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Southern Dunes in Florida an unexpected work of golf art

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Orlando - Southern Dunes
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Steve Smyers' Southern Dunes layout is one of the most imaginative in Florida, if not the country. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)

An easy drive from Orlando, Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club in Haines City is like finding the Mona Lisa in a trailer park: It's a strikingly imaginative Steve Smyers-designed golf course that ranks among the best in Florida golf.

HAINES CITY, Fla. - The incongruity is striking. Smack-dab in the middle of yet another cookie-cutter Florida development lies one of the most imaginative golf courses in the Sunshine State, if not the country.

Playing Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club is like coming upon the Mona Lisa in a trailer park. Try to ignore the identical screened porches and swimming pools yards from the course; they'll only suck the authenticity out of this work of art.

In contrast to the Modern Bland surroundings, the course terrain is classic circa-'50s Central Florida, and Steve Smyers' design reflects the influence of the legendary golf architects of the 1920s and '30s, who emphasized risk/reward strategy, creative shot-making and bold visual flourishes.

Take the eye-catching bunkers - all 180 of them. Filled with red sand, they come in every imaginable shape and size yet never seem overstated. Smyers didn't just put them off to the side, or at the corners of doglegs; they're an integral part of the course's feel.

"I've seen a lot of courses built within the last 10 years that probably have more square footage of bunkers … but they are off to the side, and don't have the visual or psychological appeal that our bunkers have," Smyers told course-architecture Web site GolfClubAtlas.com.

"Everything has to be in context with one another, the shapes and patterns all have to relate to the topography and the vegetation and the wind and the sunlight."

Of course, not everyone appreciates all this high art. I mean, a bunker is a bunker.

"We had a guy this morning quit after four holes," Southern Dunes cart attendant Kyle Crosthwaite said. "He was really frustrated. Didn't even wait for his ride. He just walked off."

Southern Dunes has plenty of bunkers, but you'll notice no water. Smyers is a big fan of the recovery shot, so you will find no man-made lakes or ponds to artificially pretty up the layout.

There are tall grasses and ornamentals marking the borders of fairways and growing out of many of the bunkers, though, which give the course a bit of a Scottish-golf feel.

Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club: The Verdict

Southern Dunes is golf as it is rarely played in Florida. Running more than 7,200 yards from the back tees, the course has more than 100 feet of elevation change. The sloping greens are big and undulating.

The course sits atop a high, sandy ridge, offering what views there are in this part of central Florida. (At least you can see over the tourists playing with their babies in the swimming pools.) Many holes are affected by the wind that sweeps across the ridge, which should come as no surprise: Smyers spent a great deal of time studying wind patterns here.

Green fees vary greatly according to the season, ranging from $55 to $115.

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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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Southern Dunes

    Mike Weber wrote on: Jan 4, 2008

    This is the typical golf community. From the lady giving her son swimming lessons just off the 18th tee to the groundskeeping personel being disruptive on several holes, they can do better. And so can you. The outside staff was helpful and corteous but the people inside seemed inconvenienced by our visit. The course has some good holes, but overall does not warrant top 25 status. There are many better courses in Florida with better value.


      • RE: Southern Dunes

        robert ehrlich wrote on: Jan 8, 2010

        sorry,i disagree...there may be homes here...but ya gotta live somewhere....i say why not live on one of the best golf courses florida has to offer...#6 in florida.....