It’s a tall order, following in the footsteps of Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to design the third 18-hole layout at a new golf resort where the existing two courses are already ranked within the nation’s Top 100. Well, that’s just what Gil Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner managed to do when they unveiled the Black course at Streamsong in September 2017.
Situated 55 miles south east of Tampa in Polk County, within a huge 16,000-acre site that was formerly mined by the Mosaic Corporation during its agricultural industry operations, Streamsong has been transformed in a short space of time from something of an industrial badlands into one of America’s most progressive, upmarket golf resorts.
Tom Doak’s Blue course and Coore & Crenshaw’s Red course first opened to the public in 2014 and, within a very short period of time, they’d become fixtures in our US Top 100 chart. It’s probably true that less than a handful of architectural firms might be expected to deliver a third course of similar stature and Hanse Golf Course Design is certainly one of them.
The Black sits on a separate part of the Streamsong property, to the south of the Red and the Blue, and it’s also bigger in scale, with a massive eleven acres devoted to its putting surfaces and their tightly mown surrounds. With five par fives on the card, the course plays to a par of 73, with a couple of driveable par fours and a good variety of par threes. Elevation changes are modest and water hazards kept to a minimum.
The 450-yard 9th is a hole to remember, its large two-tiered punchbowl green requiring a blind approach shot, while the par four 13th might be a conundrum for many as it features two possible greensites. Golfers on the 205-yard 17th play to an infinity green before tackling the 586-yard 18th, which wraps itself round a small lake before arriving at the home green.
The Black also has a large putting course called The Gauntlet which lies immediately outside the clubhouse. Players also have the option of playing shorter 6-hole, 9-hole or 12-hole loops if they wish. There’s also a free-flowing practice area called The Roundabout that includes several green complexes and short holes as well as an alternate 9th green, allowing golfers to take a shorter route back to the clubhouse.
I played Streamsong Black on the recommendation from a friend and golf photographer. It was a long drive through miles of farmland and orange orchards with the similar remote feeling one gets travelling to Bandon Dunes. the resort was very quiet due to the Coronavirus and only the Black Course was open.
As soon as I arrived at the Black Course clubhouse, I was greeted with a vast view of a very expansive and windswept property. I was a bit disappointed by the look and feel of the place, but I wanted to get out there and give the course the benefit of the doubt.
The first hole was a straight away par 5 with the wind behind. The fairways were nice and firm, so my ball ran out a long way. I hit a 6 iron into a semi-blind green and finished about 20 feet short of the hole. On approaching the green I was greeted with the most impossible looking putt over a small mound. The greens were impeccably firm, fast and true surfaces, something you wouldn't expect to see in Florida, but this made the putt on the very undulating green all the harder, this was just a taster of what was to come.
The continuation of my round carried the same theme as the first hole for the most part. The fairways were wide and although there was occasionally some strategy into what side to come into the green from, it was more about grip it and rip it as hard as possible so I could have a more controllable club into the tricky greens.
I am completely against the current move towards longer and wider courses. Sure its nice not to lose balls out there, but it gets old to constantly pound driver at 100%. Why not get back to fun, shorter and more intimate courses which every golfer enjoys to play. Bring some of the visually intimidating fairway bunkers closer to the tees so it makes the golfer feel like they are hitting the ball well. With everything being so wide and far away, it makes even a 300 yard drive feel like it has not travelled a long distance.
My biggest gripe has to be the green complex's. I am not in opposition to large undulations, I am against having mounds like buried elephants in the middle of greens and lots of different breaks on a singe putt. It was almost impossible to read a putt correctly when it has a quadruple break from 20 feet. I understand that the architect used the natural contours of the land and the greens do look amazing, especially if you are a photographer but it was a little bit like crazy golf out there at times.
Overall I enjoyed the routing on a pretty plain and featureless piece of land with some very good holes and some boring holes. The greens looked like pieces art and if you are into photography, you will love how beautifully natural they look but for me its not fun to putt on greens riddled with contours of that nature. The huge scale of the course was tiring and I was happy to see the 18th hole. The long par 5 18th was far and away the most enjoyable hole on the course and was a nice way to finish a gruelling round. A long drive over the hill left me a 7 iron second over the lake below to an inviting large green set high above the water. This hole looked the most artificial on the course but proves that fun holes should be priority over pretty/natural contouring.
I realise a lot of people will like this kind of course, this is just my opinion. I do want to get back to Streamsong to play the other two courses, I hear the Red Course is well worth experiencing.
Stephen, I'm curious about your comments on the width and "grip it and rip it" nature of the course. If your complaint was that there was not enough strategy to be had from the tees, that is certainly something, but it seems your complaint is rather that you constantly found yourself with a long approach...which suggests maybe a different set of tees might have fixed the problem? Please clarify if you found your regular yardage more difficult at Black than elsewhere.
As for your greens comments, you won't hear any rebuttal from me; these are arguably the most controversial in the nation! Mike Keiser reportedly decided to give Sheep Ranch to C&C because he was so bothered by Hanse's work here!
Stephen, If you liked the 18th hole at Black then you will definitely enjoy many of the holes on the Red course.
Hi Ryan, I did mostly play from the back tees. Those tees were not all the way back, there was plenty of room on some holes to stretch the course out. I am a PGA pro and do hit my driver over 300 yards consistently and with the firm fairways at Streamsong, it was often closer to 350. When "I say grip it and rip it", this was because the penalty for missing some of the fairways was often not very penal, so with the size of the fairways, there was little gamble in swinging the club hard to get that extra 10/20 yards off the tee. I did have wedges and short irons into most of the par 4's. I would say there were some holes that invited you to come in from a certain angle, but there was more of a reward to have a wedge in your hand that you could spin and hold on the correct portion of the firm greens than coming in from a more inviting angle with an iron that will run.
Just about everything about Streamsong Black is huge. Huge fairways, huge greens and huge vistas. I was told that the acreage for Black exceeded the combined acreage for Red and Blue. Additionally, if you combined the greens from the Red and Blue, Blacks total acreage is more. They are so big it is difficult to tell where the fairway stops and the green begins. The Red and Blue are more intimate, with a sense of solitude on a hole by hole basis. Black also has a sense of solitude, this is due to it’s expanse. You will see other golfers, but they may be a half a mile away. I was told the loop is approximately 6 miles. The Hanse design really complements the Streamsong offerings.
The first hole is a welcoming short par five, one of 5 (the 18th is the last). Favor the right off the tee and be wary of the large front right greenside bunker. Definitely reachable in two. The 2nd is a short par 4, that under the right wind conditions may be driveable. I would advise against trying as the green is perched above a large bunker. The 3rd is a par 4 with a blind tee shot. Bombs away off the tee, there is a creek in front of the green. That really should not come into play. The 4th is another par 5 with a split fairway and it is difficult to describe the scale of this 600 yard beast. Most players will have to go right off the tee and then hit their second shot up the hill to the left side of the fairway. Don’t make the mistake I made, whatever you decide, commit and go. The par 3 5th looks benign on the card, not so much from the tee box. From the tips 211 to an elevated perched green with a BAB running down the right side that is 30 feet below the green. An intimidating tee shot, as you barely see the green, just the flag. How many par 3s are rated the 6th toughest hole? I loved it and redeemed myself from the debacle I made of the 4th. The 6th is a fun hole, a short par 4 with 2 bunkers planted in the middle of the fairway. While you may be tempted to take dead aim and go for it, if you are right, the easiest hole on the course just became a tester. Much safer and smarter to hit your drive20 yards left of the bunkers. I know it won’t look like that from the tee box, but trust me, I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night. The 7th is a pedestrian par 3 and the 8th is a dogleg right. Bite off as much as you can chew, it is downhill and your drive will roll and roll and roll. The par 4 9th is awesome! AN uphill par 4 where the target line is the antique windmill on the horizon. You cannot see the green as it is a HUGE punchbowl. The green is so large that a green diagram with quadrant is adjacent to the tee box. The diagram will show you which quadrant the pin is situated in. The approach shot is a blind hit and hope. When I crested the lip of the bowl I was ecstatic as I was looking at an insta-birdie.
The back starts off with another reachable par 5. Heck, if I can do it, so can you. However, the green runs away from you, so plan your yardage accordingly. Exiting the 10th green, the path forces you right and will have you trundle down what appears to be a whimsical path to Neverland. A better play is exit the green left and the 11th tee will be about 100 yards ahead. The 11th is a demanding uphill dogleg left. There is much more room left than right. Trust me the bunkers right are no fun. The 12th is an S shaped par 5 that is a 3 shotter for mortals. Best to be right off the tee and then further left on the second to set up your preferred wedge yardage. Another large green plopped above a BAB. The 13th is a par 4 with two bunkers in the middle of the fairway and a green on the left and right. The right green has a severe slope left on the left half. As a hooker left plays easier for me, sadly it was a right green day. The 14th is a driveable par 4, but the undulation……While I had a few 3 putts, I was not anticipating a 4 putt. The 15th is a gimme par 3. A ridge segregates the right from the left. The 16th is a long dogleg left and is the number one handicap hole. Not sure I am buying that. Bite off the corner as it is easy to drive through the fairway. The standard approach would be to fly the front bunker, however, I think a safer, smarter and more effective approach is to leverage the severe left to right slope left of the green. I was not smart enough to do this. The 17th is a downhill par 3. Take one less club and aim 10 yards left of the flag. The 18th is a fun classic risk/reward finishing hole. A blind tee shot, if you are thinking of going for it favor the right. If you hit a good drive it is decision time, the green is above a water hazard with bunkers right and back. By the way, the green does not hold all that well and it is a tricky bunker shot to a green running away with a hazard on the other side.
A fun course. My impression was that it was rushed to market, is not very difficult and needs some maturing. Purists will prefer Red and Blue. Do not sell Black short, it is fun. You will make a lot more birdies on Black than on Red and Blue
This is without a doubt the most fun course I have ever played, and that is why I play golf, to have fun.
The routing is true genius as Gil Hanse takes you on a journey with 18 memorable holes.
I played it late in the afternoon the first day and could not wait to play it the following morning.
There are a couple of short par 3's and a couple of driveable par 4's and a few par 5's that are reachable in two.
There are no houses or development of any kind on the course and so you set out on an adventure not knowing what to expect?
Abundance of land is not a problem so it has a wide open feel and large greens to match.
A good drive allows you to attack the pin while a wayward or not crisply hit drive may allow you to still reach the green.
It is not a difficult walk and taking a caddie just adds so much to the round.
It is a course that is best walked.
I am not going to mention any specific holes as to leave the adventure intact for those that get to play it.
It is fortunate that it is a public course with access to all.
Don't walk there anytime between April 1 and November 1. I tried it and nearly died of heat exhaustion.
I had played the Blue course 3 times and the Red course only once because I favored the Blue. On my most recent trip, I played the Red again and the Black. The Black became my new favorite.
Of the three courses, I'd rank the quality of the holes in this order: Black, Blue, Red. However, I'd rank the greens in this order: Red, Blue, Black.
The quality of the holes on Black is just fantastic. There are a number of memorable holes that are truly magnificent, especially the Par 5s. If the greens became a little more mild in spots, I could see this being a Top 50 course in the country.
Utterly mesmeric and staggeringly attractive. Very different from Blue and Red in respect of scenery and green complexes but similar to the older courses in terms of width off the tee. The generous fairways are a smart idea as it is eminently playable for everyone - the challenge is the approach shots. Yes the greens are ludicrous with many an occasion when a 3 putt is "par". I would recommend that if you play you play match play or a Texas scramble as the course is too wonderful to get frustrated by the greens. It is a big fun golf course. With regards to Streamsong as a resort, yes it is expensive but it is a high end experience. All 3 courses exhibit a true mix of holes in terms of length and orientation. It is worth at least 1 trip as it is a stunningly unique golfing experience. I love Bandon and I also love Streamsong (difficult to separate them). This was our group's (travelling from the Channel Islands (UK) second visit, we all want to make a third.
A gigantic piece of golf minimalism of enormous scale. Gil’s efforts bring golfers on a journey of angles. The fairways, waste areas and greens are among the biggest I’ve seen. In some places, I struggled with how / where the course was defined. The green surrounds and the official greens themselves are merged together, resulting in massive areas of short grass with random sprinkler heads which feel like are inside the undefined expansive putting surfaces.
This is no limit to the style of golf you can play here, but Gil’s expertise is in abundance. He is loyal to his design principles, and offers liberation to this shaping team. Iconic greens like the punchbowl have been incorporated into the layout, but the sheer scale of the property is a lot to comprehend. This course will need to be played a half dozen times before a true appreciation can be objectively established.
The greens were too big for my liking, and I’m not always a fan of a putt that can break 4 times. It’s a little out of control and extreme in places, especially on the front side. Visually the course is a masterpiece, and the closing stretch of holes are much more defined and framed by trees around the perimeter of the property. The Black course enjoys plenty of elevation change which Gil took advantage of the route the back nine. The undulating downhill par 5 epic 18th may be one of the best closing holes in the country.
I would certainly welcome the chance to play here again to continue learning more about how best to play each hole. For me, I fell in love with the Red course each time I’ve played it, but I need to spend more time with the Black course before I make up my mind.
“Which of the three Streamsong courses is your favorite?” my caddie asked me as we approached the 18th green. I didn’t answer quickly. It’s an interesting question, but the more important point is that there are now three splendid courses here.
Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner moved more dirt here than in most of their previous work, but the course still fits the lay of the land quite nicely. The land they worked with is a bit hillier than either the Red or the Blue and they took fine advantage of its contours. The punchbowl 9th green seemed to me to be a bit contrived…..as did the two separate greens on the 13th (though I was told that was at the insistence of the owner), but the rest of the course looks perfectly natural.
Some will find the greens too contorted, but I am not of that opinion. A caddie in our group insisted that the heavily contoured 15th was a poor design. It’s a short par 4 with a wide fairway and thus the green is the only defense. Gil thinks it’s the best green on the course and I’m inclined to agree with him. As with the 15th, most of the holes get more challenging as one gets closer to the green. The fairways are wide, but in most cases there is a side of the fairway (usually closer to a hazard) that yields a more advantageous approach. This strategic approach is carried forth on the approach shot as most provide the player with the option of a running or aerial shot. And there’s thought needed on the second shot on the five par 5 holes as well—a time when architects can fall asleep and let the player aim her/his second shot anywhere down the fairway.
In the end I answered my caddie‘s question by saying I had a slight preference for the Red course. In retrospect that may only be because I’ve played it more than the Black. The most important point is that there are three course here as god as three anywhere…Bandon Dunes, St. Andrews, Kohler, etc. The huge greens on the Black make hiring a caddie a good choice until one gets familiar with them. While this adds to an already expensive round, it’s still easily worth the price.
My wife and I made a return visit to Streamsong specifically to play the newly opened Black course. I wrote about my experience at Streamong on this site last year. Like many others I have a very high opinion of the Blue and Red courses and I was looking forward to playing the Black and seeing if this course met the high standards of the other two. I can easily say that the Black is a fantastic course in it's own right and makes a wonderful addition to the already excellent golf at Streamsong.
While the Red and Blue share some similarities in their hole design, the Black course strikes it's own path. The land is vast and rolling with not quite as many sharp elevation changes as those that occur at the other two courses. However the holes are all well designed and are visually pleasing as well as presenting strategic choices and options. I love the flow of the holes. Almost every hole has a gentle obliquity or turn to it that invites players to choose the proper path off the tee. As with any great course the more difficult path off the tee rewards the player with the more straight forward approach, and this applies to almost every shot on the course. The course does not have any "rough" per see, but the sand based rough areas off the fairways are very challenging and reminded me of the rough on the renovated Pinehurst #2. The greens are huge and present a number of challenges. The 2nd hole, for example, has a steep slope off the back reminiscent of one the greens on the Old Course at St. Andrews. The punch bowl green on 9 is quite fascinating as well.
The course starts with a straight forward tee shot on a moderate length par 5. The interest builds on the second shot where a series of cross bunkers require the player to choose their line carefully. 2 is a short par 4 to an elevated green protected by a huge front bunker and the run-off to the rear of the green I mentioned earlier. 3 is a powerful par 4 with a long second shot over a hazard and another chasmic bunker to the left of the green. 4 is a striking par 5 with the fairway split by a longitudinal hazard. Options abound here and every score from a eagle to a snowman is in play here. 5 is probably the best of the par threes with a tee shot up over a massive bunker on the right to an elevated green which is severely sloped from left to right. 9 is dominated by the punch bowl green I mentioned earlier. The back nine has three par 5's at 10, 12 and 18 and all of them are outstanding. 13 is a nice par 4 with two separate greens. We played to the slightly shorter left green, but both of the green complexes were well designed. 16 is a right to left dog leg with a demanding tee shot followed by a second to a steeply left to right banked green.
It will probably take most golfers a few times around to get the true feel for this course. The sand waste areas and bunkers flow together so that it can be difficult to choose the proper line off the tee. In general though there is plenty of room to drive the ball and the sandy waste areas that serve as rough almost always allow you to get your club on the ball and get back in play. I really think the strength of the course is in the par 5's. There are 5 of them on this par 73 course and they are all great holes that are really fun to play. The par 3's are probably slightly below the quality of the par 3's at the Red and Blue, while the par 4's would be on about the same level as the other courses. The greens are fascinating, and probably not too far off those seen on many of the great links courses in Great Britain and Ireland. They are certainly difficult to putt and I had a number of three putts during my round. However I never felt the greens to be unfair and I attribute the poor putting to my balky stroke and generally overall poor performance on Bermuda greens.
The course is very new but it was in nice condition. Apparently the base ground was heavily clay based so a huge amount of sand was brought in. When we played the course was playing very firm. Although this is in no way, shape or fashion a links but the Black course definitely has more a more links like feel than the Red or Blue. I don't know if this conditioning will be maintained as the course matures but I hope the course continues to play hard and fast since that really enhances the challenge that the design presents. My wife joined me and though she is a relative beginner she greatly enjoyed the Black course. Her excellent caddy, Chris Gentilcore, was able to guide her around and negotiate the challenges of the course. The fact that much of the golf was played on the ground and that there was always an option for her to play around the hazards and approach the green made this a fun day for her. I think female golfers of all levels of ability would enjoy the Black and actually the Red and Blue as well.
I applaud Streamsong and Gil Hanse for designing a course that is very unique in it's own right yet compliments two existing world class golf courses already on the property. Streamsong is setting the standard for excellent golf and on our recent trip I felt like the resort staff and other amenities had taken a step up as well. This is fast becoming my favorite golf destination and I would encourage you to experience these great courses.
Whilst Red and Blue feel similar, the Black is played across contrasting ground to the other two courses. Played across expansive sandy wasteland with big links style greens, this is a course that took every inch of Gil Hanse’s imagination to create. I have to admit that before coming to Streamsong I was concerned that the Black course would struggle to live up to the standards set by the first two layouts. Coore & Crenshaw and Tom Doak had the option to route their designs over the vast acreage that Streamsong covers yet ended up sharing only a slither of the property since it was by far and above the finest part of the property upon which to build a course. So, what would Gil Hanse be left with to build a third course?
From a distance and when you approach the practice area, the land doesn’t look like much, but the beauty is all in the design. What does hit you immediately however is the vastness and the scale of the property. The fairways are huge and in many cases difficult to miss, but when you do, your long sand game best be up to scratch. In keeping with the Blue and Red, the ground is undulating although without the benefit of the dunes and lakes with which to frame the holes. Architectural features such as blind approaches, no more so than the trough-like gigantic punchbowl green on the 9th, split fairways (long par five 4th), pot hole bunkers (the infamous Devil’s asshole bunker from Pine Valley makes an appearance on the 6th) and more than one green site option on the 13th are all experiences you’ll find at Streamsong Black.
Much is made of the greens at the Black and I was afraid that I’d find them gimmicky. To the contrary, I found them to perhaps be the best greens I’ve ever putted on. They come inspired from a UK links. I can think of two courses in South East England that have a similar set of greens so if you’ve played links golf, then they won’t phase you. There are multi tiers and borrows and swales of every imaginable combination with the challenge for the amateur golfer being to find the right shelf of the green. Be sure to have a caddy help you with distance to the pin or carry a range finder, or you will be facing three and four putts. But if you find some accuracy with your iron play, you’ll find the greens wholly enjoyable. The greens also stimp one or two slower than the other two courses which I’m told is to allow the grass to grow in, but they’re at a speed that make them playable and enjoyable so I hope the Course Superintendent doesn’t decide to quicken them up when the turf is fully established.
I would also say that there’s more consistency to the layout than the Red and Blue, each of the holes offer challenge and require a high degree of shot making and whilst the only hole that I found to be a let-down was the 17th (wonderful backdrop though), this is more than made up for by the 18th which snakes around a lake and could well be considered to be the finest hole on the whole property.
With the Black course arriving recently also come some other new additions to Streamsong. A quick mention to the hotel accommodation as whilst it’s wonderful luxury inside and has a fantastic array of restaurants, represents a blight on the landscape with architecture straight out of 1980s office design. On the flipside, the 18 hole “Gauntlet” putting green takes its template from St Andrews’ Himalayas green and is a wonderful addition to any of those visitors wanting to settle a post-round bet.
Whilst the Black is the newest and less heralded than the other two layouts, miss playing it at your peril as it offers a wonderful contrast to the Red and Blue. I personally loved it and I would expect it to become higher ranked as people make return visits and understand its nuances in more detail.
If you make the trip to Streamsong, it’s not going to be a short journey so do yourself the favour of visiting all three courses. Individually, they’re all excellent in their own right, but it’s when you view them as a collective when you realise that Streamsong has something special on their hands.
Having already experienced the Red and Blue courses at what has now become a 'must see' golf destination in Florida, I was incredibly excited about the prospect of yet a third course at the Streamsong resort. The Black course by Gil Hanse certainly doesn't disappoint as it adds a dramatically different dimension to the challenges presented here.
When I visited the course, the Northwesterly wind was blowing over 40 mph, which is by all accounts a rare occurrence here. This made the round incredibly challenging, as the golfer is fully exposed to the elements on this vast expansive terrain, which has less than 30 feet of elevation changes with very little protection from tress, throughout.
Despite this overpowering challenge the golfing experience on offer is exceptional. It would be hard to liken it to anything I've seen before, as I can't imagine many locations offer the architect the luxury of so much ripened golfing terrain to experiment with.
This is the kind of course that could play differently each round, as there are infinite opportunities for pin placements on the incredibly vast putting surfaces. Playing the course for the first time, it's very hard to know where to land the ball to get close to pins without elements of luck, as the run offs even within the putting surfaces heavily influence where the ball will finish up. The undulations on the greens are so severe that what can look like a well-placed approach shot can come to disastrous consequences if landed in the wrong spot. That said, a good long putter with touch and imagination will prevail here, as the quality of the surfaces run pure and true. The challenge in putting isn't just the line but the roly-poly undulations, which are hard to gauge as there are no obvious flat spots to level up against.
I don't feel it's necessary to walk-though all the holes in this review, as that has already been done in great detail in previous reviews, but what I can tell you is that the round does build up to a magnificent crescendo, as the closing stretch from 13 in offers a complete mixture of holes and challenges, giving the player a chance to put in a strong finish to the round where fortune favours the brave, but only if perfect execution of shot making is executed. The par 5, 18th is an absolute gem of visual and tactical delight.
I would love to return here and play all three courses in one visit to make a close and true comparison, having now seen all the courses. I think for anyone coming here on a 3 or 4 day trip, the quality and variety of golf on offer must put it on the shortlist of contenders for best stays and play golf resorts in America, and I'm sure it would be impossible to get bored of the golf on offer at this location. SB