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.
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
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