The course at the men-only Gator Creek Golf Club near Sarasota is a 1972 Joe Lee creation that was later updated by Mark McCumber and Ron Garl.
Measuring around 6,900 yards from the tips, Gator Creek is plenty long enough from the back of the runway tees to test most golfers as the greens are relatively small and often fiercely protected by sand and sometimes water.
Gator Creek is a golfer’s golf club and a golfer’s golf course. Gator Creek was founded in 1972 and opened in 1974 in eastern Sarasota. The population of Sarasota county back then was about 120,000. It has more than tripled. Back then there was no I75 south of Tampa. Today Gator Creek is east of I75, so it was truly remote. Gator Creek is a Joe Lee design with facelifts performed by Mark McCumber and Ron Garl. The runway tee boxes are a prevalent design and you can see some of the newer tee boxes that have been added to increase yardage and difficulty. Easy to say, much harder to do, keep it in the fairways, the rough is penal.
Number one is a robust par five, dog leg right, bunkers on the left elbow. This is a tight hole, favor the left side off the tee and on your second shot to give yourself the best angle to a well-protected green. The second hole looks benign off the tee box. However, danger lurks. There is a water hazard behind the right fairway bunker that is not visible. Favor the left side. The 3rd is a long par three, but it isn’t even close to the longest par three. The par 3s here have markers on the tee box with the actual yardage to the pin. Nice feature. The 4th is a slinger left, a good risk/reward hole. You can drive through the fairway. Ideal tee shot is down the left side with a slight draw. The inside of the dogleg has some water and is tree lined, however, big hitters can bite off as much as their appetite and skill allow. The 5th is the number one handicap hole, a long narrow par four with a water hazard in front of the green. Left of center is best off the tee. The 6th is a dogleg right. Ideal tee shot is a high fade. To cut the corner, you will have to get the ball up quickly. A straight drive is probably through the fairway. Joe Lee was a protégé of Dick Wilson and it is evident on the par 5 7th. Dogleg left, shades of Bay Hill. Best line off the tee is between the two bunkers through the fairway. The hole appears intimidating but is much easier than it looks and its handicap rating of 3. Three average shots and you will be putting for birdie. The 8th is a classic short par 3 over water to a well-protected green with bunkers right and left. The green does have a crest and ball will run away from you much past middle. The 9th is a slight dogleg left and is tight. Favor the right side off the tee. Another well-protected green.
The back starts off with a wonderful par five. Slight dogleg left so favor the right off the tee. There are water hazards left with the opposite side lined with cypresses. A very nice framing effect. This a three-tier green with the left 2/3s protected by the water hazard framed by stacked rock. If the pin is right, excellent birdie oppty. Center and left decision-making time. My favorite hole, yes, I birdied. The 11th does not look that tough on the tee, but it brought me to my knees. It appears that left is better, but I drove it through the fairway to set up my triple. A better approach is to go over the pine tree on the right side. This is another tight fairway with a small landing area. There is a small water hazard short of the green. The par 3 12th is supposed to be the easiest hole on the course. Mid-length with greenside bunkers front left, back left and right. The 13th appears to be a slight dogleg right, although it really is a reverse S. There is water off the tee on both right and left. Best target line off tee is the right fairway bunker. This is another green that is well protected, with bunker right and water hazard middle and left with the two-tiered green sitting on stacked rock. The par 5 14th has a similar reverse S shape to 13. Big hitters can cut the corner right to give themselves a chance at getting home in two. Mortals should be cognizant that you can drive through the fairway and end up in the water hazard on the outside left elbow. The 15th hole commences “Cash Alley”. It is a dogleg right with water on the inside elbow and just about all carry. This is another attractive green protected by the water hazard and stacked rock. Aim down the middle off the tee and you should have a relatively short iron into the green. The 16th is a pretty much straight away what you see is what you get par 4. Favor the right off the tee and the approach is to another well protected green, bunker left and right.
Seventeen from the tips is a hellacious 242 yards … not for the faint of heart. Not to worry, the green is angled nicely to receive your drive. The green is protected by two large bunkers on the left side. The 18th was aptly described as a par 5 masquerading as a par 4. A 467 yard dogleg left. Favor the right side off the tee. A demanding finishing hole that requires two excellent shots. A par here should make you some $$$.
Overall, a wonderful golf course. Tight, demanding, but fair. If you can get on, you gotta go.