By Tim McDonald
Play Florida golf in the mountains? Not exactly. But there is golf in these here hills - or hills in this here golf.
True story: When my wife first moved from Nebraska to Florida, when she crossed the Georgia line into the Sunshine State, she was stunned and amazed to see oak and pine trees. She had been told and believed the entire state was beach, sand and palm trees.
There are certainly other people out there with similar misconceptions who have never been to Florida.
Like: Florida is flatter than a pancake.
This, in fact, is one of the criticisms golf architecture critics sometimes make when describing the overall bent of the state's golf courses. Florida isn't exactly the Rockies, but neither is it a feature-less flat beach. Parts of the state can be quite hilly.
There are many places to play Florida golf that have elevation changes. Here are some of my favorites:
Sanctuary Ridge Golf Club, Clermont
Offering 190 feet of playable elevation, this course is a half-hour drive from downtown Orlando, which you can see from the course's highest point.
Highlands Reserve, Davenport
Highlands Reserve has 120 feet of elevation change. It's a Mike Dasher design in Davenport, built on a high, sandy ridge with good views. A putt that looks like it might break to the right will sometimes veer to the left because they almost all break toward the Green Swamp below. It's weird.
Gold Hills Golf and Turf Club, Ocala
This Central Florida course sits atop some of the highest land in the region. The tee box at the par-5 fourth hole, which shows you a sharply downhill tee shot, is the highest point in Marion County. You can see the horse farms for miles around.
Victoria Hills, Deland
Victoria Hills has green, rolling hills and up to 80 feet in elevation, with elevated tee boxes. It's a little more than 7,000 yards from the back tees, with stunning waste bunkers and clearly defined landing areas.
The Quarry at Black Diamond Ranch, Lecanto
The Quarry, the best of the courses at the Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, has the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes carved over and around canyon walls. The 17th drops down into a smaller quarry to a green guarded left and rear by 30-foot high limestone. The 15th features 80-foot cliffs.
Sugarloaf Mountain, Clermont
Sugarloaf Mountain is the first Florida effort by the critically acclaimed architectural duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. It's set in the rolling hills west of Orlando, built on the 312-foot "mountain" of the same name.
Pine Barrens at World Woods, Brooksville
This notable course where you can play Florida golf is rolling, pine-lined and sandy with dramatic elevation changes. It also intimidates many golfers with long carries over waste areas.
Plantation Club at Southern Hills, Brooksville
The Plantation Club course at Southern Hills has elevation changes up to 250 feet. The Pete Dye design (the only private one in the Tampa area) is 7,557 yards from the back tees, one of the longest layouts in the state.
Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club, Dade City
Located about 45 minutes northeast of Tampa, Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club has two courses that feature rolling hills and a natural 200 feet of elevation change. No. 11, a par-5, has a 94-foot drop from tee to green, the largest natural elevation change in Florida.
The Dunes Golf Club, Weeki Wachee
The Dunes golf course was built on land once used for target practice for military aircraft in Hernando County. The bomb craters now serve as hazards. The front nine is routed through wooded flats while the late holes flow with the natural contours of the terrain.