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Cypress Head Golf Club in Port Orange, Florida: A blend of styles on two distinct nines

Derek DuncanBy Derek Duncan,
Cypress Head golf course - 17th hole
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Cypress Head Golf Club's 17th: One of two par 5s that close out the round. (Courtesy of Cypress Head G.C.)

Players looking for a break from the Orlando circuit can open their horizons and travel 30 minutes east to Cypress Head Golf Club in Port Orange, Florida.

PORT ORANGE, Fla. -- We expect certain things from certain high-profile golf course designers. We count on Jack Nicklaus to provide highly worked green complexes and drastic contour. From Rees Jones we'd be surprised not to see some sort of bodacious perimeter mounding. From Arthur Hills we expect something along the lines of shot-making drama and a chiaroscuro type of shaping. We want this too, because Hills and his firm do flair as well as anyone. When given a compelling property and appropriate budget, his courses are among the most memorable and demanding in the game.

Though it's a natural tendency, it's probably foolish to categorize or pigeonhole most prominent architects into a style. The good ones react from the land and build courses as different as the sites on which they lay. Nonetheless, when an architect has produced courses as visually rich as Hills has -- Half Moon Bay in northern California, Bay Harbor in Michigan, Walking Stick in Colorado -- expectations go up.

Cypress Head Golf Club, a 1992 Arthur Hills design, shows almost none of the flair of these nationally recognized courses. It contains little resemblance to Hills' more remarkable Florida layouts, such as his three courses at Bonita Bay in Naples or even LPGA International's Legends Course just a few miles to the north.

This is not to say that Cypress Head isn't a fine golf course, only that it doesn't have the firepower to turn many heads. Considering the kind of visual assertiveness that Hill and Co. are capable of creating, Cypress Head is rather reserved: a sensible course that winds through a modest development without demanding much in the way of heroism from the player.

The vigorous and various on and off green contours found on Hills' top tier courses are relatively absent here. Cypress Head's green complexes are generally low-lying and have not been stacked with mounds and cut with deep bunkers as one might expect. Many of them are beautifully contoured showing sublime slopes and grades (along with a few that are severe) but they don't have the surrounding shot-destroying accoutrements that make them stand out.

Cypress Head was undoubtedly never destined to be a blockbuster golf course. It is owned and financed by the city of Port Orange, and for a municipal course, it is reliably maintained and cared for. The residents of Port Orange have no qualms with its gentle nature, either, as an incredible 63,000 rounds were logged last year and the course was voted the best course in Volusia County by at least one readership poll.

Cypress Head is listed as a co-design between Hills and Mike Dasher, a longtime Hills associate who handled the majority of the firm's southeastern projects. Dasher, who has since opened his own firm (he has Highlands Reserve in Davenport, Fla., to his solo credit), appears to have a slightly different style than Hills, approaching projects with a more minimalist sensibility. His understated touch is evident at Cypress Head, particularly on the inward nine, and perhaps accounts for the course's rather un-Hills-like flavor.

Doug Crenshaw, General Manager and Director of Golf at Cypress Head, believes it was Dasher who handled the majority of the design work here. Cypress Head is nevertheless true to its origin.

"The course is typical Florida in that it's flat and its got a lot of water on it," Crenshaw says. He also describes it as not having "a lot of Bermuda," meaning that the holes play singularly, bordered by either the natural vegetation or the development rather than neighboring holes.

Cypress Head is, more than anything else, a blend of holes and styles, a layout of two distinct nines that impress players through different means. At 6,832 yards from the tournament tees, the course is not a beast (there are three alternative sets to choose from), but Crenshaw states that, "it plays longer than the card says."

Cypress Head Golf Club's opening nine

The first nine is the highlight at Cypress Head. These holes take on a variety of shapes and strategies with little repetition. Crenshaw says that on this nine the architects "left more ground cover, and there are good buffers," between the course and its perimeters. Houses are there, but it's easier to lose your bearing on this side.

Once past the short 346-yard opener, the holes are tight and defined. This is really true of the second-perhaps the best hole on the course -- a 522-yard par five that zigzags at angles between trees left and right, then over a small wetland area to a deep, elevated green. Power players can go for the green in two only if they can wiggle their drive far enough into a narrow passageway between the thickets; otherwise they will be blocked out on the right.

Several holes require approach shots around or over small lakes (notably the 419-yard third and the 526-yard eighth), and the greens on this side generally contain more undulation and imagination than those on the inward nine. The back-to-back par threes at six and seven (197 yards and 169 yards respectively) are stylish and play over stretches of wetlands.

Cypress Head Golf Club's back nine

The second loop doesn't demand the same level of concentration as the first, and "buffers" are absent, meaning the housing is more noticeable. Players will feel free to let it out off the tee, and the greens on this nine are more level and approachable with less penetrating hazards.

The side is best symbolized by the prodigious 474-yard par four 14th, arguably the most difficult hole on the course. It wraps sharply left around a lake and calls for players to either challenge the water directly, cutting off as much as they choose (an extreme task from the rear tees), or to play away from the hazard to the right, thus leaving a 200 yard plus approach into the low, ordinary green. To complicate matters, the water runs up the left side of the fairway until just short of the green, and even drives that carry the lake are likely to bound through the tight landing area into bunkers. There is no doubt that this is a difficult hole, especially for the average player, but it is a stock golf hole (and a tedious one at that) that doesn't offer anything new to the type.

The 16th, a 178-yard par three, has more potential. From the tournament tees it plays over wetlands to a magnificently contoured green ringed by seven throwback bunkers. The other sets of tees are set off to the right at a different angle, which is a nice alternative as it brings different bunkers into play.

Because the first nine is more interesting and diverse, the course might be better served thematically if it reversed its sides, although the current par five-par five finish offers a compelling end-of-the-round scoring chance.

Cypress Head Golf Club: The verdict

Cypress Head is an excellent course that serves its residents and community more than admirably. Although it's not the firecracker that visiting players may want from an Arthur Hills design, it has no glaring weakness.

"It's not going to beat you up," Crenshaw says, "but it's a good test of golf that isn't gimmicky or tricked up. It's just a solid, sound golf course."

Those passing through Volusia County should stop in at Cypress Head after they've checked out LPGA International's Legends Course, and players looking for a break from the Orlando circuit could do worse than to open their horizons and travel 30 minutes east to this course.

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Cypress Head Golf Club - 5th

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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