“The Chain” at Streamsong

Streamsong’s long awaited fourth course, The Chain, is now open for play and intrepid golf writer, Gary Van Sickle, was one of the first to experience The Chain, giving it rave reviews. PHOTO: Peter Hackett

STREAMSONG, Florida – I made history here on a Thursday in September. I was part of a dozen or so media members who, let the record show, became the first sentient beings to play Streamsong’s new layout, The Chain, a 19-hole short course that joins the resort’s acclaimed Red, Blue and Black Courses.

Was it important history? It was media golf so no, it was more like Day-of-Infamy history. We are not elite golfers, there were multiple blow-ups.

Streamsong officials hope to have all 19 of The Chain’s holes open for play in December. Trust me on this one, The Chain is going to be Streamsong’s Belle of the Ball.

Back at the historic preview round, The Chain designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were on hand as witnesses to see us tee off in three sixsomes. Not exactly traditional but golf at The Chain is casual with an emphasis on fun. I failed to note which media member took the First Authorized Divot in The Chain’s history or who played The Chain’s First Official Stroke, possibly because I was too busy trying to break up some scar tissue and get loose. My bad.

PHOTO: Bill Hornstein

I didn’t intend to be part of this story but history chooses its heroes and victims. The inspirational Crenshaw openly rooted for someone to ace the gentle opening hole of about 102 yards. Yeah, if only. I hit last in The Chain’s Inaugural sixsome. Should I have warmed up first? In hindsight, absolutely.

The always-optimistic Crenshaw cheered on each of the first five tee shots with positive comments, taking sportsmanship to a new level. When I chunked a wedge shot 20 yards short of the green, he politely remained silent. I nominate him to captain something important.

So there it was, the First Official Ugly Chunk at The Chain. My sorry history was etched in granite. I could almost hear Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying, “This shot, this day, will live in infamy.” I rarely chunk full wedge shots but it happened. I’ll take it and own it.

On this Day of Inevitable Firsts, history dripped like Spanish moss off an old oak. At the second hole, my pink Zero Friction tee flipped in the air after my tee shot and vanished. I’m not going to lie, I half-assed the search. But it was never found and thus became The Chain’s First Official Lost Tee. This will surely be noted on a plaque in the clubhouse.

PHOTO: Bill Hornstein

In addition, I also claim The First Birdie in Chain History. This may be disputed. Two players in the second sixsome stuffed shots to near gimmie-range on the opening hole. After I holed a bouncy 18-foot putt at the second hole that dived into a slightly overgrown cup on the not-quite-ready greens, I looked back and saw that the second sixsome was still putting at the first green. If that group followed golf’s proper etiquette and played in order of proximity to the cup, then my birdie came first. So inscribe my name on that clubhouse plaque again. Speech? No, I couldn’t possibly. “I’d like to thank all the little people who made this award possible…”

A special citation should be given to two players in my group. They pulled off the First Uzi Golf at The Chain. They teed up two balls next to each other, then the guy who played lefthanded tried to swing in unison with the righty and they hit near-simultaneous tee shots at the fourth hole. I didn’t record their names. Streamsong historians will have to do the legwork. But it was something to behold.

We played only the first six holes for the preview event because the other holes were either still being finished or had grass that hadn’t grown in yet. We walked all 19, though, stopping to hit tee shots off mats at three other holes. At first glance, they look like the most fun you can have with your polo shirt still on.

PHOTO: Tacy Briggs-Trancoso

The first six holes were a nice mix of mid-range shots, mostly 125 to 153 yards. The fourth hole required a short carry over the corner of a lake but we moved up and played it from around 105 yards.Note: This forward tee thing is genius.

The 11th hole deserves a special mention. It’s destined to be a star. Our mat was located near the back of the tee so we could experience the complete futility of this tee shot from 190 yards, uphill and over a serene lake. It was a blind shot made further intimidating by a large growth of trees and brush on the green’s front ridge.

Prepare for a surprise at the green. It’s a punch bowl design. You know that airport device a penny rolls down a slide and keeps going around and around in ever-smaller circles before disappearing down a drain?The 11thgreen won’t be that easy but its punchbowl is a classic design.

The longest club in my mini-carry bag was a 6-iron. We swapped out our regular bags at the first tee in favor of some smaller models. Predictably, my shot came up short and disappeared into the brush. Too bad The First Lost Ball at The Chain honor was already taken. (There were multiple nominees for that). A non-disclosure agreement prevents me from revealing the winner’s name. Also, since it wasn’t me, I forgot it. But I didn’t forget the 11th, The Chain’s killer queen.

PHOTO: Craig Falanga

“There are some really interesting holes out there but probably most people will point to Number 11 because you play over a beautiful lake,” Coore said. “It used to be a flat piece of ground and we mined a bunch of sand out of it and made a big hole. If it wasn’t for the support of the ownership group, it wouldn’t be there because it could be too radical for some people. We can take more liberties and a few more risks to do greens that you might not do with a regulation course.”

The 11th is the kind of hole I want to play again and again. It’s difficult but so much fun. And vengeance will be mine. Someday. That may be the real secret of The Chain’s success. Not vengeance, the fact that I left with a burning desire to play the course again.

This place is exactly what Streamsong needs since its peak season is the winter when the days are shortest. (Florida summers are as much fun as a tetanus shot.) Even if a golfer wasn’t too whipped after battling the Red or Black Course to take on a second round in mid-January, there’s a good chance there wouldn’t be enough daylight to finish.

So The Chain fills a need. Streamsong guests are usually enthused after a round and want a little more golf. Now they’ve got a place to do it. And it’s why short courses are so trendy. Bandon Dunes has a 13-holer, Bandon Preserve, also by Coore and Crenshaw; ultra-private Pine Valley has 10 holes that recreate approach shots on the big course; and Pinehurst built The Cradle, a delightful spot to hone your short game.

PHOTO: Tacy Briggs-Trancoso

Another advantage of The Chain is fast play. Anyone can easily walk 19 holes in 90 minutes. In addition, the first six holes form an opening loop, which gives guests the option to play a quick six holes and walk back to the adjacent Streamsong Lodge and a first-aid station, a.k.a the bar.

The Chain’s concept was to create 19 holes, each one worthy of belonging on Streamsong’s championship courses. Mission accomplished. But do not call The Chain a par-3 course. Crenshaw and Coore don’t like what that connotates because most of us think of a beat-up goat track with bare spots and cigarette burns on the greens when we hear “par-3 course.”

The Chain has one hole that can play 290 yards, par-4 length, so it is technically not a par-3 course. The Chain’s scorecard has yardages for each hole but no par designations. Another unique aspect to the facility is The Bucket, a 2.5-acre putting course located near the giant dragline bucket on The Chain.

So many options are built in. The Chain got its unique name, by the way, because of the large chain links left behind by the company that mined phosphate ore on the site for decades and created large sand formations in the process. Those leftover links were once attached to a large dragline bucket—one was found on the site and now is displayed at The Bucket located near the giant dragline bucket on The Chain.

PHOTO: Tacy Briggs-Tancoso

A large metal link, a little bigger than a car hubcap, denotes the tee box on each hole. (If you think it looks like a miniature Stargate, you’ve been watching too much science fiction on TV… but OK, it kinda does). The tees are expansive and players are encouraged to consider the link marker as a mere guidepost and to hit from any spot they like. The 19 holes can play as short as 1,576 yards or as long as 2,916 yards.

The opening hole, for instance, can play 57 yards or 100 yards, depending upon where you tee it up. In our group, we decided each player would pick where to hit from on one tee box. On the fourth hole, one wise guy took this directive to heart and went a few feet beyond the back of the tee, leaving us with a sharply uphill lie for a 140-yard-plus tee shot. I pulled my shot left, as often happens from an uphill lie, but I’m not blaming anyone (even though it was his fault).

I got up and down for my par, not that it mattered, but maybe that is the secret of why short courses with par-3s are so enjoyable. “There’s a chance of success for everyone,” Coore said.

At The Chain, there are 19 opportunities to succeed or fail. Or maybe, on just the right day, to make history.

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Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980, following the tours to 125 men’s major championships, 14 Ryder Cups and one sweet roundtrip flight on the late Concorde. His work appeared, in order, in The Milwaukee Journal, Golf World magazine, Sports Illustrated and Golf.com. He is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America. His email gvansick at aol dot com.

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