ORLANDO, Florida – On the road this week to Royal St. Cloud Golf Links in Orlando. As a seasoned golfer, I had modest expectations but returned as a true believer that Links Golf offers just about everything you can handle for 18 holes.
The experience was challenging, exhilarating, thoughtful, delightful and fun!
It’s one thing to play a golf course for the first time, but it’s another thing to learn the origins of a course that is the center of the St. Cloud community.
St. Cloud, Florida is located about 25 miles southeast of downtown Orlando, and the history of Royal St. Cloud Golf Links started ominously.
The grand opening of the first 18 holes came two days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. That course was known as the St. Cloud Golf Links and the designer was Chip Powell, who was a product of Danville Community College and Illinois State University before starting his architectural business in Florida in the early 1980s. Powell created the course for St. Cloud’s original owners, who sold it two years later.
Then the Illinois influence got stronger. A PGA professional for 24 years, Bill Filson’s role at Royal St. Cloud was much broader than that of the usual General Manager. His first order of business when he arrived was rebuilding the original 18, and Filson did that while working with Chip Powell. Next came the addition of a new clubhouse, which opened in November 2008. Blessed with plenty of open space for expansion, Butler and Filson didn’t see the need for 18 more holes; instead, they opted for a third nine. Filson, again working with Powell, designed it and they had it up and running in 2009.
Each of the nines is a par 36 and only 43 yards separates the shortest nine (White) from the longest (Blue). The fairways are generous throughout, but there are special touches. Each hole has a name, some examples being Wake Up, Mouse Trap, Nesse’s Back, Brent’s Bridge, Hookenfacher’s Nose, Gauntlet of Palms and Oliver’s Field. Their stories are told on unique signs, which provide reading material throughout the course.
The biggest difference between a links course and regular layout is the lack of intervention by humans into the surrounding natural environment. Once you move away from the first tee, you begin to leave the world behind and find yourself playing the game of golf the way it was meant to be played. Undulating fairways and greens, water hazards that offer risks and rewards and waste areas positioned to intercept the errant approach shots along with frictionless greens that challenge every putt.
My trip to Royal St. Cloud included playing with a member who pointed out the best landing areas with hidden hazards not visible from the tee box. An experienced player on this course is an asset to a foursome. It’s also suggested you bring a rangefinder. This helps you gage yardage to undulating and fast greens. I spent a lot of time hitting my third and fourth shots from the waste areas behind the green.
My limited experience in playing Links-style golf courses wasn’t a problem. The biggest issue was finding a landing area for your tee shot that would give you the best opportunity to make an unobstructed second shot. Once you adjust your game to good course management, you’ll get good results.
Blue Collar Operation
After playing 18, I had the opportunity to talk with the Royal St. Cloud’s General Manager Bill Filson. He is focused on operating a golf course that offers his members and guests an opportunity to be part of a golfing community that treats everyone like a member of the family. Further conversation included the different approaches taken to provide pathways for members of the Royal St. Cloud community to participate in the numerous golfing and social opportunities.
Royal St. George Golf Links has a revolving greens’ fee schedule that offers reasonable rates for the time of day you start your round.
The course offers a unique program called “Pay until it’s dark.” This means that if a golfer gets to the course at 6:30 p.m. and it’s dark at 7 p.m. then you have a choice: $5.00 for range balls or three holes of golf on one of the three nine-hole courses.
Annual membership dues are under $1,000. A sliding scale of membership fees are available for Police, Fire,, Sheriff’s Department, County Prison employees and medical personnel. Veterans and senior citizens are also included on the sliding scale.
“Royal St. Cloud golf Links is a ‘Blue Collar’ operation that welcomes everyone who wants to enjoy the opportunity to play golf with friends and make some new ones,” said Filson. “We offer a wonderful links-style golf course and friendly environment that will create lasting memories.”
My first impression of Royal St. Cloud Golf Links was that things looked a little used and worn. The golf carts were showing their age and the practice facilities were showing some signs of wear and tear. When I mentioned my concerns to Mr. Filson, he was straightforward with his answer. Summertime rain and personnel shortages, along with a major increase in golfers using the facilities has caused a few maintenance issues.
If you’re ever in the Orlando and St. Cloud area, visit the webs site to secure a tee time, load up the clubs and head to Royal St. Cloud Golf Links. “They’ll keep the light on for you.” Promise!