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Florida Golf Course Review

Southern Dunes Golf Club 06

Since 1993, Southern Dunes in Haines City just south of Orlando, has been hailed as one of Florida's premier golfing experiences.  Among the awards bestowed upon this Steve Smyers design are: 4 1/2 stars (out of 5) from Golf Digest Places to Play (2002-03), America's Best Top Daily Fee Courses (Golf & Travel 2001), Top 100 Modern Course in America (Golf Week 1997-2001), Top 100 Courses in America You Can Play For $100 or Less (Travel & Leisure 2002), and Top 10 Courses Built in America in the Past Ten Years (Links Magazine 1987-97).The dramatic hillside layout of Southern Dunes provides golfers with an experience that is truly unique for Central Florida. And the "dunes" in the name is not there simply as an eye-catcher. A significant amount of sand and waste area creates a formidable challenge for all levels of golfers and also adds to the aesthetic beauty of the layout (as witnessed in this photo of the par three 14th). 

Southern Dunes Golf Club
Southern Dunes Golf Club

The imaginative design with slopes, contours and high-lipped bunkers plus fast and firm conditions afford golfers the opportunity to be creative in advancing the ball, with the "bump & run" shot becoming an important component. Water comes into play on just a couple of holes, but with over 140 sand bunkers often bordered by mounding or pines trees , an abundance of water hazards would be an overstatement. The fairways and landing areas off the tee at Southern Dunes are usually quite generous, and with 5 sets of tees golfers of all abilities should be able to choose a distance that matches their game. The black tees measure a whopping 7227 yards with a 135 slope rating, the blues 6803/129, the whites - which are recommended for those with a handicap of between 11-36, weigh in at 6298 with a 123 slope. The gold tees are 5633/126 and the red tees 4987/118.

Southern Dunes Golf Club
Southern Dunes Golf Club

The course is well marked with a 150 yard stakes doubling as directional guides on all par fours and fives, and with yardage blocks at 100/150/200 yards. Each tee area also has measurements to the center of the green, as do sprinkler heads at strategic spots along the fairway and rough. Other on course amenities include ball and club washers, weather covers (for clubs), and divot repair mixture on each cart. The carpet-like Bermuda fairways warrant your consideration in repairing divots so that other golfers can enjoy this pristine experience as well. Purchase of a yardage guide (for a nominal fee) is highly recommended, especially for first time visitors. This handy booklet provides aerial views of each hole plus strategic tips that can help to save strokes. The scorecards also provide diagrams of each green with depth and pin placements.

Southern Dunes Golf Club
Southern Dunes Golf Club

There are numerous bunkers short right and long left on the first fairway, and a hollow past the green makes accurate approaches a must here. Overall, this is a score-able opening hole. Numbers two and three are rated as the 15th and 11th handicap, making this a great stretch to begin the day. A shot hit over the pampas and past the 150 stake will set up for a good birdie possibility on the short par four second, while placement to the front left on the par three 3rd is the recommended play. Both have numerous sand traps guarding entry to the putting surfaces. The fourth is a serpentine par five with the left side playing safe but longer, and the right side flirting with a formidable bunker complex. On number five it is advantageous to reach the upper level of the fairway off the tee, to see the hazards that await - a pond on the right and a deep grass swale left of the green. The sixth green is tucked in between a hill on the left and bunkers right, but is quite score-able par three. Next up is the number one handicap - a long par four with a fairway and green complex that slope right to left plus a noticeably uphill approach. Golfers find a reprieve on 8 - another uphill par four with lots of sand, before venturing on to the # 2 and # 3 handicaps that follow. Number nine presents a blind uphill tee shot, which should be aimed left of the right fairway traps. Landing in the pot bunker on the left side of the green will create a difficult up and down.

Southern Dunes Golf Club
Southern Dunes Golf Club

The back side opens with the longest par four of the layout - 471 from the tips, and 420 from the white tees. There is plenty of fairway off the tee, but it narrows from 150 yards in with a string of bunkers on the right side and pines to the left. Pay attention to the pin placement as the putting surface is ridged on the par three 11th. Short is better than long here.  Number twelve will be played as a 3-shot par five by most golfers, as the water hazard on the left creates a demanding approach. Besides the considerable waste area near the tees, there are 12 sand bunkers along this hole (first photo in this review). Thirteen is tough from the tips as a four par (461 yards uphill) but is much more manageable from the rest of the tees. The easiest par three on the course is next - and plays between 91-167 yards to a well bunkered putting complex that slopes back to front and right to left. The short par four 15th invites a safe lay up short of the bunkers, and plays to a green with bowl effect, funneling shots hit slightly left or right back towards the center. Long hitters may consider carrying the bunkers, leaving a short wedge approach. There is a generous fairway on 16, which is an uphill par five that leads to one of the most undulating greens on the course. This precedes a tee shot over a long waste bunker on 17 - a par four with a putting surface that slopes front to back and left to right. The closing hole presents the largest and flattest putting surface of the layout. There is plenty of fairway on this relatively long par four and, as is the case more often than not at Southern Dunes, the green complex includes substantial bunkering.

Southern Dunes Golf Club

This is a gorgeous golf course, with outstanding conditioning from tee to green. A good sand game is important here, but the quality and texture is such that even beginners will have a good time in the beach. An outstanding clubhouse features a newly renovated restaurant and bar with a full selection of breakfast and lunch items available 7 days a week. The restaurant is also open for dinner from 5-9 PM Tuesday through Saturday. On property are a full service pro shop, locker facilities with showers, and an expansive practice facility. Lessons (including video analysis) and custom club fittings are also available.

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