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Candler Hills Golf Club in Ocala, Florida: No water or alligators but plenty of wide fairways and big greens

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Candler Hills Golf Club - 4th hole
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The fourth hole at Candler Hills Golf Club is the longest par-4 in Florida, at 669 yards. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

OCALA, Fla. - The people at Candler Hills Golf Club, like many Florida golf courses, like to advertise their course as an "atypical" Florida course.

That might be the subject of debate, but there is definitely one characteristic of the course you don't often find in the courses of this golf-happy, flat peninsula nearly surrounded by salt water and inundated in the interior by lakes, rivers, streams and marsh:

No water. As in, none.

It turns out the owner of the course and the community that surrounds it, Sidney Cohen, doesn't like alligators.

Well, who does?

Anyway, no alligators, but they do have pygmy rattlesnakes, if you like a little wild in your wildlife.

Set in the middle of Ocala's horse country, 10 minutes west of Interstate 75, Candler Hills measures a whopping 7,333 yards from the back tees, including what course officials claim is the longest par-5 in Florida, the 669-yard fourth hole. It's also slightly uphill and often into the wind.

Don't let that scare you. The five sets of tees go down to 4,877 yards, and besides, the course is nearly as big sideways as it is lengthwise.

"Big fairways, big greens and no water," said Jeff Hill, the assistant professional, singing the high-handicapper's love song.

True enough, the fairways stretch almost from Ocala to the Gulf of Mexico, and you'll get to enjoy your big stick here.

No. 6 - "The Big Banana" - to name just one hole, is a good example. It's 595-yards from the back tees, and you're advised to stay left for the best angle in. But, slicers, and there are many, will be happy to note that even if you're wild right, you'll still have an unobstructed poke at it; the angle into the green will just be a little more awkward and over a bunker to boot.

These wide-open spaces can be a little deceiving when you pull up to the first tee, which is most likely what Naples golf architect Gordon Lewis intended when he designed it.

"You get out on No. 1 and you say, 'I'm going to shoot 62,'" said Jason Schuman, the course's head professional. "Then you get the wind in your face, and it's a different story."

True enough, the course is only 2 1/2 years old, and the few trees there are - mainly little growths of slash pine and sabal palm - haven't had time to mature and are defenseless when the wind whips across this expanse of central Florida. As in most courses susceptible to the wind, the strategy can be drastically altered.

Then there is the rough, which can be nasty in spots, particularly around the greens. The greens themselves, nicely sloped and undulating, are in excellent shape, but in late November, they are very slow. Course officials say that will change soon and the greens will be rolling about an impressive 12 on the Stimpmeter.

"When they get fast, if you're above the hole, it's almost impossible," Hill said.

Candler Hills Golf Club: The verdict

Candler Hills Golf Club is one of three golf courses in the On Top of the World Communities, a sprawling, "active-adult" development. The other two, the Links and the Tortoise & the Hare, are private.

The whole shebang is located on a large piece of central Florida plains formerly known as the Circle Square Ranch.

The various ornamental grasses, like love grass, spartina, cord grass and Fakahatchee, give the course a nice aesthetic touch, as do the ubiquitous waste areas.

Green fees are very reasonable.

There is a practice facility and an excellent restaurant.

Ocala hotels

The Fairfield Inn Marriott in Ocala is in a great spot to enjoy the golf the area has to offer. It's right off I-75 on State Road 200.

The hotel has all the amenities you expect from a Marriott property, including large guest rooms with in-room, high-speed Internet access, an outdoor swimming pool with a whirlpool, and a fitness center.

The three-story building has nearly 100 rooms. The Fairfield has a free continental breakfast. There is no restaurant but several are nearby.

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Candler Hills Golf ClubCandler Hills Golf Club - No. 17

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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

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