Founded in 1911, the Country Club of Orlando is one of the oldest country clubs in Florida and their old Donald Ross-designed course has undergone a number of renovations down the years, most recently by Forse Design in late 2017.
But did Donald Ross really design the course? The Donald Ross Society seem to think so, but Golf Course Architecture’s Adam Lawrence is not so sure:
“The history of golf and golf courses is not always as clear as it might be. Mostly, that is simply because for most of the time that golf has existed, history has not been a significant concern. The number of clubs which have little or no archive material from their early days, even without the clubhouse fires that have wiped out so much documentation, is, from today’s perspective, pretty amazing.
The Country Club of Orlando (CCO) is one such example. Founded in 1911, it is among Florida’s oldest courses, older than luminaries such as Seminole and Mountain Lake. At its foundation, the club had nine holes built by architect Tom Bendelow; it expanded to eighteen in 1918. CCO has long believed that the legendary Donald Ross was responsible for that expansion, but evidence for Ross doing that work is hard to find. It appears that Ross may have visited the site and submitted a routing for the new-look course, but clear evidence from local papers of the day suggests that Bendelow returned to re-plan the course. One of the definite consequences of the club’s age, though, is that the course is golf-only, with no associated real estate; this is, nowadays, relatively unusual for Florida.
Whoever did that work, there is no doubt that the course changed extensively between 1918 and the present day. Robert Trent Jones built three new holes (the fifth, sixth and seventh) on some new land in the 1950s, and time wrought its usual changes. A few years ago, therefore, the club decided to return to a more historic look and feel, and hired architect Ron Forse and his associate Jim Nagle to do the work.”
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Donald Ross's field sketches are unavailable because Donald Ross never designed this golf course - Tom Bendelow did. That being said, and if you can get past a club ethos that is more based in myth than fact the golf course is very good and the Forse/Nagle team did a remarkable job of coaxing some interesting golf out of the property. The one-shot holes, in particular, shine.
Not to repeat word for word what Steve outlined from his spot on review -- but the existing course today is truly a "re-creation" by architect Ron Forse. What amazes me is how the original fingerprints from the efforts of Donald Ross simply evaporated over time and yet the club still itemizes the name Donald Ross as the central architect on its scorecard. It's time for that credit to be acknowledged and on the scorecard does that.
Forse took the routing corridors Ross provided -- and also years later the efforts of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. who redid three other holes on the outward side. It was Forse who created the bunkering style and provided the placement one sees today as well as the array of green contours that can quickly bedevil players with their various internal movements and array of fall-offs encountered. To secure a reasonable birdie opportunity one's approach play had best be present.
The land is completely flat so the fundamental character of the course rests with the putting surfaces. To his credit, Forse did not fall into the trap in trying to superimpose a style at complete odds with the genesis of the layout.
Not all of the holes are on equal plane with one another. However, Ross provided a routing that keeps things changing so no clear pattern or routine emerges and therefore the daily wind pattern will need to accounted for when playing.
The par-4 3rd is a first rate hole -- moving to the right in the drive zone and framed extremely well by the various bunker placements. The two short par-4s on the inward half at the 11th and 12th are done well -- ditto the fine par-5 14th with the famed Willie Mays tree inserting itself into the mixture.
Amazingly, so much of what Forse had to do comes on a site where the overall acreage is quite limited. One of the advantages in playing CC of Orlando is its close proximity to the downtown area and the feeling of being disconnected from the ongoing city life that lies just beyond its property boundary.
For those who tire of the formulaic layouts that have infected much of the greater Orlando market -- if an opportunity to play CC of Orlando arises be sure to head there and see firsthand what can be done when dealing with the usual Florida landscape.
M. James Ward
Ron Forse changed everything but the routing here in 2017………and for the better.
While Forse’s specialty is course restoration (he’s done 39 Ross restorations), the biggest challenge at CCO was restoring the greens. With Ross’s field sketches unavailable, Ron had to adopt a WWDD (what would Donald do?) approach. So he decided to emulate a number of Ross greens that he thought would fit a particular hole. As a result, the golfer will see greens that (s)he might also see at Ross beauties such as Mountain Ridge, Oyster Harbors, Salem, Weston, and Country Club of Buffalo. In other cases, Ron used original ideas he thought would fit the site—the most notable being #9 with its double punchbowl green.
Every green but the first has some nifty contours, and each green offers choices—either running or aerial—on the approach shot. Over half have strategic choices from the tee as well. (My favorite was the dogleg on #14, guarded by an immense tree the members call Willie Mays. For those of you as slow as I, it was so named many years ago because “it catches everything”.) And all three par 5s require some though on the second shot—an area where architects often fall asleep. I enjoyed this course as much as a number of Florida top 50 courses here (Old Marsh, Copperhead, Timuquana and North Palm Beach) and more than a number of others (Pine Tree, Sawgrass, World Woods Oaks, Hammock Dunes Creek) ranked on this site.