Quail Valley is a the true definition of a hidden gem. Having played 91 of the top 100 ranked courses in Florida, I had never even heard of it until recently. The club is quite happy to keep a low profile as it is specifically designed and operated for the benefit of its members and Quail Valley is a great example of a club that is not overly concerned with their ranking or notoriety. I feel lucky to have had the privilege to play a round there and want to give specials thanks to Director of Golf Don Meadows for his hospitality and insight, he is a class act and true professional.
Quail Valley opened for play in 2002. It was pure luck that I became aware of Quail Valley as I was playing another course with an acquaintance who told me he had recently played an event there and I should really put it on my list to check it out. I am glad I did.
Prior to visiting, I did a bit of research and found out Quail Valley was a Nick Price and Tommy Fazio II design. Even before stepping foot on property, I had confidence the finished product would make the Quail Valley membership happy day-in and day-out. The reason I knew this is that Nick Price has a very hands on approach with his design work and he has made it clear that he is not out to “build a golf course design empire”; but instead Nick focuses on ensuring his clients “have fun with the development of their course.” Besides being one of the nicest guys in golf, Nick takes pride in “handcrafting a golf course” and “personally guiding and shaping the outcome of every aspect of his courses”. Most importantly, Nick never takes on more than one to two projects a year to be sure he can personally “dedicate the necessary time to design and build each one of his courses”. With that approach, unless you have a complete lack of talent for designing courses, there is little doubt that the finished product will be one the membership(s) or community will be proud of. Bottom line, with Nick Price designed golf courses, of which there are currently 12, you don’t just get a famous golfer putting their name on a golf course, you get one of the most caring gentleman in all of golf putting his heart and soul into each course he takes on.
With all that said, by no stretch does this philosophy ensure anything with regards to where a course ranks or falls in comparison to all others within the state or nationally for that matter. I find it helpful to shape expectations by explaining the goal of an architect so one can question why the finished product is what it is as opposed to a course that is specifically designed to host the PGA Tour or a major championship.
Immediately upon arriving at Quail Valley you have a very grand feeling. There is a long entry way that meanders around the two sided practice facility and short par-3 course.
When you walk around the clubhouse you can see that you are on the highest point of the property, a very clever way of building the clubhouse so you can maximize all the views that await you on the golf course.
Quail Valley was designed to be first and foremost a members course for their enjoyment. Nick Price and Tommy Fazio surely succeeded in their goal as the course has a great balance between challenge and playability. Of note is that the property sits on an old citrus grove for which Price and Fazio II were working with a totally flat piece of land. Creatively, a series of lakes were dug out and all that dirt from the lakes was used to create the elevation change on the course. Thank goodness for that or Quail Valley would be victim of being just another flat Florida course. The entire feel of Quail Valley is an open links style course that becomes much more challenging when the wind is blowing. It’s always fun to see courses change when they play in ideal conditions versus blustery ones and it’s clear that on a windy day, Quail Valley can challenge anyone; on a calm day, the course is somewhat there for the taking. Overall, Price and Fazio II did a terrific job here creating interest and variety. The course keeps your interest throughout and a few holes are particularly memorable.
Here are a few of the highlights and memories I took away from the course:
For a members course the 1st hole is nearly a perfect start to your round. From an elevated tee you have a great view that includes a lake to the left and some dramatic bunkering with a very inviting fairway. Once in the fairway, you have an approach to a diagonally sloping green that has a huge bunker on the left protecting it. The green only has moderate slope and should allow most players to two putt. For a strong player, the 1st is a great birdie opportunity.
After a somewhat cushy opening hope, you now better really focus as you come to the par-3 2nd hole which plays completely over water to a wide but somewhat narrow green. If you can safely get over the water, you should have a good chance to make par, but you must execute this mid-length tee shot. It’s a straight forward and attractive looking par-3.
Now that you arrive on the par-5 3rd hole, you have some great strategy and risk/reward come into play. It’s clear that the hole is a dogleg left over water that flows uphill but its super important you pick the proper line off the tee for your ability level. Off the tee you see a huge amount of white sand bunkers ahead that help to define the hole. I had a good laugh as I sliced my tee shot into the middle of the fairway realizing my original line was way too aggressive. Once in the fairway, you can see that this is a very well-designed hole as there is an entry way to the green to bounce a shot onto the putting surface whether or not it is your 2nd or 3rd shot. I really enjoy holes that offer an opening to approach a reachable par-5, as it creates excitement for the better player, but offers playability for the average golfer. Most of the left side of the green is well protected by another huge bunker but you can still navigate your ball onto this green. Fortunately, I hit a great 2nd shot onto the back of the green and saw firsthand how this hole plays when you successfully go for the green in 2 shots.
Once on the green, I noticed a feature at Quail Valley that I loved; many of the greens have gentle backstops and side slopes that will moderately funnel shots back onto the green or towards a particular section. These little features are what help to distinguish golf courses. These back and side slopes are all the right spots at Quail Valley and the back left section of the 3rd green slopes from back to front and is probably the most pronounced you will see this feature on the course. When looking back you can see that the fairway is plenty spacious and this is an excellent par-5.
The tee shot on the 4th hole is my favorite on the course because it fits the bill for a championship quality hole with a majestic view. The hole is a gentle dogleg to the right with water running down the entire right side, hitting from an elevated tee. The shot calls for a gentle fade off the tee to allow yourself some margin of error for less than a perfect tee shot. There is a carry to reach the fairway or you will have a lost ball but it’s not a big one, very playable and it’s a wide fairway that is not as tough to hit as it looks off the tee. The entry to this green is wide and inviting for anyone to bounce a shot into this large green that again has some gentle and generous side sloping that helps to keep your approach on the green. When you think about this hole, it epitomizes what this course is all about, challenge balanced with playability for all.
The 5th and 6th hole are back-to-back par 4’s that are solid holes.
The par-5 7th is another fun risk / reward hole that plays slightly downhill off the tee and severely downhill on your approach. A bunker guards the front of the green requiring a golfer to navigate their approach shot while avoiding water that surrounds the left and over the green. As you approach the green, you can’t help but notice a beautiful view all around the green. This is a hole that can easily yield a birdie and just as easily a bogey, isn’t that what a solid par-5 is supposed to do?
The 8th at Quail Valley is a pivotal hole in the round because it is a par-3 that any golfer would happily take a par and run to the 9th but can easily delivery a double bogey if you are not careful. Water runs along the entire right side of the hole and you have to really focus on your target to hit a smooth shot to avoid being wet. Miss left and you have a challenging recovery shot. Short left is the miss, but on a par-3 who really wants to lay up? This hole has all the elements of a championship par-3 and it happens to be beautiful as well.
The 9th is a solid par-4 with likely the most challenging green on the course, do your best to stay below the pin or risk a 3-putt and make sure you take enough club to carry your approach all the way onto the green. There is no hiding here, you must hit a quality shot to wind up on this green in regulation.
The 10th hole is the most majestic on the entire course and definitely delivers the most intimidating tee shot. The landing area looks much more narrow than it is yet a mishit drive will likely wind up in water that guards both sides of this fairway. After your tee shot the hole makes a sharp turn to the right and leaves the player with a wonderful risk/reward option of whether to try and carry a huge water hazard and go for the green in two; or do you lay up to the left side? I experienced firsthand what it feels like to go for this green and hit it right into the water hazard. I felt like a dope playing overly aggressive and not ensuring I missed my approach left giving myself I greater margin for error. Easier said than done but still…a fun hole! Knowledge is power and I am confident when playing this hole for the second time, subconsciously the golfer knows where not to hit it; especially if the gigantic lake in front of you didn’t make it obvious. We can’t all be genius’ right?
The 11th hole is one of those where the golfer can “pick their poison” as the saying goes; if you choose to take on the championship tee, a 444 yard brute of a hole faces you with a distinct tee box near the 10th green that requires a carry over water and taking on the proper angle to hit the fairway. It’s the only hole at Quail Valley where such a distinct tee box exists and it changes the hole completely. I loved this look. Alternatively, if you play the next tee box up, you have a straight facing tee shot on a 370 yard hole that offers a great birdie opportunity. The green complex has a lot going on and depending on which section of the green pin placement is on will surely affect the difficulty here.
The green complex on the par-3 12th hole is one of the most dramatic on the course; it plays a bit narrow relative to the others and has a good amount of undulation to it, requiring you to hit both the right distance and angle or you will be in a bunker that guards the front and middle left side of the green and if you miss short and right you will find yourself in a grass valley leaving a brutally hard pitch shot to a green that slopes away from you. To that end, a moderate miss to the right could catch a side slope that will funnel your tee shot onto the green. I love holes like this, because a modest miss can get a lucky bounce (that is by design clearly) but a bigger miss will punish you. A back left pin placement seems very challenging to get your tee shot close, especially from over 200 yards from the championship tees.
I found the 14th to be perhaps the most fun hole on the course as it’s another reachable par 5. You want to hit the biggest drive you can because the shorter shot you have in, the easier your approach will be. If you are asking yourself “isn’t that always the case in golf?” the answer is not really. I detailed earlier the par-5 second hole, where you can comfortably blast away with a 3-wood to bounce your shot onto the green with plenty of room to do so. On the 14th, you do have a nice opening in front of the green, as well as a receptive green complex but if you want to carry your ball all the way onto the green in 2 shot, you best do so with an iron or hybrid in your hand as trouble lurks to the right side with both bunkers and water hazard both of which can creep on you quickly.
Holes 15 is a terrific uphill par-4 requiring two solid shots to hit this uphill green in regulation. A large but somewhat narrow green requires your attention. Beautiful view off the tee and an ample and fair green awaits.
The 16th is a long downhill par-3 that does not have a single bunker but does have a green sloping from right to left that has plenty of movement to it, so you must stay on your toes here. It’s a lengthy hole as well, so anything but a well struck shot will probably miss the green.
The 17th and 18th are two strong par-4’s in a row. On 17, you must be very careful on your approach shot to take enough club as it plays straight uphill and the very wide green could leave a very long putt if you lose your focus. It’s another example where a realistic birdie opportunity could quickly lead to a bogey. Super hole.
The 18th is exactly what you would expect on a course like this, a rock solid finisher that makes you work hard to finish with a par. Not only do you have a plethora of bunkers facing you off the tee, but the 2nd shot plays straight uphill. After finding the fairway between the bunkers, you must make sure you hit your approach the right distance as this green essentially has 2 tiers to it and the back left area is a moderate sized shelf where any shot hit short will roll all the way back to the front tier and leave a brutally hard 2-putt. Miss this green left and you will may very well shed a tear in disappointment as you will not be thrilled with your likelihood to get up-and-down. It’s doable but will require the precision of a surgeon to pull off this one.
Quail Valley accomplished exactly what it set out to by creating a member friendly yet challenging championship golf course. Nick Price and Tommy Fazio made the best of the land they had to work with and created both a fun, interesting and most importantly well-designed and thoughtful golf course. It is the kind of course you can play every day without getting bored based on the wind conditions and varied pin positions. Hands down a top 100 course in Florida.
Date: September 16, 2020