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!
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.