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.
Streamsong has great hotel rooms, a lovely rooftop bar, the dining is good, a good fitness center and there is an excellent spa. The outdoor infinity pool is nice and there are good views across all of the golf courses.
The golf courses are links-like and qualify as close as possible to a links course for the USA with the exception of proximity to the sea; do man-made lakes disqualify a course? Yes, they do.
I have twice visited Streamsong. On my last visit a couple years back, I played the Black tees on all three courses, one up from the back (Green) tees. I can't play over 7000 yards. I played to my index on all courses but the last day during my second round on the Black course as the pace of play (near 5 hour round), the contours of several greens, and the often gusting wind got to me on the Black course with a result that I struggled to break 90.
In my first visit to the Black course I went in with high expectations as I liked every course that Gil Hanse had either designed himself or was asked to restore/redesign.
At a later date I played Inniscrone and French Creek near Philadelphia which are both not worth playing. I give Hanse a “pass” on Inniscrone as it was early in his career and he was given both a bad piece of land and had to incorporate a large housing development.
I was slightly disappointed by the Black course. I played it twice. It's a very good layout but with 4-5 of the silliest greens I have ever seen. It has a hole that is among the worst holes I have ever played in golf that could be transformed to a very good hole. The “bad” greens and that one hole are so over-the-top that unless you are one of the first groups off, your round is going to approach five hours. I don't play courses if I know it is going to be a five-hour round.
Caddies do not help on the Black course as much as the greens are large which only serves to increase the effect of their slants and tilts. I do not blame this on the caddies. The fairways are very wide that you do not need caddies to tell you the line off the tee. For all three courses I found a caddie necessary for the first time playing it. A caddie is always helpful on the Red course. For the Blue course, for the third time around you likely no longer need a caddie. Overall, I felt the course could have benefited from the greens being about 20-25% smaller.
There are good visuals on the Black course as the routing takes advantage of the land features that are available. The views are expansive but also lead to the holes sometimes lacking definition due to the endless horizon.
The bunkering is good although I could argue some of the bunkers are unnecessarily punitive when combined with the silly greens where the chance of recovery is substantially reduced.
All courses are in good conditioning as there is an excellent course staff.
There are many holes that one will really like on the course while some others are not as memorable. The holes I liked the most were 4, 7, 10, 12, and 18. The par 5’s are a highlight of the golf course.
One interesting aspect is that many of the greens are angled left to right.
There are four sets of yardages at 7331, 6759, 6240 and 5293, par 73. The Green tees are rated 74.7/135 while the Black tees are 72.0/140, the Silver tees 69.5/125 and the Gold tees are 69.5/119. It is surprising to me that the ratings are essentially the same on the Silver and Gold tees are the same rating given it is a 1000 yard difference. As mentioned, we played the Black tees. I consider the back nine to be more difficult than the front nine.
1 – par 5 573/508/466 - a good, gentle par 5 with sand down both sides of the fairway but the fairway is wide enough. Most players can hit the green in two shots or be very close to the front of the green. There is a collection of bunkers about 25 yards short on the right that are raised that can block the view of the green and create a somewhat blind recovery shot. This is a rare green angled slightly right to left. There is a bunker on the left front of the green. The troublesome bunkers are behind the green which make recovery difficult given the green slopes back to front. It is a nice starting hole.
2 – par 4 361/326/309 - an uphill second shot is required to this short par 4. It is difficult to hold a second shot on this green if the wind is behind you as the green has a falloff spine along the back of its entire length. The fairway narrows on the left while the right side offers an opportunity for a safer angle to the green even if it creates more of a blind shot. The green is angled left to right. I like the hole, but in a high wind at one’s back it is nearly impossible to get a ball to stay on the green to a front right pin location. The hole would be better if the green were five yards wider. There is not much room to putt from just off the green as the sand begins very quickly.
3 – par 4 480/423/394 - a terrific downhill par 4 to a wide fairway with a single bunker set off to the right. There is a wetlands area both left and before the green. The hole has an incredibly large green that requires an excellent first lag putt. The green is borderline unfair due to the many humps and undulations. There is a section of the green back left that is its own island due to the bunker cutting in from the left and wetlands further left. Overall, I like the hole but one better hit it close and not merely be satisfied with hitting the green.
4 – par 5 601/581/550 -My favorite hole on the front nine is this long, par 5 with a split fairway for the second shot. You have to cross a creek on the tee shot and the second shot if you want to shorten the hole. To shorten the hole, the second shot must navigate the hill which creates a blind shot. The other option is to play your second shot straight to the end of the fairway leavings one a blind shot uphill to the green of 100-150 yards. The green is huge, set off to the left and has a big falloff on the front right. Overall, I like that the hole provides options. After playing it twice, I do not know which is the better strategy for the average length player. If one can successfully navigate the hill on their second shot, they will see the green and now the shot they need to make. There is a line of sand on the right as well for a second shot struck too weakly. There is also a troublesome bunker that creeps into the fairway just before the green. At the green there is a falloff into the sand on the right.
5 – 211/177/158- I do not like this hole. It is a long uphill par 3 with a green angled left to right. The only way to play the hole is to land on the left side and have the ball release down the sharp bank to the right. There is a series of bunkers on the higher left edge of the green. There is a single large bunker on the middle-back right that collects a lot of balls as the slope of the green is so severe. If you hit to the left side of the green and the ball stays up there on the shelf, there is no possibility to stop it on your first putt; it will end up in a greenside bunker. It is a terrible green. I don't know what the shaper was thinking. The joy is sucked out of playing golf when playing this hole. The bunker on the right is very deep. On both rounds we waited fifteen minutes on the tee as players tried to deal with the severity of the green.
6 – par 4 342/321/299. A short par 4 with a bunker that pinches in the green a bit to cut the green in half. There are two small bunkers on the right that should not be in play. The green is angled again left to right, the third green like this in six holes. It is an okay hole but the weakest on the front nine.
7 – par 3 178/158/135. A well bunkered medium length par 3 with a good green. Five bunkers surround the green. It is the best green complex on the front side. It is probably the best hole on the front nine although I like the fourth a bit more.
8 – par 4 427/408/377. A dogleg right par 4 where the line is down the right towards a collection of bunkers that are raised. There is no reason to take on these bunkers if one is an average length player as there is ample room to the left. The bunkers on the left of the fifth hole come into play on the left about 30 yards before the green, eating into the green a bit. This is either the second or third best hole on the front nine. The green is enormous with ripples throughout. I like the hole.
9 – par 4 450/408/360. This hole plays as a slight dogleg left par 4 with a blind shot over a rise to a punchbowl green that is huge and very undulating. The green is stupidly undulating with some of the rises being three feet, possibly more. It's no fun. By far, it is the worst punchbowl hole I have ever played and the only punchbowl green I do not like.
10 – par 5 548/524/502 – This is a very good par 5 requiring good shots all the way to the green. The hole plays as a dogleg left then back to the right. The longer player will try to fly the sand that eats into the fairway about 60 yards short of the green. There is an interesting bailout area behind this sand which is about 40 yards wide where there is a sliver of a fairway and five bunkers on its left side. The line most taken for the second shot is to avoid that large sandy area by playing left of it but the fairway narrows quite a bit. The only part of the hole I disliked is that the green has a silly mound build on the right side that has a peak to it like someone was trying to build a volcano for a school science fair. Again, I don't know what the shaper was thinking. Ugh. The ripples on the front to back sloped green behind this mound are fine, but the mound should be removed.
11 – par 4 463/395/378. This is a long, hard par 4 to a somewhat elevated green that falls off to the left which will make your ball end up in the waste area about 25 yards away. There are also two large, deep bunkers on the left side. The green is angled slightly right to left. It is a fair hole; just hard. If you miss left you will likely make a six or seven. I made six and a five in my two rounds.
12 – par 5 571/531/510. This is another terrific routing for this par 5 although a little out of character to the rest of the course due to how the second shot has the fairway a bit more pinched in. There is sand everywhere on this hole running down both sides, fronting the elevated green and surrounding the elevated green. The green is angled left to right in a semi-circle. It’s the best hole on the back nine and probably the best on the golf course. This is my favorite hole on the course.
13 – 430/409/368. There are two greens on this par 4 with squiggly cross bunkers in the middle of the fairway. I am only referencing the green to the left as the right one was not open on either day but it makes the hole about 30 yards longer and it is a better shaped green. The big problem for the green on the left is that the approach shot is slightly uphill and you have to carry a bunker fronting the green, yet the green dramatically slopes front to back so an approach shot is unlikely to stay on the green. This is the left green. I did not care for the hole. While I like cross bunkers, the shape and sculpting of this cross bunker is silly as it limits the opportunity to recover. In addition to the front to back slope of the green, the right side of the green has large ripples in it as well as a severe falloff pushing balls off the green? This entire green complex should be reshaped.
14 - par 4 298/286/261- Other than 17 at Cabot Cliffs and 5 at Quivira, this is the worst hole I have played on a good golf course. It's a short par 4 with bunkers all down the left to a green that is on a man-made hill of perhaps seven feet. There is tall grass down the right. The green is significantly raised and crowned and has so many undulations and dips to it that I expect there are many five putts on it. You have to be perfect here. My guess is that a par is achieved by driving the green and a three putt. I witnessed two five putts and one person who stopped putting and walked off. Only the world’s best putters can two putt this green. If one goes too long over the back of the green the ball will fall well off the green and could go into the bushes and trees. This can happen even if putting from the fairway side. If one goes over the green, they face an even steeper hill back up the green. Both times we walked off thirteen and sat down near the alternate green on thirteen to watch players on the green with two groups waiting to play. The back-up is due to players trying to drive the green as well as players that are determined to putt out no matter how many strokes it takes. It took us 45 and 50 minutes to play this hole after playing 13. I wanted to walk off the course. If golf courses were like this, I would stop playing. This is a well-conceived hole on paper and could be transformed to a terrific hole if the green’s height was reduced by 50%.
15 – par 3 133/131/110. This is a short par 3 playing to a thin, but wide green fronted by bunkers and a single pot-like bunker on the back right. Sand is behind most of the green as well. The best part of the hole is that one does not have to wait on the tee. Although thirteen and fourteen are holes with tremendous flaws, I think a better hole should follow as this one is too easy.
16 – par 4 463/442/400- Right next to the thirteenth tee is the sixteenth tee. The hole is a long dogleg left with a half acre of sand on the left. The green has sand starting about 15 yards before it on the front right. The green is another one angled left to right. It’s a good hole even though I doubled it both days.
17 – par 3 205/189/154. This is downhill par 3 with an enormous green that funnels anything hit next to the green onto the green. Because of the size of the green, a two putt is a real achievement. I found there to be nothing remarkable about this hole.
18 - par 5 586/530/495. This hole requires three good shots. The fairway tilts left to right with sand down the left side and a string of bunkers down the right. The fairway is sufficiently wide for the tee shot. The second shot must be played left of a narrowing hazard as represented by a lake and bunkers on the right. The green is (surprisingly – just kidding) angled right to left but mainly just set off to the right. The third shot often requires you to go over the bunkers fronting the green to a somewhat skinny green no matter if you have made the thin part of the fairway parallel to the pond and bunkers. Or laid up before the bunkers fronting the pond. There is a single bunker back left and encircling the right side front to back. I thought it was a good finishing hole. Par is an excellent score on this hole
A good hole, a well-designed hole is still a bad hole if it has a bad green complex. The green complexes on four of the holes on the Black take the joy out of playing these holes. Five-hour rounds take the joy out of playing golf. It is the four-five greens that cause the slow play. The design and routing are very good. When I return to Streamsong I might skip the Black unless I get the first tee time. Even then I might choose not to putt on some of the greens. Fix the greens on several holes and this could be a 5. I struggled between a 4.5 and 4 but as I place it third at Streamsong, I will leave it at 4.
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.