Lake Wales Country Club (Lake Wales, FL on 12/29/14)

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I started to take pictures and review courses so I never wrote about many of the courses that I played while living in Florida. I might have commented about it before in passing on my blog, but I went to college in Central Florida. I played on the golf team while I was there and Lake Wales Country Club was our team’s home course! To say that I played the course a lot would be an understatement! It is probably the course that I’ve played the most in my life so there are plenty of good memories tied to this course for me. I’ve had some brilliant rounds here, some blow-up rounds, and plenty of stories. When I saw that the course was listed on Golfnow and allowing some public play I booked the tee time as fast as I could for a trip down memory lane! A college friend joined me and we had an 11:30am tee time for $29 each.

Before I get too far into the review I’d like to say “thank you” to everyone on staff at the club! If you happen to stumble upon my blog, thanks for letting me take hundreds of divots from the fairway and many more from the rough! I wish everyone there all the best!

The first thing to note is the price! Lakes Wales is a private club offering some public play which isn’t uncommon, but I was surprised to pay such a cheap green fee. That price included some range balls too which I always think is a nice gesture! It is currently peak season for golf in Florida which can lead to high prices and long rounds. I’m happy to report that we encountered neither! There was a group a few holes ahead and one a few holes behind, but it felt like we had the course to ourselves! We took our time and played in about 3.5 hours but could have got around quicker if we wanted.

I chatted with a few old friends before we were off to enjoy this Donald Ross design. I’ve played a few other Donald Ross designs that I’ve liked and Lake Wales Country Club is no different. Ross designed the course in the 1920’s so the course has an older feel to it. Like many older courses, most of the holes are close together. Tees are close to the greens and most holes are flat which means the course is a good one to walk!

When I was playing my college golf the course played as a ~6,500 yard par 72. The course now plays as a par 71 and another set of tees has been added since I last played it about 7 years ago. I wanted to try the same shots that I faced years ago so I played the original back tees (the blue tees) which play 71.2/130/6489. The orange tees are the added tees and stretch the course out to around 7,000 yards. The front nine is the par 35 and plays about 300 yards shorter than the back nine. Even though the first par 5 now isn’t until the 9th hole, there are plenty of short holes to score on early in the round, at least from the blue tees!

Lake Wales Country Club is my type of course! By that I mean, it is open off the tee and someone can hit it all over the lot with the driver and still find a way to put together a good score if they are hitting good irons or putts. There is maybe only one tee shot where someone could run into a lot of trouble if missing the fairway. In all honesty, the course might be a bit too open off the tee but it never bothered me! It is a course where someone who hits it a long way could easily overpower it if playing from the wrong tees. I’ve never played the orange tees but it looks like they add some teeth!

The course is a second shot course and I’m starting to think that my love for these type of courses started here! The nice thing is that someone shouldn’t lose a lot of golf balls even on the approaches because the course’s main defense is the greens (especially if they are running fast). There are ridges, slopes, tiers, and tiny perches were I’ve seen too many flags! If someone wants to score well the keys are going to be hitting accurate irons and and chipping it close. These shots not only have to be struck solidly, but they have to land into or on top of the slopes to end up close to the pin. If someone isn’t doing one or both of those things well then the strokes are going to add up! I don’t think the course has many risk/reward holes in the classic sense, but going after every flag here (even with a wedge) is too risky for me. There are some flag locations where I’ve happily played to 15 or 20 feet from short distance and tried to two putt.

I cannot comment much on recent course conditions besides my lone experience. For the record, it was always in nice shape when I played it years ago. During today’s round, I kept thinking that the course needed a drink! I’m not sure what the water situation is for Central Florida courses, but LWCC was a bit drier and browner than I would have expected. I had a couple thin lies and there were a few crusty patches on the greens. All my putts rolled well though and the greens were faster than they looked. At least I had a chance to make some putts this time because I’ve looked silly plenty of times trying to tame the greens when they were uber fast! I’m going mention the price again because it is a good value even if it is a little parched.

The final thing that I probably should mention is the course’s location. I have friends who live nearby and I stayed with them so Lake Wales Country Club was easy to get to for me. However, for a golfer visiting Orlando it would be more difficult to get to the course. Lake Wales is about an hour southwest of Orlando out in the country so someone would have to make an extra effort to get to the course. It probably isn’t worth the trip from Orlando just for the day because someone is going to pass by so many other quality courses.

However, I think someone could find a way to play it on a golf vacation, especially if they are a Donald Ross fan. I haven’t played Streamsong yet, but Lake Wales wouldn’t be too far out of the way if someone wanted to stop for some golf on the way! Or if someone is playing some other local courses along U.S. Route 27  (Highlands Reserve, Ridgewood Lakes, or Southern Dunes) then I’d make sure to include Lake Wales Country Club!

#1 (360 yard par 4):

The opening hole offers a chance to make a birdie right out of the gate! The fairway is generous considering the length of the hole but it does narrow closer to the green. Most likely it is going to be a layup club to avoid a fairway bunker that is maybe 240+ yards out to the right. The green is deeper than it looks and slopes from back to front, so someone has a chance to knock a short iron close.

1-1 1-2

#2 (372 yard par 4):

The 2nd hole is the rated as the 2nd hardest hole on the course. I’m not sure I agree with that, but it still could be an easy bogey. The hole moves slightly to the right and like most tee shots here, it is pretty wide open. There is a bunker to the left that is maybe 230 yards and one to the right that is bit farther. The difficulty is going to be hitting the approach to a spot with a decent putt. The green slopes more than it looks in my picture.

2-1 2-2

#3 (195 yard par 3):

I like a long par 3 that is open short of the green and that’s what we have here! The green is long and narrow so accuracy is most important. It can play especially tricky when the wind is blowing from the right because someone could have to challenge the trees to the right to end up on the putting surface.

3-1

#4 (467 yard par 4):

As it stands right now, the 4th is the longest par 4 on the course. And, at 467 yards, it is one of the longer par 4’s that you will find at a 6,500 yard course! This is one of the few holes that could give somebody some trouble. The tee shot can be played out over those two palm trees as long as it stays short of the fairway bunkers. The approach is going to be with a long iron into a receptive green because it slopes from back to front. Chipping from short of the green is probably going to be the best spot to play from around the green. When I was playing the course years ago it was a short par 5. I like it better that way because I think golf needs more easy birdies!

4-1 4-2

#5 (136 yard par 3):

This is the shortest par 3 on the course and I think it is a blast to play! The green creates some risk/reward because of its shape and slopes. The front left of the green (in-between the bunkers) is a bowl. If the flag is down there someone can use the slope behind the hole and it could be a good chance for a hole-in-one! There is also a back left tier to the the green and a section to the right over the bunker. If the flag is in either of those places then someone is going to have to be precise to hit it close. Missing the green going for one of those flag locations is going to leave a tricky chip.

5-1 5-2

#6 (287 yard par 4):

The 6th is the shortest par 4 on the course and a good chance for a birdie! It generally plays downwind or down and from the left which fits the shape of the hole. I think that a driver (through the narrow neck by the green) is the play unless someone can land a wedge in small area from an uneven lie in the fairway. I always liked to be as close to the green as possible, even if I was in one of the many greenside bunkers. The only time I would consider laying up is if the pin is located in the back right which I think is one of the most challenging possible pin locations on the entire course. I’d favor the left side of the fairway because it slopes to the right and that also would allow for a better angle into the green.

6-1 6-2

#7 (362 yard par 4):

The 7th is probably going to require a layup club off the tee because the fairway narrows around 230 or 240 yards. Two bunkers to the left, and some trees to the right, pinch the fairway. If someone hits the layup too short then they could have an uneven lie from a depression in the fairway. The green slopes from back to front and I always had trouble reading putts on it.

7-1 7-2

#8 (392 yard par 4):

This is the longest par 4 on the front nine and it has a blind tee shot! It moves a little to the left but there isn’t any hidden trouble, just a lone fairway bunker out to the right. If someone hits the tee shot left of the fairway then the approach might have to move right to left into another green that slopes from back to front.

8-1 8-2

#9 (505 yard par 5):

The 9th is now the first par 5 on the course! It is also the shortest, but it plays uphill and is typically into the wind. The fairway is pretty wide where I land the ball, but it narrows for the bigger hitters. The green is narrow, has a back level, and slopes from right to left so short game shots are tricky around it. Anything flirting with the left side of the green has a good chance of feeding off the edge.

9-1 9-2

#10 (520 yard par 5):

This is another chance for a birdie after a good tee shot. A tee shot down the center of the fairway might bounce to the right which will leave a nice angle into the green. If going for the green someone can run it up through an opening between two greenside bunkers. I’ve got it short of the green a few times in two and that has always been a tricky chip. The green slopes from back to front so judging the first bounce and spin with a chip or wedge can be difficult.

10-1 10-2

#11 (431 yard par 4):

This is ranked as the hardest hole on the course. I think that #4 should be the hardest, but the handicaps might have been done while that one was still a par 5. This is tough because it is a long par 4 and it plays uphill. The green has a back left tier which means that a draw (with a mid or long iron) is the best play to access that area.

11-2 11-3

#12 (209 yard par 3):

The 12th is the longest par 3 on the course. I don’t think it is too difficult to actually hit the green in regulation considering the hole’s length, but I’ve found it tough to make a par because of the green. The green is larger in the front and narrows towards the back which makes getting to the back pin location a tall task. The green also slopes from right to left which can influence the ball once it lands on the green.

12-1 12-2

#13 (519 yard par 5):

This is the last par 5 on the course. The fairway moves a little right and then back left on the layup. If someone misses the fairway to the left on the layup then there are some palm trees to contend with. The green falls off on a couple sides so someone still has to be respectful of certain pins.

13-1 13-2

#14 (415 yard par 4):

The 14th is tougher than it looks based on the view of the large fairway from the tee. Finding the fairway is important or someone might have to curve the ball around one of the palm trees that flank each side of the fairway. The green is narrow, deep, and slopes from back to front. Missing short of the green is the way to go as chipping or playing from the bunkers on either side always seem to leave a short sided shot.

14-1 14-2

#15 (183 yard par 3):

Typically, the 15th plays a club longer for me because of the normal wind direction. A draw is the better shot shape for the hole especially with a small depression on the left side of the green. That depression can complicate chips and putts.

15-1 15-2

#16 (354 yard par 4):

This is a fun hole! There is some strategy and execution required in order to score well. The fairway is generous considering the distance, but it narrows closer to the green. I try to hit it 230 yards and favor the right side of the fairway. Make sure not to go too far right because there are fairway bunkers. That leaves the best angle over a tree and into the deep, three-tiered green. Accuracy is important on the approach because the green sits at an angle from the fairway. Someone can take a more direct line at the green to the left (from the tee), but that tree could come into play.

16-1 16-2 16-3

#17 (362 yard par 4):

The 17th is similar to the 16th off the tee. An aggressive play can leave just a flip wedge into the green while a 230 yard tee shot should avoid some fairway bunkers. The green slopes from back to front so someone has to be careful not to spin the ball too much. That slope makes it tough to challenge a back flag.

17-1

#18 (420 yard par 4):

The closing hole is a dead straight par 4 that has some distance. The main difficulty here is getting the ball on the correct level of the green. There is a rise that separates the front third and back two thirds of the green.

18-1 18-2

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