When Streamsong opened 36-holes featuring Tom Doak's Blue layout and Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore's Red course there was little question quality design -- far beyond the pedestrian level found at many Florida courses, clearly was set in motion. A third course was planned to join the twosome early on and given the standard of existing golf the bar to meet what was done would be a tough chore for just about any architect. In a brilliant move, ownership opted to bring on board likely the only person capable in not only equaling what had already been done but surpassing it.
Gil Hanse is arguably the most sought after architect in all of golf design today. His blast-off has been nothing less than rocket-like in its ascendancy. Hanse's successes are especially noteworthy for the range of his efforts - both in the restoration and in creating new efforts. It was Hanse who won the design job for creating the 18-hole layout for the '16 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Hanse resurrected a tired Doral Blue layout for Donald Trump in Florida. He also played a major role in bringing to the forefront all of the qualities George Thomas originally created for LACC's North Course -- which will host the '23 US Open after many years in declining such involvement.
Hanse has worked his magic with other restoration efforts involving the likes of Winged Foot, Aronimink, Oakland Hills, Southern Hills, Plainfield, to name just a few. On the new course scene his design at Rustic Canyon leapfrogged a number of LA-area daily fee courses that were clearly overmatched by this affordable public gem. The same can be said when Hanse partnered with Mark Parsinen at Castle Stuart in Scotland. Other notable layouts include Mossy Oak in Mississippi and Boston Golf Club in Massachusetts, among several others. In short -- Hanse took on the Streamsong project and all eyes would be watching to see if he could again step to the forefront and continue his incredible momentum.
The answer is yes he has.
The Black is separated from the Blue and Red and is located on a much larger parcel of property -- roughly 300 total acres. There's no clutter -- just an expansive uninterrupted piece of terrain that Hanse smartly crafted so that the natural blowout sand areas would play a major role in a number of the holes.
The par-73 course is an unusual configuration since many courses opt for the standard 72 arrangement with an equal number of par-5 and par-3 holes. The extreme back tees provide a stout yardage of 7,566. There's 86 acres of fairway acreage and 97 acres of overall maintained turf.
Hanse has patterned the Black in the manner of courses found in Australia's Sand Belt region. There's more than ample width with fairways extending to 50-60 yard widths. Nonetheless, ball position in the fairway is critical in order to decide how aggressive or cautious one wishes to be with the approach shot.
The opening hole is a quality par-5 of 573 yards. Not especially onerous in any penal way but don't be fooled into believing Hanse has provided a quick birdie hole either. Assuming one finds the fairway the player is confronted by a fairway bunker placed in the optimum location for those desiring a go for the green in two blows. The more you take on the bunker the easier the 3rd will be. Those giving wide berth and playing more towards the left side face a delicate pitch shot -- especially when the pin is cut tight to the far left hand side. Hanse sends a strong message to all types of golfers that being able to score effectively will take a good deal more than just sheer brawn.
When you come to the 2nd hole you look at the scorecard and see it says 361 yards. No big deal -- right? Guess again. Those seeking an aggressive play from the tee will find the fairway actually tapers down. The ideal landing area is on the left side which provides a much better approach angle. The green is set above the fairway and you can't see the landing of the ball which only adds to a bit of unease for the player.
The putting surface is diagonally angled from lower left to top right. What makes the hole so crafty is how Hanse has added a fall-off area to the entire left and rear section of the green. Any approach hit too hard can easily run-off the green. What can look like a probable par can turn into a fast bogey or more.
The 3rd is a solid long par-4 -- with the best approach angle coming from the right which is where a pesky fairway bunker lurks. At the par-5 4th you encounter a testing split fairway area for one's second shot. Playing down the more demanding left side adds distance and provides an easier straight-on 2nd shot to the upper left hand portion of fairway.
When you reach the uphill par-3 5th you'll encounter one of the most challenging holes you will play at Streamsong or anywhere else in the Sunshine State. The green is perched high above the fairway and diagonally angled. Beyond the added yardage caused by the elevation Hanse has mischievously included a punishing false front. Failure to hit sufficient club will mean a ball falling back away from the green. There is a massive right hand greenside bunker that will swallow up any half-hearted hit. The hole is listed at 211 yards but when the elevation and a rear pin is used the overall length can easily reach 240 yards or more. Should a headwind be encountered the choice of a 3-metal or even driver cannot be ruled out of the equation. Those who come to Streamsong are quick to mention the par-3 holes such as the 7th Blue and 16th Red. Rightly so. However, the 5th on the Black is clearly in that conversation.
The short par-4 6th and par-3 7th holes provide a bit of a respite at just 342 and 178 yards respectively, but getting near enough on the approach is no small task at either hole. The par-4 8th is relatively benign off the tee but the massive green is quite demanding -- especially when the pin is placed to the extreme far left corner. If you wish to get some momentum it's best to do so with these holes because things get especially testing with the 9th.
The closing hole for the outward half of holes is truly a memorable one. Often times played back into the prevailing wind -- the 9th is a long par-4 where the green is totally blind for one's approach. In the nearby distance there's a windmill and it pays to align one's play accordingly. The bowl-shaped green is another gigantic target with a range of internal movements.
What you can glean from the outward set of holes is the manner by which Hanse always opts to keep players off balance. Never allowing golfers to get comfortable in what lies ahead. Always needing to assess one's game accurately and being resolute when moving into execution mode is front and center.
The inward half of holes features two distinctly different par-5's in the first trio of holes. The 10th is a risk/reward par-5 tempts players to take on a menacing set of bunkers that guard the inner turning point in a fearsome manner. Be mindful in going for the green in two blows -- shots missing too far left can easily reach sandy areas not raked and producing a series of lies and stances far less than desirable. The 11th is a long par-4 that takes you back to the immediate clubhouse area. It's a long hole that's well protected on the left side of the green.
At the long par-5 12th -- the green is segregated from the rest of the fairway and call upon a well-played pitch to get near enough for birdie.
The next three holes play in a circular loop. The mid-length par-4 13th features two different greens. The one on the right side being the more challenging because of its angle and the way it's protected by frontal bunkers. Hanse smartly changes the pace again with a driveable par-4 at the 14th. It's a good hole but fails to really stand apart in a noticeable way. The short par-3 15th follows nicely with a variety of green contours which either propel one's ball closer to the hole or further away.
The final trio of holes is each different in terms of its par score. The long par-4 16th is a stout two-shot hole. The hole is reminiscent of a Cape-like hole so the player needs to decide how much of the left corner ones wishes to tackle. At the par-3 17th you face a downhill shot to a large green with plenty of internal contours. The closing hole brings you home in grand fashion. The 18th commences with a blind tee shot and one's initial thinking is led to believe the left side is the way to proceed - it's actually down the right side that provides the best positioning. There's a downslope for the longest of hitters but those taking that route need to marry both length and direction. The 18th is shaped like the letter "C" and one can play to the left leaving a short pitch or opt for the heroic play and attempt to carry a water hazard, a mix bag of debris and greenside bunkers. Good luck. Those pulling it off can have an eagle putt -- those failing will pay a heavy price on the scorecard.
Hanse has clearly accomplished his task in providing a clear differentiation from the first two courses. The immense scale of the property gave Hanse a wide latitude and certainly a broader canvass to create various hole types with a routing that eschews predictability. In my mind, all three courses provide a fine contribution and I see the Black and Red battling for top dog honors although it's clear other golfers will have their own varied thoughts on the subject.
The only downside is that the "firm and fast" conditions touted by the facility remain a work in progress. The turf used for the Black does provide a faster surface than either the Blue or Red, however, anyone who goes to Streamsong and expects balls bounding around will be disappointed. The key will be achieving the kind of turf conditions that do provide such lively ground game situations because when present the overall caliber of the architecture and the related shotmaking will clearly be bolstered. I remain skeptical that will happen given the location of Streamsong and what the usual weather pattern is like in Florida for much of the year. We shall see.
Streamsong clearly provides a golf product that moves completely away from the low level results seen at so many other courses in Florida. There's no doubt the resort is sequestered away from the ongoing festivities of nearby Tampa and Orlando respectively and for some a visit of a few days will suffice. The resort has seen fit to add a number of top tier amenities to keep guests from developing any wanderlust.
In simple terms, if you consider yourself a core golfer and you head to Florida -- Streamsong should be front and center on one's agenda. Hanse stepped into a difficult situation given the momentum already in place, but, as he has done with other efforts, the net result is an imaginative layout that distinguishes itself very, very well.
by M. James Ward
Date: November 22, 2017