OCALA, Florida – You’ve heard the expression “I play golf only on days that end in ‘y’” well that appropriately applies to me, since today’s golf trip is different than all my other golf course visits over the past six months.
We are moving on up on this trip to play a well-known private course with a solid reputation – The Country Club of Ocala.
The first order of business was to pass through a well-fortified gated entrance that had both a green and red signal light and a guard waiting at the gate to question my reason for being there. After a brief and cordial exchange and the requisite “Have a nice day” greeting, I arrived at the impressive clubhouse at The Country Club Ocala, checked in at the pro shop, picked up my cart and was introduced to my three playing partners. With no time to warm up, I immediately headed to the first tee.
This 18-hole par 72 championship golf course has hosted dozens of prestigious amateur events including: Florida State Golf Association championships, USGA qualifiers, North Florida PGA Section tournaments and much more.
The course design features five sets of tees, and the scorecard offers perfect yardage opportunities for professionals, low handicap and high handicap amateurs alike. The 6,920-yard par 72 course was designed in 1994 by Steve Nugent, and has been twice voted Best Golf Course by Ocala Magazine.
The opening six holes are not for the faint of heart. You best hit shots straight or bring extra balls, since it can get tight around the edges. From tee to green the course will be challenging, and good course management will deliver a respectable score.
What can you expect? This golf course offers many slight-to-severe doglegs and tall trees encroaching on almost every fairway. The sloped fairways and changing elevations provide you challenge – there’s that word again.
The straight hitter or conservative player should be able to manage a few pars, lots of bogeys and avoid the dreaded double-bogeys. The longer hitter or more daring player will enjoy the risk-rewards of navigating the course’s interesting array of bunkers, rough, creeks and other obstacles.
As always, course knowledge is your best friend in making pars, but advice from members who know the layout is welcome. Depending on your handicap, I suggest you play the right tee box, rather than get frustrated with lack of knowledge about a new course and lots of long approach shots.
A few times I found myself using a fairway wood into a non-receptive green while trying to avoid bunkers surrounding that green. Next time I’m moving up the tee box for the simple reason that I will score better & enjoy the day more.
One of the unique characteristics of The Country Club of Ocala is that the front nine and back nine both will present unique shot making skills that can create good memories of your day, or do just the opposite, which is not my goal. The roughs are predominantly Bermuda Grass, meaning you might have to over club to get the ball to your target.
The 18th hole is 545-yard par 5 and a great finishing hole that really puts Steve Nugent’s signature on it. The hole offers long hitters with a risk- reward shot over water that guards the front of the green. It will demand that shorter hitters, like me, hit the third shot from about 120 yards off a very tight fairway lie.
“Great course, albeit private, with tight fairways, water carries, trouble off the fairways and challenging greens,” said long-time member Thomas Lowe. “It’s a beautiful layout and provides all skill levels with a great golfing experience. Plus, the staff is friendly and will go that extra mile to make you welcome. What else can you ask for?”
As I moved around the course, I was impressed by some beautiful homes bordering the course on almost every hole. I took photos of a few magnificent properties, and some don’t tell the whole story, and are straight out of “Gone with The Wind.”
If you get the chance to play The Country Club of Ocala, bring your “A” game, a couple of extra golf balls, and your camera. You’re in for a thrilling day and will be glad you booked it!