BOWLING GREEN, FLORIDA – One of golf course architect Gil Hanse’s design philosophies is to create courses that are “simple and elegant’’ in appearance, yet sophisticated in strategy and design.
That’s exactly the description of Streamsong Black, Hanse’s master work at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Fla. Streamsong Black (7,331 yards, par 73) further solidifies Hanse as the hottest (and perhaps best) course designer working today. It also continues to elevate Streamsong, which also has golf courses by Tom Doak (Blue) and the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore (Red), as one of the top golf destinations in the country.
“Gil did his best to match, if not better, Red and Blue,’’ said Streamsong Director of Golf Scott Wilson. “That was huge in our eyes. We didn’t want to have a third course be the third wheel. We wanted it stand up to the others in the ‘fun’ factor, competitions, conditioning and in every other aspect.’’
It’s a walking-only course that begins at the clubhouse. That might sound a bit obvious, but not when you consider that from the clubhouse, players can see almost the entire 300 acres of land the Black Course occupies.
The journey on the Black begins by taking players on a gentle, rolling incline through the par-five, fourth hole – the highest point on the 300-acre property – and finishes with a series of holes known as the “Glove.’’
The Glove, in fact, is the third of three distinct areas on the Black. The first two holes are the gentle incline to the Ridge, the second area that encompasses holes three through six; the seventh through 11th holes (probably the toughest stretch) are known as the “Ridge,’’ and the remainder of the back nine is called the “Glove.’’ Get an aerial view of the back nine and you’ll understand the name.
The Black isn’t a difficult course to walk (just two miles) but it can be a bit disorienting for first-time players. The relatively flat terrain doesn’t give a player who hits his or her ball offline much in the way of sight lines to follow the ball; and the course is minimally marked from green complex to the next tee. The latter is one of the things that makes a caddie almost essential for first-time players.
“It’s pretty intuitive how to get to next hole, but it always helps to have at least one caddie in the group, especially for those who haven’t played it before,’’ Wilson said.
The Black’s fairways are wide and forgiving, meaning you don’t have to hit the ball straight to stay in play. The true challenge of the Black is around its greens, several of which are reminiscent of The Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. That is, they’re rolling, with a lot of character, not just flat putting surfaces.
Again, this is where the importance of a caddie comes into play. Some greens, for example, collect shots; other greens roll away, making it difficult to keep shots on them.
The green on the first hole, a 573-yard (from the tips) par-five, for example, tilts away from players, similar to the green on the sixth hole of the Blue Course. The good news is that for players who have hit two good shots, the third shot into the green on No. 1 on Black is little more than a wedge.
The Black has four sets of tees, from 7,331 yards down to 5,293. As always, it’s pick your poison, but most players will feel comfortable from the Silver tees (6,240 yards). Those tees bring into play drivable par-fours on the sixth hole (299 yards) and 14th holes (261 yards).
The Black’s only water hazard is on the par-five 18th hole, and the only lateral hazards are on holes three, four and five.
Located on its parcel south of the Blue and Red courses, the Black could, in theory, be a destination all its own, with a glass-encased clubhouse designed by Albert Alfonso, Bone Valley Tavern gastropub, and a free-flowing practice area called The Gauntlet.
“Some people who have never been here are coming all three courses over three days,’’ Wilson said. “The discussion that happens afterward, I think, it which one do they like best. That’s difficult. They’ve each got their looks and charms and nooks and crannies.
“But that’s what I like golf. Every single hole is different every single day.’’
It’s also why Streamsong is different from any golf resort you’ve ever seen.