There is a lot to like as well as admire regarding Pine Tree, designed by Dick Wilson. This is one of Mr. Wilson’s finest designs, although I personally prefer NCR South. Laurel Valley is also ahead of Pine Tree, but other architects have changed that design through the years.
At NCR South and Laurel Valley, Mr. Wilson had wonderful hilly/rolling terrain to route and build a challenging, yet playable golf course. At Pine Tree, it is as flat as a course can be. As such it deserves the accolades as one of the finest flat courses in the USA, although behind Chicago GC and Garden City Men’s. It is definitely in the top five of “flat” courses.
This is a course I am eager to return to as playing it once is not nearly enough. Unlike many courses in Florida, water is not a primary defense of the course. The defense of the course comes in the form of quality green surfaces, raised greens, good green surrounds, and bunkers seemingly everywhere. There are not many courses one will play with as many bunkers as there are at Pine Tree; 130 in total. Yet the relatively wide fairways and design of the holes allow one to play away from them while longer hitters can play over most of them, although not as often from the Black tees. The rough is not impossible here as it provides a chance for a meaningful recovery. Trees are also used here on several holes for defense, although sometimes they also act as a barrier to some housing that border the course. The trees are appropriately used and enhance the ambience of the course.
The most appealing feature to me of the course is in the routing where the course moves in all directions. I do not recall there being three consecutive holes moving in the same direction. The back nine changes direction on early every hole. This reminded me of Muirfield, the courses at Saunton, and a few others.
While many of the holes are straight, the placement of bunkers leads to angles off the tee or on one’s second shots on par 5’s. However, there are several doglegs as well. The routing and placement of bunkers are so strong that there was only one section of the course I did not like, that being the short par 4’s at fourteen and fifteen working over/alongside the same long pond.
There is a very good variety in the green surfaces and green surrounds. There are three key features to many of the greens: raised greens, a front central bunker, and angled greens. This results in placing a premium of players who can hit more lofted and precise shots with their irons or wedges. It is a shot-maker’s course more so than someone who has a good scrambling game. While a majority of the greens are raised, the biggest feature eliminating the option of running a ball onto the green are the many central front bunkers. I felt this to happen a bit too often as having multiple options on holes leads to more strategy and decision-making as well as enhancing playability. Many of the greens have angles to them, sometimes having a different angle than the shape of the hole. This adds more interest to the course as one needs to think about how much of the angle they want to take on with their approach shot.
The course does not feature one set of par’s superior to the others. The par 3’s are good, as are the par 4’s and 5’s.
Given the flatness of the course, this is very much a walking course.
A bonus would be to have a good caddie to read the greens although I do think a member can learn the green speeds and breaks. A member might not make the putts, but they will likely decrease the chances of a three putt. I did not find the greens surfaces to be overwhelming in terms of slants, slopes or inner mounding as they roll true and fair.
The conditioning of the course is very good beginning with the long “runway” tee boxes, the bunkers and the greens.
From the Black tees the course measures 7301 yards, par 71, rated 75.1/143. From the Gold tees the course is 6963 yards, rated 73.9/140. The Silver tees are 6650 yards rated 72.3/138. The Blue tees are 6480 yards rated 71.6/136 and are a par of 72. There are two sets of lesser yardages. We played the Silver tees although I did not see much difference between the silver and blue tees.
1. Par 4 – 413/389/378. This slight dogleg left begins the round and one is immediately faced with the issue of the many bunkers as this has nine. The fairway turns after the bunkers in play off the tee with three on the left and two on the right. Scattered trees are also in play off the tee. The green is raised and very well defended with bunkers essentially on the four corners, although the back left of the green is a bit more exposed. The green is angled to the right in the opposite direction of the dogleg. The green has a swale in the front half and a tilt to the front or right side. It is a challenging opening hole, rated the #3 index, as the front greenside bunkers sit about five feet below the green’s surfaces.
2. Par 3 – 186/172/163. The reason Pine Tree does not average nine bunkers per hole is due to the par 3’s where that many would be silly. On this hole there are five with the front three acting as fingers sitting again 4-5-5 feet below the surface of the raised green. The wide, large front middle bunker prevents the option of running a ball onto the green. The back middle bunker is fairly level with the green. This green has various smaller slopes throughout it but if one can find the green off the tee, it should be a chance for a two given the green is somewhat shallow. Overall it is a green that is slightly difficult to hit but overall a good chance for a par or birdie.
3. Par 4 – 416/416/401. This straight hole has thick trees down the left side to protect from hitting houses that are close to the course. The right side has a waste area of trees and sand down the right. Off the tee there is a bunker left and two staggered bunkers down the right but the fairway offers ample room between them. The longer hitters will fly all of these bunkers and get a favorable roll-out. Near the green there are two sets of double bunkers on the front corners. I think this is a design feature that should be used more often. These bunkers pinch the front of the green to a narrow neck. There is ample room to miss right of the green and still have a good chance for recovery although there is a vertical tier running slightly left of middle of the green as well as a horizontal tier creating different sections to the green. This creates a back left plateau and a front left swale. Hitting down the left side of the fairway without adequate distance can lead to a couple of trees blocking one’s line to the green.
4. Par 4 – 437/437/416. Eight bunkers are on this hole with a collection of four to the right off the tee built on a slight upslope and flanked by a large bunker on the left. The hole is straight but the green is angled to the right. There is a large bunker with multiple internal islands on the left as well another smaller bunker placed inside of it. The back left of the green has a large bunker resulting in a very difficult pin position to access if on the left side. If one is down the left there are also trees coming into the fairway that can block access to the green. I doubled the hole by staying in the trees on the left for the first two shots rather than playing back to the fairway. This green rises from right to left. Much like the third, there is room to miss the green to the right which is a better option than getting involved with the greenside bunkers on this hole.
5. Par 5 – 603/574/558. Heavy trees are down the left with a less thick line of trees down the right. Again there is ample width to the fairway. There are no bunkers to consider off the tee but the second shot must navigate two early bunkers left and a string of three large bunkers down the right offset by another large bunker on the left. This last large bunker on the left creates a narrow opening on the fairway for average length players. However, all of these fairway bunkers are fairly level. Bigger hitters will fly these bunkers and perhaps even try for the green in two. This is one of the more raised greens on the course with three large, deep bunkers at the front of the green including a center bunker that makes one hit an approach shot a bit harder. The green has a slight bowl on the front left/middle but otherwise is fairly flat. Going long over the green will lead to a run-off but not an overly complicated chip.
6. Par 3 – 218/187/179. This is a visually more intimidating hole than it plays with a pond to carry off the tee. The pond ends about fifteen yards short of the green. The green is raised with three bunkers across its front and another one on the left middle. The green has fall-offs to the right and back. The bunkers are large with internal fingers and sit about 4-5 feet below the green. There is an internal small vertical tier running through the middle of a green that otherwise is sloped back to front.
7. Par 4 – 474/446/426. This is my favorite hole on the front side playing as a dogleg right with water down the entirety of the right side before it bends further away at the green. The only part of the hole I did not like was having two bunkers on the outer corner as I thought having one was adequate. These outer corner bunkers force one to play closer to the water than perhaps they want to. For longer hitters the decision is how much of the water do they want to carry to shorten the dogleg. On the right side of the green between the water and greenside bunker are three palm trees and some small humps and knobs. The left side of green has three bunkers. The green falls off a bit at the back but nothing too complicated. The green has more tilt to its right side but overall is a fairly easy green to read.
8. Par 4 – 395/375/351. Five bunkers are scattered down the left side with an overall spacing of probably 75 yards. The right side has scattered trees and a pond to a hole that plays as a slight dogleg left. Placed between the pond are the fairway are three trees about 50 yards apart. The pond curves back towards the fairway but this is hidden from the tee. However, those three trees act as a guide line to force players away from the pond although in the direction of those five bunkers. Mr. Wilson puts three bunkers once again on the front of this raised green eliminating the option of running a ball onto the surface. There is another bunker at the rear middle. This is the number five index as the fairway is narrow and the green is well protected.
9. Par 5 – 521/501/501. This is one of the weaker holes on the course despite having eleven bunkers. There are five bunkers for the average player to consider off the tee, two vertical ones on the right side with one of them placed inside the fairway offset by three smaller ones on the left side. Longer hitters will give them no consideration while shorter players might be advised to lay short of them as they are unlikely to reach the green in two. For the average length player the second shot should be stress free as the next set of bunkers should not be in play. About twenty yards short of the green on the right are three bunkers while three bunkers are at the green’s front including another center front bunker. A final bunker is on the back left corner of the green. The green is essentially flat. This is one of the best chances on the course for an eagle for the longer player and should be a par for the average player.
10. Par 4/5 – 507/467/448/491. From the three sets of longer tees, this is a long par 4 while for the shorter tees this converts to a par 5. As a par 4 it is a very strong hole but as a par 5 it is straightforward. The hole warps around two bunkers on the left placed inside the fairway. Bigger hitters will fly these bunkers while average length players will play out to the right of them. For the average length player they then have to stay left of a pond beginning about 60 yards short of the green on the right side. If one is trying to bail out left of the pond there are two bunkers about 25 yards short of the green. The green has three bunkers, including another front central bunker. This green appeared to run away from you. None of the bunkers are overly complicated on this hole.
11. Par 3 – 227/206/195. Perhaps the least memorable hole on the course is the eleventh, a long par 3 with a very large green. It is fronted by a bunker across much of its right side as well as a back right bunker. This leaves the left side entirely open. The green has a higher surface to the right. One can miss to the left and have a good chance to save par.
12. Par 4 – 456/437/416. This slight dogleg left features the club’s name and logo, the single pine tree placed in the left middle of the fairway in play off the tee for the longer hitters. The fairway is very wide with a lot of room to miss to the right although this will result in a longer shot into the green. There are no fairway bunkers as all of the danger comes in the second shot. The approach shot must carry a pond which comes into play down the left side of the fairway about 100 yards out but then crosses in front of the green becoming a stream off to the right and left, overall shaped liked a “T.” The green is angled to the left with a bunker placed well off to the right to catch those trying to merely clear the water. There are three bunkers on the left side and one back right built into a small mound. The green slopes towards the water. This is a very thoughtful golf hole.
13. Par 3 – 158/158/137. This is the most visually attractive hole on the course playing to a raised green although one sees only sand green beginning about 25 of the tee. There is a large bunker of perhaps 25 yards in length beginning about 25 yards short of the green. The green is angled to the right and is shallow. Going down the left side and left back are three bunkers while a long and very wide bunker is placed on the right middle. Much like the second if one hits the green they are likely to be rewarded with a short putt. The back bunkers are nearly level with the green. I found this hole to be fascinating in both look and playability due to the use of bunkers and angle of the green.
14. Par 4 – 378/360/343. The two following holes are my least favorite. One plays over water down the left side of the fairway although it ends about 20 yards short of the green. Longer players will take on a lot of carry leaving perhaps as little as 70 yards. The fairway is wide in the landing zone although there are three bunkers staggered over 30 yards. There is a rise in the fairway about 70 yards short of the green. The green is angled opposite the dogleg left as it bends to the right. The green is long but thin with two bunkers placed on each side of a slightly raised green.
15. Par 4 – 358/358/329. This hole plays straight with trees down the right and a pond down the left side. Much like the previous hole, the pond ends about 30 yards short of the green. There are ten bunkers on the hole beginning with two large ones on the right and three staggered ones on the left. The fairway tilts towards the water if one goes too far left although a ball might drop onto the sandy bank. The green has five bunkers surrounding it making it a premium to hit the large green.
16. Par 5 – 666/627/601. The tee box is 150 yards long. Sam Snead used to bet other players to see who could come closest to the front of the tee box from the back end. This hole bends to the left a bit before straightening at the green. Given the length of the hole, this has twelve bunkers on it including another enormous bunker with internal islands short of the front right of the green. Off the tee there are two bunkers left but ample room to play to the right. A single bunker is on the right internal corner which seemed unnecessary to me. Going down the left side of the fairway are six staggered bunkers, beginning with two, then one, then three, all about 50 yards apart. The green is angled to the right with two bunkers greenside right after that long collection bunker. The green is basically level to the ground surrounding it but with some nice internal movement. This is a memorable hole, although mainly for the length of the tee and overall length of the hole.
17. Par 4 – 430/417/401. This is a straight hole with scattered trees down the right side and out-of-bounds and trees down the left. A single bunker is on the left side but there is a lot of width to the fairway. Longer players will play to perhaps as little as 100 yards into this green. The green has two front center bunkers and one on the right. I found this hole to be non-distinctive.
18. Par 4 – 458/436/407. This is a fine finishing hole with scattered trees on both sides. An early bunker on the right forces one towards the bunkers on the left of which they are four over the span of 60 yards. The bunker on the right is slightly raised. There is a pond going around three sides of this raised green. A single middle front bunker likely catches a lot of balls while also providing a chance for a ball hit weakly not to roll back into the pond. The green is tilted back to front with a hollow behind the bunker.
I can see where golfers interested in golf architecture would want to study what Mr. Wilson did at Pine Tree. I can also see why Pine Tree was once ranked in the top 100 in the world in one USA golf magazine.
As mentioned, the routing is superb with the green complexes being the key to the course. The course does favor the better player who can hit their approach shots both with distance control, height and straight due to the many angled greens, raised greens and the front central bunkers. My only slight criticism is that more greens should have had the option of running a ball onto the green.
Date: May 05, 2021