The course at Talis Park Golf Club, formerly known as Tuscany Reserve Golf Club, is the result of an unlikely collaboration between two bold designers, Pete Dye and Greg Norman. It was at The Medalist – another excellent Floridian track located at Hobe Sound – where Dye and Norman first worked together back in 1994.
Tuscany Reserve opened its tees for play in 2006 and was groundbreaking in its total use of hybrid Sea Dwarf Paspalum grass. When the design duo turned up for an opening match with the residents of Tuscany Reserve in February 2008 – Rocco Mediate is reported to own a home here – they were mightily impressed with the salt tolerant turf and the impeccable conditioning.
We don’t normally utilise extracts from official club websites but we smiled knowingly when we read the Tuscany Reserve homepage text and couldn’t help but run the quote… “The championship course is highlighted with cross bunkers and interwoven along terraced hillsides with watercourses slowly spilling over aging stone walls into narrow finger-lakes and channels. A picturesque farm-like landscape allows for a variety of uphill and downhill holes, while providing images of a course that could easily be set in the picturesque valleys of Tuscany, Italy.” Wow… can we join the club immediately?
Probably not… even though the troubled building firm WCI sold out to overseas investors, Talis Park is beyond our means.
The course itself is really a tale of two halves but there’s a theme running right the way through and that’s water. No. 14 is the only hole on the course without water but there are only two holes on the course that demand forced carries. The front nine has a park-like feel while the back nine has been moulded into the image and likeness of Tuscan farmland. At this point we must state that there is nothing agricultural about the back nine whatsoever.
The one-shot holes are especially captivating and none more so than the short, thrilling but penal par three 13th. The peninsula green is protected by an insidious pot bunker which sits smugly in the middle of the approach to the green. There are no prizes for being short on this hole.
Is Talis Park merely a “gem” or should it be listed in the top 100 golf courses in Florida, although at the lower end of the list? After playing Talis Park (poorly on a windy day), but mainly looking at it, there is rationale for either. For me, I would lean towards keeping it in the “gem” list as I have only played 66 courses of the more than 1300 courses in Florida. I would need to play more of the better courses in the state before I could make that determination.
The course is a collaborative design from Greg Norman and Pete Dye, one of only two courses where they worked in concert. The course did have to restore the bunkering in 2017 (after Hurricane Irma.
Talis Park is under its third owner, the previous two having declared bankruptcy. The original owner, WCI Communities, one of the largest residential housing builders in Florida at the time, sunk $250 million into the infrastructure alone in order to create what they envisaged to be the number one golf course community in Florida (named Tuscany Reserve). Half of that amount would have likely resulted in forfeiture. The third and current owner did achieve the vision of excellent housing, clubhouse, landscaping, and a vibrant club. In fact, the club is so successful that the residents rarely venture towards some of the best beaches in the USA, finding everything they need behind the very sturdy and imposing gates that one passes through to enter the property. The clubhouse, particularly the stone wall that evokes a seaside Italian fishing village, competes with the golf course as the “star” of the development. The stonework for the clubhouse is used throughout the golf course to create various bridges to cross the many ponds. These bridges add to the visual attractiveness of the golf course.
This is an attractive golf course due to the long views as most of the trees have been cleared away. While one sees very nice condominiums and single-story houses on the outward nine, on the back nine the houses ramp up in size and style, culminating in that wonderful view of the clubhouse as you come up the eighteenth. It can be a bit distracting, much like the enormous houses bordering Silverleaf in Scottsdale, or even along Pebble Beach.
As a visitor, one is captured by the “vibe” of the place, beginning at the practice range where the original small clubhouse now acts as a gathering point for those going out to play, practice, or after finishing a round. Unless one is uber-competitive, playing here will make one appreciate where you are because it is always fun even if one has to hit a draw over a pond to a narrow fairway with the wind gusting strongly against you.
What I also liked about the course is that one never feels like they lack options to save par. Yet if one isn’t on their game and does not execute well it will likely result in a double bogey. But somehow a double does not seem to sting as much here. The course will reward good shots while errant shots will have penal consequences due to the water that is often in play as well as the many bunkers on the back nine.
My understanding is that Mr. Norman did more of the routing and the fairway bunkering, with Mr. Dye doing more of the work for the green surfaces and greenside bunkering. The result is a few raised tees and raised greens as some earth was moved here. I felt the front nine to be a bit plainer from tee to green as it is more open, although the holes are not pushovers. There are not as many bunkers on the front nine, whether for defensive purposes or merely to act as distractions. The back nine has the more interesting shape to many of the holes. The inward nine has the vastly superior bunkering and green surrounds. The designers incorporated center-line bunkers as well as high backed bunkers behind the greens, more so on the back nine.
The turf is Sea Turf @ Paspalum. This is used everywhere – tees, fairways, rough and greens. I do not often play off of this and performed poorly from the rough. Balls hit from the rough flew higher than I expected, catching more of the high winds and seemingly always directing a ball back towards the water. While I was able to “generally” read the greens correctly, I struggled a few times with the green speeds as did others. It made me wonder whether the “grain” is more consequential with this type of grass. However, this is one of the “greenest” courses I have ever seen with the only brown spots being turf turned over as the early morning saw a half inch of rain. It is a wonderfully conditioned golf course.
In general, the fairways are wide. This is very much a second shot golf course. I counted only the tenth fairway as being somewhat narrow, more of an issue for longer hitters.
There is a nice mixture of long and short holes here whether a par 3, par 4 or par 5.
The greens are not heavily sloped or contoured with the back nine having more inner swales and fall-offs. I do not normally misread breaks but I misread at least three on the course with the ball breaking slightly in a different direction. I was not alone in doing this. Our group agreed the breaks could be subtle or seemingly go in a different way towards the closest mounds.
I do not think there is a single “great” hole here. I did favor the par 5 eleventh due to the bunkering throughout the hole.
From the back tees the course measures 7001 yards, par 72 and is rated 73.1/137. I felt this to be a bit low. We played the back tees at 6532 yards, rated 71.4/128. There are two sets of lesser tees and two combination tees. Due to the high wind and the rain, the course played a lot longer and we played “lift, clean and play.”
1. Par 4 – 375/344. A large pond sits on the right but ends about 180 yards out followed by two bunkers and scattered trees that catch a lot of balls. We had the wind in our face which is not normal for the course. There is a large center-line bunker about 40 yards short of the green. This hole plays uphill for the second shot. The green has a large, deep bunker left front and one back right that I thought was an unnecessary bunker until I almost went into it. The green is steeply sloped back to front. Overall it is a welcoming hole, but only one of us made par.
2. Par 4 – 401/385. I was told the manufactured ridge behind the tee and the first fairway is the tallest point in the county, separating Talis Park from I-75. It is effective in limiting the noise from the busy interstate. As such, this tee is at the highest point on the course, looking down to a very wide fairway with a long waste area on the right followed by a single bunker. The right side also has a pond that should never be reached. Off the left side along a ridge are scattered trees followed by two bunkers set well apart. The first bunker is definitely in reach. The green is raised with two fronting bunkers on the right and the pond creeping in from the right. The green seems shallow from the fairway but is of sufficient size once on it. There is a central vertical spine and a back-to-front slope. Overall I thought the hole lacked definition.
3. Par 3 – 199/177. This hole plays over water to a green that is far bigger than it looks due to a huge section on the left. There are four bunkers that frame half of the green but none near that left side. The two bunkers at the rear are placed into the hill behind the hole. The large green provides a lot of opportunities for pin placements and pace is an issue due to another vertical spine.
4. Par 4 – 340/313. This short hole has the same pond as on holes 1-3 also in play as it goes down the entirety of the left side of the fairway with the green placed behind it. There are a few scattered trees down the left as well as a few mounds. Opposing bunkers sit on the corner of the dogleg left. There is another center-line bunker at the end of the fairway for those long hitters trying to get parallel to the green to take water out-of-play. A final large bunker sits on the left front wrapping around the left side. It is a fun hole and one where there are likely more double bogies than birdies.
5. Par 5 – 522/481. A ridge is built down the right side with scattered trees. Down the left side is water as well as a very long bunker. My tee shot caught the wind and then the cart path ending up in the seventh fairway from where I should have played down it as no one was on the hole. That would have left me a 130 yard shot over a pond. But I decided to get the ball back in play for the way the hole was designed. My shot never had a chance as I tried to get over a tree and clear a bit of the pond. The wind slapped my ball down. For those who hit a good tee shot, the second shot needs to avoid both the pond on the right that cuts the fairway size in half as well as four bunkers left on that remaining slice of a fairway. The green sits on a peninsula with opposing bunkers on the side and water close on three sides. For average length players, despite the short length of the hole, the play is to always try to feather a shot between the first bunker nearer the green and the water, leaving about 90-110 yards. It is a clever golf hole.
6. Par 3 – 166/152. This hole plays over water with the green set to the left of it. There is ample room to miss left or long. There is a knob/mound short left of the green that one would assume would kick a ball onto the green but it does not. Balls hit the knob and stop. The green is a bit of a saddle but with the back having a second higher tier due to a rise behind the green. It is a nice par 3.
7. Par 4 – 481/447. This is the number one index on the front and deservingly so due to the length with the tee shot being uphill although longer hitters likely get a favorable roll as they clear the hill. Scattered trees go down both sides on ridges with two fairway bunkers on the left. The green has a single bunker back right and for me appeared to be one of the flatter greens on the course, although the subtle break did me in. There is also a swale front right of the green. The hole is relatively uninteresting, defined more by its length than visual appeal.
8. Par 5 – 567/542. This is the longest par 5 (by two yards) on the course. There is water down the entirety of the right side while the left side offers a few scattered trees and bunkers on the manufactured ridge. The fairway gets thinner as you approach the green. About 80 yards out is a final bunker on the left side of the fairway. The right half of the green sits above the pond and has two fronting bunkers. The green is angled a bit left to right. It is a challenging par 5 for the average player as you must hit three good shots.
9. Par 4 – 419/384. A lengthy cart ride takes you to a challenging ninth. For the average length player this hole has a fairway bunker sitting below the left ridge that is reachable from the green. The right side has water all the way down the fairway and the pond continues behind the green. The green is placed on a small rise with a bunker front right and two on the left. The fall-off behind the green is severe; any ball going over the green will find the water.
10. Par 4 – 422/396. It takes a very lengthy cart ride towards the practice range and the length of it to get to the tenth tee. The hole plays over a pond down the right side that shrinks the size of the fairway due to two fairway bunkers placed on the hill on the left side among a grouping of trees. This hole doglegs to the right with half of the green sitting behind the pond. There is a small pot-like bunker front right of the green with the back of the green having three bunkers and another on the left. There is a vertical spine in the green. It is perhaps the most difficult driving hole on the golf course.
11. Par 5 – 565/554. My favorite hole due to two center-line bunkers and then six more bunkers as you near the green. A pond goes down the left side with scattered trees down the right side. The bunkers are purposefully placed to make you want to play either short of them or to the right of them. The green is raised and the fronting bunkers seemed to be the deepest on the course. The green sits on a shelf behind these bunkers and this green seemed to have the most inner movement. If the course had more green complexes such as this one, particularly on the front nine, its recognition would grow.
12. Par 4 – 368/331. Similar to the fourth, hitting from a peninsula tee on this shorter par 4 has water down the entirety of the left side with the green placed behind the curve of the water. Four bunkers are spaced down the right side of the fairway. There is a final bunker center right of the green which has a rise in it. This green seemed to be the slowest on the course. None of us read the break nor the speed correctly as there is a more substantial break to the left on this green than it appears.
13. Par 3 – 156/129. The second longest cart ride takes you along the pond to a peninsula tee to an island green with a front bunker on a knob and a left side bunker. The green has a higher back side to it.
14. Par 4 - 454/424. From here on in you play next to some very large houses. The fourteenth is the hardest hole on the inward nine with fourteen bunkers. The tee shot plays slightly uphill. Of the fourteen bunkers, five are on the left side of the fairway and two on the right. Going into the left bunkers will likely result in a blind shot. Near the green are two small central bunkers about 30 yards short, followed by three placed off to the left, one front and one on the right. The right side has a substantial swale before the green. I really liked this hole for its visual appeal and the perfect placement of the many bunkers.
15. Par 5 – 508/490. This shorter par 5 played much longer for us as it was into a substantial wind. It is one of the rare tee shots that does not have water in play. However, there are three bunkers left and two on the right. Another center line bunker is in play about 125 yards from the green, followed by another roughly 50 yards short of the green. There are eight bunkers surrounding the green spaced apart in front with a grouping of four placed behind the green on a rise. The pond creeps back in nearer the green from the right as well as where the average hitter might be trying to place their second shot, thereby squeezing the fairway. The hole is clever in the way the fairway is pinched.
16. Par 4 – 436/406. Water goes down the much of the right side of the fairway with a long waste area next to it. There is ample opportunity to miss to the left side of the fairway, especially with a right to left breeze. Yet I found the water trying to cleverly shape a shot. The green complex has a bunker well to the left which I thought was odd. Another bunker is down the entire left side of the relatively flat green.
17. Par 3 – 205/194. The longest par 3 has much of the green sitting behind a pond with a central front bunker. There is ample room to miss to the left. The green is angled left to right. For me, this was the least interesting par 3 on the course and somewhat out of character to the others with only one bunker.
18. Par 4 – 417/383. Another long cart ride takes you to the tee where a long, skinny pond goes down the left side. There is a bunker on the right side and then a collection of three fairway bunkers further up for the longer hitters. The green sits hard against the pond on the left. Those trying to play safe could find one of three bunkers on the right. The green tilts towards the water with some good inner movement. But the most impressive part of this hole is the clubhouse sitting high above the green on that stone wall.
After playing the tenth and eleventh holes, one senses that the back nine is going to be better than the front nine from both a visual standpoint and strategy. While I enjoyed the front nine, the back nine is at a higher level. If the golf course had as many interesting green surrounds on the front nine as the back nine, the course would gain in recognition. As it is, it is a fine golf course, certainly one of the better courses in southwest Florida.