach shot that allows you to land your ball left of the green and watch it funnel right onto the putting surface, creating lots of excitement. Some of the very best views of the course can be found right on the 1st tee where you are at one of the highest points on the golf course. On top of all of this, the course is absolutely beautiful and you would really have no idea you were playing golf in Florida unless someone told you so. You cannot make that statement about too many Florida courses, ensuring that Bella Collina is a memorable treat for anyone lucky enough to play there.
In terms of amenities, you know immediately when passing through the gate guard house and approaching the mammoth and spectacular looking Tuscan style clubhouse that you have arrived at a high end property. Upon entering the clubhouse, you feel like you are transplanted to Italy with nothing but charm and class surrounding you. Everything about the clubhouse and experience upon arrival feels quite grand and special. The food and beverage operation at Bella Collina is terrific and you will quickly see why they do a ton of weddings there as it’s a majestic setting.
If given the opportunity to play Bella Collina, you should jump all over it as I know you will have a great time.
Steve Smyers has done some great work in Florida as he also designed Isleworth, Old Memorial, and Southern Dunes.