October 5, 2017 By: Bradley S. Klein – STREAMSONG, Fla. – Until relatively recently in geological time, central Florida was covered by ocean. In the larger order of things like cosmology, 25 million years isn’t that long a timespan. If you’re patient, history has its rewards.
Streamsong’s Black Course, the third 18-hole track at this unusual resort, conveys in spirit and rhythm the legacy of its dense maritime past. It might sound like a bit of a stretch, but as you venture out onto this austere, serene, absolutely massive landscape of lightly billowing dunes and scrub, there’s a distinct sensibility of a naval voyage at play.
As Rich Mack likes to say, “If the golf doesn’t work, nothing else does at a place like this.” He should know, because he virtually put his career on the line as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Mosaic Co. when he championed the development of this 15,000-acre resort.
When your location is roughly triangulated from Tampa, Orlando and the northern shore of Lake Okeechobee, you need a powerful draw lest people dismiss you as being in the middle of nowhere. Two inaugural courses in 2014 – Red by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw, and Blue by Tom Doak – made an immediate splash into the upper echelons of the Golfweek’s Best Top 100 Modern Courses. Now comes Streamsong Black by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, the same team that’s been setting the contemporary golf universe on edge with such stirring, retro-styled layouts as The Rio 2016 Olympic Course and Castle Stuart in Scotland, and with restorations of Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course and the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami.
Streamsong Black’s golf envelope is 300 acres, more than double an average layout and enough room for 86 acres of fairways and tees, 11 acres of tightly mown greens surrounds, a six-hole practice course and the resort’s first quality range. It’s two miles end to end on Streamsong Black, the entire length of it visible from either end of the site.
While Red and Blue interlap one another on reclaimed ground that includes manufactured mounds and holding ponds that create distinct landscape spaces, Black occupies a vast, open tableaux upon which Hanse and Wagner went to work two years ago. Their expansive routing, a par-73 layout with teeing grounds from 5,239 yards to 7,331 yards, incorporates no more than 30 feet of elevation change, yet is ceaselessly fascinating for its folds, roll-offs, lateral scale, sandy broken ground and an interlude from the 12th green to the 16th fairway of roly-poly terrain that Hanse’s team dubbed “The Glove.”
Every great course has an internal rhythm. If a course feels like it’s all drums abashing and fireworks bursting, the place simply overwhelms. Streamsong Black sets you off more gently along an ocean voyage with a relatively quiet start through the harbor, then things get big and dramatic on wide-open, wavy dunes as you approach the green on the par-4 third hole. From there it’s a considerable middle stretch over broad ground with the occasional moment of mystery – like a two-tier punchbowl green that’s hidden from view on the approach to the par-4 ninth.
The long, uphill par-4 11th brings voyagers back to the clubhouse for a momentary reloading of provisions. From there, it’s off into a sandbar of eddies and tidal pools through the crumpled ground of The Glove. At the 17th tee there’s the appearance of a calm if distant harbor, and the 18th green wraps around a pond that requires careful navigation before you anchor.
Apologies if the analogy seems strained. Evoking the sense of a journey is the right way to capture the feel of the place.
And then there’s Black’s elusive, rectangular clubhouse – nothing but right angles, black metal and a glass-enclosed interior. The building variously pops up and disappears from view like some oceanic mirage. Building architect Alberto Alfonso and his Tampa-based firm created a wondrous exoskeleton of a clubhouse that allows the vast horizontal scale of the golf course to extend into the center of the building. The result at Streamsong Black is a masterful meeting of land, space, water and a minimally built environment.
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Intriguing loop with several crossovers and generally intimate green-to-tee connections, returning to the clubhouse at the 11th green.
Quality of shaping: 8
In-house shaping team at Caveman Construction means a team of young, energetic builders who are emotionally invested in the product and more interested in doing interesting work than simply getting it down and moving on.
Overall land plan: 8
Streamsong Black occupies a large linear parcel south of the resort’s first two courses and provides long, uninterrupted views of that and much of the surrounding property. Stunningly modernist clubhouse never interrupts site lines or flow of golf course, yet recedes into self-imposed negative space at times.
Greens and Surrounds: 8
There are 11 acres of Miniverde Bermuda grass, all of it at one low cut and half of that area defined as putting surface with little green dots delineating the “greens” proper, at an average size of 11,000 square feet. Most amazing is the elevated, blind punchbowl ninth green, in two maddening tiers that work. Distances marked on sprinklers to front edges of defined greens don’t begin to suggest the intrigue of figuring out where to land an approach using side and front slopes.
Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7
From the 6,759-yard black tees, the fifth hole at 178 yards calls for a daunting shot over a massive, Royal St. George’s hill bunker. The downhill, modified reverse Redan-style seventh (158 yards) and Eden-like 15th (131 yards) are subtle rather than terrorizing. Loveliest of the lot is the downhill, 189-yard 17th against a distant backdrop of reclaimed marshland.
Variety and memorability of par 4s: 9
Each side has an (almost) drivable hole and a very long one. Most dramatic is the up-and-over third hole, 423 yards from the black tees where the course transitions from an inviting opening to a momentarily severe stretch.
Variety and memorability of par 5s: 7
A gentle handshake of a 508-yard opening hole offers tempting room right for bold play with plenty of short bailout left. The theme is reprised in continually amped-up form at the 524-yard 10th, 531-yard 12th and 530-yard 18th, where the hole culminates in an optional path: a safe sideboard, three-shot path to the left or a heroic two-shot path to the right over deep sand and water. The fourth hole, a split-fairway, 581-yard outlier, confirms Hanse’s claim that it takes time and imagination to discover layers to the course and not all reveals itself at first or second look.
Tree and landscape management: 9
All but treeless, save for a few small copses. The starkly modernist clubhouse and a creaky old windmill that orients play on three holes of the front nine are all that extend above the layout’s horizon line.
Conditioning and ecology: 10
Excellent grow-in by superintendent Rusty Mercer and colleagues, with minimal washouts from Hurricane Irma. Open, sandy waste areas play tight and are less of a hazard than immediately raked formal bunker areas. Celebration Bermuda grass fairways are tight and roll out. The 11 acres
of Miniverde play even smoother and faster, creating vast scope for creative approach and recovery.
“Walk in the Park” test: 9
A big hike that manages to be rustic and intimate within each corridor, yet expansive and invigorating on a big scale.
Has its own distinct identity at the resort and will appeal to all manner of players for its variety and flexibility. Should easily break into the top 50 in Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses. Solidifies all three of Streamsong’s offerings as top-tier, however they are ranked.
5000 Glove Trail
Streamsong, Fla. 33834
Par 73, 7,331 yards; 74.7 rating/135 slope
Walking encouraged, caddies available
Green fee: $85-$255