Just off one of the strip mall-infested highways that abound in Florida lies one of the state’s original gated communities—and among its most charming. As at Fisher’s Island, Seth Raynor was teamed with the Olmsted Brothers (sons of Frederick Law Olmsted) to create Florida’s first gated community cum golf course. Though Mountain Lake lack’s Fisher’s spectacular views, it’s peppered with the same Raynor features that delight the golfer at both courses. Template holes include Double Plateau, Maiden, Biarritz, Eden, Punchbowl, Short, Road and Alps. Raynor’s signature squared off greens abound. A note on template holes in general: While a couple at Mountain Lake (most notably Alps and Road) are pale versions of the originals at Prestwick and the Old Course, those who make that comparison miss the point: Raynor saw them as templates and copied the strategic challenge, but not necessarily the hole. Not all the work is Raynor’s, however. In the early years of this century, the club hired Brian Silva to restore Raynor’s work. Silva did an outstanding job, even going so far as to square off the corners of some bunkers. Charles Banks also contributed. Soon after Raynor’s untimely death, the former assistant returned to add the par 5 8th hole—a version of “Raynor’s Prized Dogleg”. Banks also built the Short hole at that time. In 2015 the green on Short (#9) was changed to include a doughnut, a round ridge with a slight depression inside, found on only a handful of other Raynor courses. There’s even a bit of MacKenzie-style camouflage here. My favorite drive is from the 12th tee, where three bunkers obscure the fairway entirely. It turns out one of the bunkers is on the far side of the fairway and there is room to place one’s drive among the three in the fairway. But even then, as at many of the holes here, Raynor includes a line of charm, where the risk of driving near a hazard is rewarded with a superior angle to the green. The challenges do not, however, end with the approach shots. Once on Mountain Lake’s greens, the golfer is confronted with Raynor’s lovely contours. There are only a couple Florida courses I’d rather play than this one.
March 06, 2016