I don’t know much about golf in Ocala! It seems that the city has a bunch of mid-level courses and that Stone Creek is one of them. I was looking for a 36 hole day so I needed an early start and booked a tee time through Golfnow for $45. Oddly enough, I believe that this is the third course named “Stone Creek” that I’ve played!
I booked a 7:30am tee time in hopes of getting out by myself for a quick round. That is typically my plan when the days are short as it will leave time for a relaxing lunch and a chance to pick another course. I anticipated that it would be a 4 hour round in a worst case scenario. Even with that type of round I still wouldn’t have much problem playing two courses. In Florida during the winter though, 36 holes can be tough without an early morning tee time because it is a popular time of year to play!
I was hopeful for a quick round, but I didn’t expect one. That’s good because when I checked in, the proshop told me that they were sending folks who wanted to play only nines holes, off the 10th tee. That meant that even if I flew around the front nine, I would be waiting the whole back nine. Therefore, I had no problem getting paired up and played with a couple nice guys. They shared some local knowledge and we made it around in about 4 hours after waiting for the group in front much of the round.
Stone Creek is a community course that is part of a Del Webb retirement community. As our group was finishing up, the range was packed for what looked like an afternoon tournament. The hilarious part about that was that the parking lot only had a few cars in it! Like I see at The Villages, apparently most of the golfers live in the community and drove their owns carts over to the course. The fact that the course is part of a retirement community might make play a bit slower than normal too so keep that in mind.
Everything that I had read about Stone Creek was that the maintenance was spectacular but the design was boring. If the last sentence is the only one that you read when determining to play Stone Creek, then you read a good one! I can enjoy a course for any number of reasons and nice maintenance is one of them. Great conditioning is exactly what I encountered during my visit! I played on a foggy morning which made it almost impossible to get any nice pictures, so you may have to take my word that the course was very green and lush. The overseed came in fully on all the fairways and tees and the only brown was parts of the dormant bermuda rough. The tightly cut greens didn’t have a blade of grass that was out of place. They rolled as smoothly as anything that I’ll putt on in quite some time! I’d say they were a touch on the slow side, but I think that had to do with the early morning dew and the heavy air. The only thing that could have been better is if the fairways were cut a bit shorter. However, the staff was out with mowers working on that as we played.
Before I comment in detail about the design please keep in mind that the course was designed as part of a retirement community for senior and couples play. So, if anyone is looking for a memorable or really challenging design then I’d suggest playing elsewhere. The course is built on flat ground and features massive fairways, large greens without a bunch of slope, and plenty of space to find a wayward shot. The shallow bunkers are set back from the fairways and greens and there is a chance to hit a low, running shot up onto many greens. All these things make the course very player friendly so it would be a great spot to take someone who plays just a couple times a year. I typically play between a 3 and 5 handicap and only a few shots had me feeling like I needed to hit a perfect one. I played the black tees which play 6744/71.9/126 and the rating and slope show that there is a chance to put together a good score! The only real challenge for the 0 to 10 handicap is probably going to be the distance and a couple waste bunkers that can come into play. Although, if someone isn’t hitting the irons good then that is going to put some pressure on the lag putting with the large greens. Speaking of the distance, most of the par 3’s are mid-length and the same with the par 4’s so I wish they varied more.
Please don’t take my comments about the design in a negative light because I had a very relaxing, stress-free round of golf which I’m sure is exactly what the designer intended! Combine that with the excellent maintenance and I was glad that I played Stone Creek. My one tip from the guys that I golfed with was that the greens don’t break as much as they look. After playing, I agree and will pass that along to everyone else!
#1 (378 yard par 4):
The 1st is a gentle dogleg right par 4. Water runs the entire length of the hole on the right, but it shouldn’t come into play very often. The fairway is massive, I’d guess maybe 50 yards wide, so the hole offers a chance to get rid of any 1st tee jitters without much penalty. #2 (356 yard par 4):
The 2nd is one of the shorter par 4’s on the course and it is a good birdie chance. I’d suggest hitting whatever club leaves a favorite yardage for the approach. Being able to put some spin on the ball is going to help, especially if the flag is located in the front of the green. There is a perch at the front of the green and then valley behind it which makes controlling the distance important. If someone can hug the left side of the fairway that might shave off a few yards. #3 (582 yard par 5):
At 582 yards, the 3rd is the longest hole on the course. The fairway itself is a bit narrower than I expected, but there is plenty of space on either side of the fairway. I say go ahead and swing out of your shoes on this tee shot! There isn’t any trouble on the layup and the only thing to watch out for is a green that falls off on most sides. #4 (184 yard par 3):
There isn’t much trouble on this par 3. Judging the distance into the green is going to be the main challenge. If missing left (like me!) then a chip across the large green might be in the cards. #5 (407 yard par 4):
The 5th is the ranked as the hardest hole on the course. Personally, I think that the 9th and 10th are tougher, but it might just be me. The green is elevated and there is a slope short of it which could make chipping to a front flag tricky. #6 (361 yard par 4):
There are a couple ways to play this shorter par 4. One way is to blast a driver up towards the green. The other option is to lay it up to a favorite distance. Either way the tee shot is played to a narrow fairway on this bunkerless hole. I’d favor the left side off the tee in hopes of avoiding a waste area to the right. #7 (538 yard par 5):
The 7th is the start of some more interesting holes at Stone Creek. It is a dogleg right, par 5 around a hazard. The ball wasn’t traveling very far when I played, but I think someone could try to give the green a go in two if they challenged the water on the right. I played it as a three shot hole and blocked my approach out to the right. My ball landed on the green behind a greenside bunker but I had a long putt. If someone wants to bail out on any shot then there is plenty of room to the left. #8 (165 yard par 3):
The 8th is the shortest par 3 on the course but I found it to be a formidable adversary. It looks like the creek that cuts across short of the green is in play, but it really isn’t unless someone tries to get aggressive to a right front pin. I missed it short and was a bit worried until I got near the green. I found my ball without any trouble, but was faced with a chip from chipping area that is below green level. I’d recommend putting from the back two-thirds of the green compared to chipping from where I was at. #9 (407 yard par 4):
In my opinion the 9th is one of the most interesting holes on the course! It is a decent length par 4 that doglegs to the left. The best tee shot is going to be out towards those bunkers to leave the best angle into the green. The fairway narrows about where those bunkers start so make to hit a club to keep it short of them. Any tee shot to the left could be blocked out because of some trees to the left of the fairway. If out of position then it could be difficult to carry a creek that runs short of the green. #10 (410 yard par 4):
The 10th is a great design! It is the longest par 4 on the course and requires that someone put some thought into the shots. The green is almost straight away, but the fairway moves to the right and then back to the left on the way there. That means someone should fade the tee shot or draw the second (ideally both!) to get on the green in two. I’d be careful not to miss the green long because the ball could end up lost. #11 (562 yard par 5):
The 11th is long par 5 where some local knowledge could help. I was able to carry the tree in the fairway, but someone might have to play left or right of it depending on their ball flight. The fairway slopes from right to left so I was left trying to hit a hybrid from a hook lie with water left. I managed to hit my hybrid down the left side of the fairway but it rolled into the rough. I’d favor the right side on the layup and keep it short of where the fairway runs out (maybe 90 yards from the green). #12 (179 yard par 3):
I was a bit worried when playing this hole for the first time. Because of some mounding that blocked my view of the green’s surface, I couldn’t tell if there was any trouble around the green. I’m happy to report that there aren’t any hidden hazards and there aren’t even any bunkers around the green! #13 (409 yard par 4):
The fairway on the 13th is narrow and it plays at a small angle from where my tees were. That means the best shot shape to find it is a draw. That’s not my shot and I blocked it way right! Thankfully there is a lot of room out that way and I was able to find my ball by the cart path. The green’s surface is blind from the fairway and I ended up to the left of a spine that separates the left and right sides. Make sure to pay attention to where the flag is located. #14 (387 yard par 4):
The only concern off the tee here is going to be a hook which could bring water into play. The green is almost shaped like a bowling pin because left side is a smaller target than the right. If someone is playing to a left pin location I’d try to use some slope to the right to get the ball close (rather than risk missing left and getting a bounce towards the water). #15 (354 yard par 4):
The 15th is the shortest par 4 on the course and it offers plenty of options. Someone can layup to a narrowing fairway left of the waste area or try to take any number of lines over it. If laying up short and left of it then the approach could be semi-blind. #16 (508 yard par 5):
The 16th is the shortest par 5 on the course and offers someone a chance to go for the green in two. I’m not the longest hitter, and even with the heavy air, I was able to get about 30 yards short of the green in two. The hole moves to the right and the bigger hitter could probably carry the right fairway bunkers and be just fine. I was left chipping across a deep green where the pin was on a back tier. That gave me some options because I could have played my chip to release or flew it back there with some spin. #17 (176 yard par 3)
I’m embarrassed to say that I missed the massive fairway on the last hole! The fairway is massive but I was trying to play down the right side to shorten hole and again ended up near the cart path on the right. Distance control is important on the approach to avoid a bunker short and a bunker that wraps around behind the green. If someone blades one then water behind the green could come into play.