Most golfers will never get to tread the fairways here but many will feel that they know Lake Nona through television coverage of the Tavistock Cup team event, where top professionals attached to the Isleworth Golf & Country Club compete in a two-day match against their counterparts at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club.
Both Sunshine State clubs lie within 25 miles of each other and, since 2004, their annual friendly matches for the title of "World Golf and Country Club Champion" have raised millions of dollars for local and international charities.
Isleworth and Lake Nona are regarded as two of the finest gated golf community developments in the whole country and Lake Nona’s Tom Fazio-designed course enjoys a sumptious lake side setting within a secluded 600-acre estate.
Playing to 7,215 yards from the back markers, Lake Nona starts off under a canopy of tall trees on the front nine, becoming more open on the inward half as the final five holes play around natural inland lakes.
The signature 15th hole hugs the shoreline of Buck Lake as it swings slightly left from the tee with a long fairway bunker separating the fairway from a large body of water on the left. Anything better than a regulation par five here is some achievement!
I had been wanting to play Lake Nona, designed by Tom Fazio, for nearly twenty years after meeting Ernie Els and David Ledbetter through my company, both of whom lived there for awhile with Mr. Ledbetter having a teaching academy there. There are still many male and female top non-American golf professionals that live and play there given the quality of the golf course, housing, and facilities. To cap it off, it is located very close to the Orlando International Airport. Two friends of mine recently moved/joined there as well and I was able to play yesterday with one of them.
Lake Nona is part of the Tavistock Group along with Isleworth and for years had a friendly competition between the clubs when Tiger Woods and other pros were residents of Isleworth. The courses are very similar although Isleworth likely has more grand houses and a bit more land for its golf course.
The practice facilities at Lake Nona are exceptional.
Both courses are essentially flat with Isleworth wrapping itself around more lakes with Lake Nona only “touching” three lakes. Both makes use of man-made ponds although Lake Nona a bit more.
Lake Nona once made the top 100 in the USA although now it has fallen to #30 in Golf Digest’s best-in-state rankings. I have not played ten of the golf courses ahead of it but I think it is certainly better than six that I have played. It should be no worse than #20-21 for the state of Florida which is where “top100courses” has it. Florida is the state in the USA with the most golf courses so if a course is in the top 30 it is a quality golf course.
Lake Nona’s routing is essentially two loops going out and back with no crossing of holes. The final five holes are on three lakes where tree clearing is planned on fourteen and sixteen to have more views of the lake which is already visible from fifteen, seventeen and eighteen. Water is a primary feature of the front nine on holes two-seven. On the back nine, holes fourteen, seventeen and eighteen make use of water. It is interesting that many of the other ponds/water are far enough from the fairway or green to not be in play, or the required carry over the pond is not long enough to cause one any concern. I think Mr. Fazio strikes the right balance with his incorporation of water in terms of number of holes where it is a key defense. On other holes it takes a shot struck very wayward to find the water.
The conditioning is excellent with outstanding landscaping on the course.
The greens are smooth and can be both very speedy and are tricky. One thinks there are breaks when there are none and when one thinks there is a little break, there is a bigger break. One does not always see the uphill and downhill lines easily either. Many of the greens are raised which is to be expected on a flat course. It is a course where knowledge on the greens is very helpful to one’s score.
As is typically the case with Mr. Fazio, the bunkering is good in four categories: number, location, shape, variety of deeper and shallower bunkers. I have a few critiques. There is an over-usage of grass bunkers in manufactured hollows where the grass is kept higher. In these grass bunkers, the ball is at the mercy of a lie where the ball settles into the grass or sits higher up. Some of the sand bunkers will have a ball run up a side and stay there rather than release back to a lower point. On several holes such as the eighth, there are numerous trees within the large bunkers which is something I do not like. A long bunker shot is difficult enough. A long bunker shot having to navigate low tree limbs or tree trunks lowers the chances of recovery to nearly non-existent. I think doubling up on the challenge lessens the possibility of recovery and is silly to the game of golf. This occurs on holes eight, ten and eleven. Doing this on one hole is already too much; doing it on three holes is a huge mistake and detracts from the quality of the golf course.
We played the combination tees at about 6600 yards. I played with two much longer hitters that generally hit a tee shot 285-315 yards so I got a good look at how the course plays for both shorter and longer hitters.
The first is a slight dogleg right mid-length par 4 with bunkers right and left and trees down the right. The green is elevated slightly and not particularly tricky in order to ease one into the round.
The second is a longer par 5 that tilts to the right. From the back tees a long bunker on the right could catch a ball. It is completely unnecessary to have a bunker of this length – probably 80 yards but I suppose it is there to reduce the cost of maintenance. The green is on a half-island with water right and behind. There are grass bunkers and a sand bunker on the left to a green slanted towards the water. It is a good hole.
A long to mid-length par 4 follows with water on the right of the green but far enough away that it should not be in play. There is a single fairway bunker on the left and two left of the green which slopes back to front. It is a nice hole.
The fifth is a mid-length par 3 over water with sand fronting the green which is sloped steeply back to front and left to right but has some opposite breaks in it. It is a very tricky green as to pace. It is an okay golf hole but not unique in any way.
Five is a short par 4 sharp dogleg left that is driveable from any tee. There is a ridge line in the fairway and three bunkers left of the green. One can drive through the dogleg into the trees. To drive the green you have to carry the water all the way to the green which is sloped slightly back to front. It is a fun hole.
A longer par 3 to a raised green follows with a real tilt at the front but relatively level on the second half of the green. Trees are over the back of the green after a fall off.
Seven is the best hole visually on the front nine as a longer par 4 with water down the right and trees down the left. Grass bunkers and another bunker are at the green which has a spine in it.
Eight is a short par 4 that is a slight dogleg right. This hole has trees within the large, long bunker to the right of the elevated green. Although the hole should be relatively easy, if one gets into that bunker on the right it is possible to have a very high score. I did not like the hole.
Nine is a mid-length par 5 slight dogleg right with both grass bunkers and sand bunkers scattered for the second shot and nearer the green. It is key to stay to the right for the tee shot and approach shot. Longer hitters can easily reach the green in two as their tee shot can catch a downhill slope. It is a nice finishing hole to the front nine.
The tee on the par 4 tenth hole was recently moved to the right nearer to the tree line on this slig dogleg right. It has definitely made the hole more challenging due to a bunker on the right and a long bunker on the left. The green is difficult with a lot of slope and some grass bunkers. This is another hole with trees within the bunker which is unnecessary.
Eleven is a long par 5 tilting to the left with a green situated even further to the left. A hole location on the left side of the green requires one to fly over a bunker with trees inside of it to a thinner part of the green. If the hole location is on the right the approach shot is relatively easy, but on the left it is a real challenge. The trees on the left are fine, but if a ball does not carry them and drops into the bunker, then one is in jail. The penalty is too severe for the risk taken.
The course is very good starting with the twelfth hole, a dogleg bending to the left with a long bunker down the left side, trees on the right and a green set back to the right with two sand bunkers right and more grass bunkers. It is a difficult tee shot and a difficult second shot yet the hole is fair.
Thirteen is a long par 3 requiring a long carry over water to a green that rises at the front to a very contoured green. It is probably the best green on the golf course. A large bunker sits to the left of the green. The green is long and peanut shaped with grass bunkers to the right. It is another difficult hole but again is fair.
Fourteen is a short par 4 with a sharp dogleg to the right. If one wants to try to drive the green they have to carry trees down the right and a bunker fronting the green. The green looks like it has a tilt but does not. There is a ridge running through this hole not quite as pronounced as on five. It is a clever hole.
Fifteen is an excellent mid-to-long par 5 bending to the left around a lake with the green hard by the water and tilted towards it. If one misses the green to the right or comes in from the right p is important to land your ball on the left side of the green. This is another visually stunning hole.
Sixteen is a long par 4 that parallels the water and is another well defended hole. A long bunker goes down the left side of the fairway with another long bunker left of the green.
Seventeen is a mid-to-long par 3 with a pond fronting half of the green and the green sloped back to front. There are two bunkers left of the green. The wind is often in one’s face here requiring 1-3 extra clubs. It is a challenging hole.
Eighteen is a nice mid-length par 4 with a green that appears smaller than it is. It parallels a lake to its left with the green hard against it. Sand is in play on the left side both on the tee shot and the approach shot. Adding to the difficulty of the tee shot are two small bunkers on the right side. Eighteen ends right in front of the clubhouse so those outside will be able to see how you do if they are interested.
The tee lengths at Lake Nona are 7200/6791/6600/6366/6023. The ratings are 74.6/138 from the back tees down to 69.0/124 from those forward tees. I found the ratings to be about right but the slope to be much higher. There are so many opportunities on this golf course to run up a big score. The challenges that face you are relentless. Even if one is on the green in regulation or putting for par, a two putt is not certain on many holes. There are no caddies here, so one has to figure out these greens on their own which are deceptively quick and deceiving on the borrow. It is a challenging golf course, perhaps a little too penal at times, but more often it is fair. It can wear one down as the pressure to perform on each hole is continious, particularly from the seventh through the finish. You cannot lose your concentration on this golf course. It takes a good player to enjoy the course. An index established at Lake Nona should travel favorably to other golf courses. I liked the golf course and would certainly play it when I am near Orlando. I do think it is the best golf course in the Orlando area, although Isleworth is close.
Well, this is it! Some months ago when we arranged our every other year Tour for golf and we decided to go to Orlando, this one and Isleworth were a good chance and both of them happened. We had great expectations on both after all we heard and read about the courses, the facilities and the pros that live there, which makes them to need a high stard of quality as the Pros are very demanding.
The experience was a great one although playing in the hot and humid Florida in Late September is not the best climate for golf, but lucky us we had almost no rain that week except the first day.
Lake Nona is not a great course, nothing special in design, almost no memorable holes but yes a very good one. It is more about the experience of arriving to one of the best facilities in the state, warm up in a place where pros use to do their off season training and then after golf enjoy a great Club House facing the water with very good food.
About the course I have to say I had extremely high expectations and having played the very best in Florida I didn’t find this one better and not even great, but yes very good and very well conditioned. There are some holes though to highlight:
- Par 5 2nd is a great 3 shots one, where you need to protect the second from water and green is long and narrow, a tough third shot as well.
- Short par 4 5th which you can reach the green with tee shot over water is a great risk/reward hole.
- 10th is a very demanding par 4th where you need 2 very good shots to a small green.
- 14th the other reachable par 4 over the trees has the toughest green on the course, where the short second shot will be a bump and run usually.
- Par 5 15th sorrounding the lake is maybe the most scenic where you have water and OB stretching the tee shot before you decide if you lay up or go for it.
- 17th & 18th is a very nice end towards the big lake, 2 very good holes where second shot on 18th is tough to a small green where I just missed the pin with a PW and got wet.
It was a fantastic experience and well worth the money spent. It is not cheap but you are in the “house” of many PGA Tour Boys, which we enjoyed with a nice short game exhibition by Poults.
The following is a recollection of our round at Lake Nona. Extremely difficult greens. I heartily recommend not playing snake.
We arrived early at Lake Nona so they could all warm up. Practice and warm ups are not part of my golf regimens. When we pulled in there was a UPS truck in front of the clubhouse. We checked in, the guys warmed up, and we were finally queuing up to head to the tee when Vince noticed that the UPS truck was still there. He said, “I can’t believe that guy is still here. Hold on a minute.” He then made a couple of phone calls, put his phone away, had a drink of water, and as he pulled out his driver we saw the UPS driver run out of the clubhouse looking all around as if he had been stung by a bee. Vince chortled, “Serves him right.”
As expected, we started off with a bang, two three putts on the first hole and the snake was up to $.04.
By the sixth hole we were up to $2.56. After eight holes I was the proud owner of the snake with a book value of $40.96. Mark manned up on nine and three putts from 10 feet to close the front nine out at $81.92. As we made the turn, Mark said that wasn’t so bad, less than $100. I replied, “It will be well into the thousands before we are done.” On the back side, a noticeable difference in the way we played manifested itself. All of a sudden there were a lot more shots that were either just long or just a little too short. We got to the par three seventeenth and I had the dubious honor of snake ownership, valued at $655.36. Surprisingly, this turned out to be quite liberating. I already owned the snake, so what was the worst thing that could happen? I had the honors and hit an almost perfect snake shot (perfect would be a hole in one) pin high right about 12 feet from the pin and most importantly, just off the green. This gave my playing partners pause for doubt. Vince decided to play smart and laid up. How often do you see that on a par three? Mark chose to go for it, but chunked it and ended up next to Vince. Peter decided to lay up as well, but got an unlucky bounce and the ball squirted onto the green. Peter had a long, 40-foot uphill and then downhill putt. How often can you describe a ball that ends up on the green as taking an unlucky bounce? Unless, of course, it is your opponent’s ball. This is the nature of snake, and one of the reasons that I do not care for it.
Mark was away and skulled his chip past the hole and off the green, but wait, the fringe killed the ball’s momentum and it trickled back onto the green. Another tough break. Now it was Vince’s turn and he hit a pretty good pitch, but he left it a good 10 feet short; worse, he still had to go uphill a bit and then back down. After watching Vince, Peter was a tad more aggressive, and his first putt settled about four feet past the hole. Mark was then away from about 15 feet. He scuffed his putter and cut the distance in half.
I finally got the opportunity to hit my second shot and I made it a good one. I left myself with less than a foot putt. Mark said, “I guess that is good; I don’t think any of us would three putt that one.” I quickly snatched my ball before anyone voiced disagreement. I then watched the carnage unfold before my eyes. Of the three putts left, Vince probably had the toughest, uphill then downhill, breaking left to right. He hit a good putt, caught the left part of the cup, and slingshotted the ball to the right. His ball also came to rest about four feet from the cup. Back to Mark. He had been thinking and said, “I am definitely not going to be short; it either goes in or I will have a five footer coming back.” He was right. It didn’t go in, but he had a six footer coming back. Mark made the come backer to become the proud snake owner at $1,310.72.
The tension was mounting, and Peter and Vince appeared to be about equidistant. In a reversal, Peter said, “I guess I am away.” Vince took umbrage. Mark measured them both with the pin and Vince was away by less than two inches. Vince gave it a go, plenty of pace, but missed high.
Mark jabbed him by saying, “At least you missed on the pro side.” Snake value = $2,621.44. It was now Peter’s turn. While I must admit I have seen worse putts, I would never have guessed that Peter would leave a $5,242.88 putt short.
Eighteen was anticlimactic. Peter played the hole like a trooper and tried to shame any of us into doing something stupid. We just lollygagged along, avoiding bunkers, and we all chipped twice to minimize the probability of three putting. The longest putt we had was six feet, and we all were able to two putt so that Peter retained the snake.
As we walked off the green, Peter said, “Okay, $5,242.88 divided by three…”
I said, “No, that is each, but just give me $5K and I will waive the rest.” As we pulled up to the pro shop we recognized that we had a couple of hours to kill before we had to get to the airport.
We asked the pro if we could go back out and play nine. He said, “Hold on a minute,” stepped outside, looked both ways and said to have at it.
After the round as we headed to the airport Peter was talking to his wife, Lori, on the phone. She asked how golf was and Peter said, “It was great. I only lost $15K.”
Quite simply an incredible golf course set in such a special place. I was lucky enough to play Lake Nona twice for the Ian Poulter Charity Classic and the course blew me away. The moment you drive through the gates and down past the hundreds of luxury houses, you arrive at the most wonderful clubhouse you've ever seen. The practice facilities (driving range/2 chipping greens/3 putting greens) are as good as you will find anywhere in the world.
Stepping on the 1st tee you realise you are about to play a golfing paradise, the condition of the course was outstanding. Greens rolling at around 12 on the stimp, fairways/tees/bunkers absolutely perfect. I had been to Bay Hill for the AP Invitational the day before and Lake Nona's condition was way better! As a layout it's just visually stunning. The 2nd hole a brilliant risk reward par 5 where water surrounds the front and right of the greens. 4&5 are both beautiful holes with water surrounding the greens and tee shots.
The final six holes is one of the best stretches you'll find anywhere, including a driveable par four, beautiful par 3s at 13&17 but the signature hole is without question the par 5 15th. The hole sweeps around Buck Lake with views to die for.. You then have a brilliant finishing hole in the 18th with Lake Nona running all be way down the left of the hole. It simply is the most incredible course where you will see plenty of PGA Tour Players playing and practicing.
Another notable factor is the staff and the way they treat you; you get treated like royalty and they really do make the whole experience one to remember. Anyone that gets the opportunity to play at Lake Nona GCC would be silly not to take it. I have been fortunate enough to play it and it was two of the best days of my life!
Lake Nona was designed by Tom Fazio in 1986. It is one of his earlier works and Fazio certainly has done more masterful work since. The course is deserving of Top 100 status, although it has dropped off the list. Many tour professionals live here, including Annika Sorenstam, Ernie Els, and Sergio Garcia. A one-day event called the Tavistock Cup pits the tour pros who live at Lake Nona against the tour pros who live at Isleworth (Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, etc.). I went in 2005 and discovered that it is one of the few events where you can get anywhere near Tiger because the galleries are so small. All 12 players in the event played from 7,200 yards, and Annika beat half of them. Larry Berle.