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Saddle up: Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club is a Florida thoroughbred

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club - hole 4
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The fourth hole at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club was inspired by No. 8 at Royal Troon. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

OCALA, Fla. - No, you don't find many businesses that mix horses and golf, but the private Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club does, and with considerable flair.

Besides, this is Ocala, where there's a tack shop on every corner and horse farms sprawl everywhere, beckoning with their green pastures, picturesque fences and beautiful, galloping thoroughbreds.

In short, Ocala is the epicenter of Florida horse country. There is money in horses, not exactly a poor man's hobby, as evidenced by the grand entrance to the club, with big, wrought-iron gates to the 1,400 semi-rolling acres, as well as its mammoth, ornate clubhouse.

Golden Ocala is "dedicated to the preservation of the equestrian lifestyle" and is developing horse trails and a state-of-the-art equestrian center.

In the meantime, if you don't ride a horse, there is one superb golf course.

You can smell money there, too.

"I guess money is no object here," said Doug Bedard, a low handicapper from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., looking down at the cart paths made of expensive, individually-laid bricks.

The course is partially a replica course. I've always been a little ambivalent about such layouts. They're interesting because you can play replicas of famous holes you might not otherwise ever play. The counter-thought is you pay your green fees, you expect something original, a unique experience.

Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club has come up with a very satisfying compromise: Noted architect Ron Garl has incorporated eight replica holes with 10 original works.

It is testimony to the quality of the course that the holes designed by Garl, a well-known Florida architect, are every bit as interesting and challenging as the replicas, for the most part.

It's a superb layout, through fairways lined with moss-draped oaks and risky, interesting green complexes. The conditioning is superb throughout.

"I love it. It's fabulous," Bedard said. "The problem is the public can't play it. If I was a member, it would be a joy to play this course every day."

The two nines each have four replica holes. No. 4 was inspired by No. 8 at Royal Troon's famous "Postage Stamp" par-3 and No. 5 by Muirfield's ninth hole.

Then comes Amen Corner. No. 6 was patterned after Augusta National's 16th hole, No. 11 by the twelfth at Augusta and No. 12 by the 13th.

The road hole at St. Andrews inspired No. 14 and the famed No. 4 at Baltusrol was the inspiration behind Golden Ocala's No. 15.

Are they exact replicas? No, but they're very close - it would be difficult to put all those Scottish hotels around the Road Hole, or plant heather in central Florida.

Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club: The verdict

As said previously, the replica holes are fun, but the rest of the course holds up nicely as well. Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club is 6,882 yards from the back tees, and the four sets of tees go down to 5,580 yards, a little long for the lighter-hitting ladies.

No. 3, for example, is a relatively short par-4 where all the trouble is in reach with your driver. The two closing holes are excellent. The 17th features a sharp dogleg left with an uphill approach - beware the deep swale just to the right of the green - and the 18th is a reachable, mid-length par-5 with a green that slopes harshly back to front, back to the creek that fronts it.

There are a number of risk/reward options, and many of the holes pick up movement as you near the green, in the form of small hillocks, mounds, little creeks and bunkers. In fact, if you want to score well here, your approach shots will be just as important, if not more so, than what you do off the tee.

Golden Ocala has an excellent practice facility, with two practice holes as well.

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 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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Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian ClubGolden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club - hole 18

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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