Ocala National Golf Club (Ocala, FL on 01/02/15)

After my round at Stone Creek, I headed over Ocala National for the only 36 hole day of my vacation. I didn’t have a tee time and just showed up, paid my $30, and headed to the 1st tee. It wasn’t terribly busy, at least when it came to groups heading out to go play. I played through a couple foursomes and made good time, about 3 hours and 15 minutes.

I kinda lucked into finding this course as only Google Maps had it listed by its new name. Neither the GPS in my car nor my Garmin G3 found the course under its current name! A local might be able to give the full scoop, but I believe the course recently changed ownership and they renamed it. I found out that it was originally designed as “Golden Hills Golf & Turf Club” and is virtually across the street from Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, the course where the LPGA is scheduled to play later this month.

I’m not sure who did the original design, but Rees Jones re-designed the course in the early 2000’s (I think). Like some other Rees Jones courses that I’ve played, solid and straight iron shots seem to be more important than good drives. There are plenty of elevated greens with deep bunkers, fall offs, and chipping areas around them to catch any wayward irons. If someone isn’t hitting good iron shots then making a bogey from the fairway is going to be way too easy! There are some long par 4’s which add to the difficulty because it takes a high, soft long iron to hold those greens.

Ocala National is located in an older housing community but the homes are set back from a lot of the holes. The course has plenty of mature trees and some unexpected elevation changes! Moss-covered oaks and pine trees line many fairways which is something that I love about Florida golf. The course can stretch up to ~7400 yards but it flowed very well from one hole to the next. I played the blue tees which play 6870/73.8/134. I liked the front nine a bit better as I thought it was easier, had more elevation change, and the homes weren’t as noticeable. There is plenty of room to miss off the tee and still find the ball. Elevation changes, slopes in the fairways, and fairway bunkering make straight tee shots important, but not always needed. I wouldn’t be too worried about one banana ball ruining a round

The course was in really nice shape too! My only gripe would be a couple thin lies and patchy spots, but for $30 I’ll easily overlook those imperfections. The greens weren’t cut as tight as Stone Creek, but they still rolled just as smooth. Maybe a touch slower though. The fairways were cut short enough to get some spin and the grass on both the fairways and tees had grown in nicely. Ocala National is not going to win any awards for best in state because of the competition, but I’d say it is worth a 30 minute drive to play in its current condition. I left impressed!

#1 (339 yard par 4):

The 1st hole is one of the shortest par 4’s on the course and allows a chance to ease into the round. There are multiple options off the tee depending on how far someone wants to hit it. The hole plays downhill to a green that slopes from front to back. So, even though it is short, it still requires a solidly struck short iron (from a downhill lie) to get it close.

1-1 1-2

#2 (550 yard par 5):

The main challenge on the 2nd is going to be finding the narrow, left to right sloping fairway with the drive and the layup. The layup was blind for me (even after a good drive) because of a rise in the fairway so you might want to give the group in front an extra couple moments to play. My approach played to a green that sloped from back to front. 2-1 2-2 2-3

#3 (299 yard par 4):

This is the shortest par 4 on the course and another one that gives some options off the tee. The fairway is narrow and the hole plays uphill so it won’t always be an easy birdie! There are some bunkers and trees to the right which should be avoided at all costs. It is going to be another short iron from an uneven lie so be aware of that. I ended up about 60 yards short of the green and had a blind shot. I took one more club than normal to combat the upslope and was able to make solid contact.

3-1 3-2

#4 (588 yard par 5):

The 4th is the longest hole on the course! The good news is that it plays enough downhill so that I didn’t notice the extra distance. Someone should pay careful attention to the distance that they want for their third shot because the fairway gets extremely skinny. I ended up under a large oak tree and had to get creative to try to run my shot  up near the green.

4-2 4-3

#5 (147 yard par 3):

Sorry! I didn’t get a picture from the tee because I played through a group in front. This is a shorter par 3 that plays over a water hazard. The water should only be in play on a bad mis-hit or with a front pin. As you’ll see in the picture, the green has a slope that runs across it and the pin was located just over it when I played. A front pin could be in that bowl so I’d try to use the slope to get it close in that case. Finally, there is a chipping area left of the green which I think would be difficult to play from.

5-1

#6 (430 yard par 4):

The 6th is the third most difficult hole on the course. It doglegs right around a fairway bunker so I favored the left side of the fairway. That added a few yards to an already long hole. There is some room to run one up onto the green if needed which I think is part of a well designed, long hole. Make sure to favor short left of the green as bunkers guard the other sides.   6-1 6-2

#7 (387 yard par 4):

I think this hole is tougher than it looks! It isn’t overly long, but I think it is a tough tee shot and approach. Unless someone hits it high, the tee shot has to start out at a fairway bunker and should end up short of it or cut to the right. The green sits above the fairway and I couldn’t get comfortable with the distance on my approach.

7-1 7-2

#8 (179 yard par 3):

The 8th is the other par 3 on the front nine and it is probably going to be a mid or long iron for most depending on the wind. The green caught me by surprise as I didn’t realize that it is narrow towards the front and wider in the back. Any tee shot hitting to the left or right off the green is most likely going to kick into a bunker.

8-1

#9 (430 yard par 4):

The front nine ends with the #1 handicap. The tee shot plays downhill through one set of oak trees that flank the fairway and the approach plays uphill through another set closer to the green. The fairway is narrower than it looks and someone is going to have to hit a straight one for a clear shot at the green. I ended up by the tree on the left after my tee shot and had to hit a healthy hook to get it just short of the green. I think it is fair because very good shots are rewarded but someone can recover from an average one! 9-1 9-2

#10 (393 yard par 4):

This is one of the more involved holes on the course. It is a pretty hard dogleg right and plays a bit downhill. Someone easily could run through the fairway by hitting too much club off the tee. I played conservative from the tee and had about 180 yards into the green, but at least I didn’t have to punch out from the trees! To get it much closer to the green than that I would have to hit a big cut or flirt with the trees on the right. From the fairway I had to try to cut my approach from a draw lie. Be careful on this hole.10-1 10-2

#11 (149 yard par 3):

The 11th is short, downhill par 3 that plays probably one club less. The green slopes from back to front which makes it even easier to hit a short iron close. The only worry is if the ball hits the edge of the green it could get a bad bounce away from it. Don’t short side it and go get a par or birdie on the course’s easiest hole!11-1

#12 (522 yard par 5):

The 12th is a straightaway par 5 that could be reached in two if someone can carry a cross bunker short of the green. If laying it up then there are a couple trees on the left to contend with. 12-1 12-2

#13 (431 yard par 4):

The 13th starts a stretch of long finishing holes. This is a dogleg right but unfortunately the average golfer won’t be able to cut off too many yards because of a big fairway bunker. That forces play out to the left and then it is probably a long iron into the green. There is a chance to run it up onto the green, but anything to the left of the green is most likely going end up in a chipping area.

13-1 13-2

#14 (220 yard par 3):

The 14th is a manly par 3! It plays every bit of the 220 yards and it was into the wind when I played it. I somehow ran home a long par putt after I fanned my 3 wood out to the right. It is pretty wide open around the green so you could be like me and still end up with a good score after bad shot. The pin was in the back left when I played and there is a tier back there.

14-1 14-2

#15 (505 yard par 5):

The 15th is going to be the best chance for a birdie on the closing holes. It was a three shot hole for me (even after a good drive) because the second half of the hole is uphill. The third shot is blind which made it tough to judge the approach into the green that slopes from back to front. 15-1 15-2

#16 (449 yard par 4):

This is one of those holes that seems to be designed for high level amateur play. The hole plays slightly downhill off the tee, moves left, and then goes uphill to the green. I hit a good drive and had 190 yards to the center of the green. It was somewhere around 180 yards to carry it to the front of the shallow green. I landed it in a narrow area on the green between the bunkers but it rolled over the back. I had a downhill chip from a downhill lie in a chipping area. The green complex seems to be designed to receive a mid iron, not a long one. A pin in the middle of the green is going to be the easiest to get at because the center of the green is down in a small valley.

16-1 16-2

#17 (402 yard par 4):

Behind the 10th tee shot, this is the other one on the back nine that requires some local knowledge. I took a ride up in the cart to pick my line and determined that I wanted to skirt the tree line on the left. The fairway slopes to the right and anything down the right side could leave an approach that needs to move left to right to find the green. There is a pond short of the green which should only come into play with a horrible shot or if someone is out of position. 17-1 17-2

#18 (450 yard par 4):

The last hole is a tough one. It is a long, uphill par 4. There is a bunker straightaway to catch tee shots that are hit too far before the hole moves to the left. The green complex is similar to the 16th so getting a long club to hold the green could be difficult.

18-1 18-2

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