Two More for Clermont: Swiss Fairways and Green Valley Country Club
CLERMONT, FL - There's something about the country landscape in central Lake County, 25 miles west of downtown Orlando, that makes for some of the most exciting and interesting golf in the entire Sunshine State.
Perhaps it's just that the relatively wide open and hilly terrain is polar opposite from most of the state, which is ironic because if it were Oklahoma or the Front Range of Colorado, this would be about as standard as it gets. Whatever, there's no denying that the golf courses around Clermont are a unique bunch for Central Florida and TravelGolf.com has been singing their praises for some time now (see: Highway 27).
Most savvy Orlando-area players know that there is fun golf at affordable prices at places like Diamond Players Club of Clermont, but fewer are familiar with Swiss Fairways and Green Valley Country Club, two courses that exemplify the charms of this area perfectly. Both courses are off the beaten path but well worth a visit for those who've grown weary of the often penal and always high priced resort courses that gobble up the headlines.
A Diamond in the "Rough"
The atmosphere at Swiss Fairways is so relaxed and casual it may seem the staff doesn't care if you play there or not, if they notice you at all.
The attraction certainly isn't a posh, "wipe-your-clubs-down-and-ask-you-where-you're-from" type of curbside service that has become the norm for Orlando. The parking lot here is gravel and the bag drop is wherever you happen to set your clubs when you get them out of the trunk. The operations are so nonchalant that they're run out of a temporary clubhouse, except that it's not temporary.
Golf with no frills is all that matters here, and Swiss Fairways packs more of it into nine holes (either nine) than many area courses do in a 54-hole weekend.
Physically, Swiss Fairways could best be described as a poor man's Southern Dunes (or is it the other way around since the first nine of the former was built in 1988, predating the latter by five years). Both courses showcase a similar style of flamboyant bunkering - irregular and gaping, filled with indigenous reddish sand - and plenty of small-scale movement in the earth.
The rather unkempt rough edges of the course give it a rustic charm that may be overlooked by those accustomed to perfectly groomed fairways and tees. It blends well, however, with the eclectic mixture of holes and frequently brash presentation of hazards. Long grasses line the fringes of fairways and bunkers and lend them real character, especially at two superlative stretches of holes, 2 through 5 and 14 through 17, where the course loosely resembles something from the south of England perhaps. Though much of this look has to do with a limited maintenance budget, it's quite appropriate, and the green keeper gets it right on the greens where it matters.
The isolated property, small-scale hills, and naturally sandy soil make for an ideal golf setting. Steve Newgent built the first nine in 1988 and six years later, in 1994, he returned to construct the second nine on land purchased across State Road 565 using plans drawn by Clifton, Ezell & Clifton. The bold, sweeping style of the first nine is effectively emulated on the second.
The address of the course, located southwest of Clermont major, is Skiing Paradise Boulevard, named for the Swiss (Water) Ski School. As if the course's daring appearance and variety weren't enough to draw it attention, several holes play across the watery ski school runs, including the 204-yard, All-Orlando par three 2nd. Just look to make sure there are no skiers coming down the pike before you drill that low liner 3-iron across the lake.
Swiss Fairways gets high marks for originality and quirk, but make no mistake, there are very solid golf holes here (16 and 17 come to mind) and an interesting set of greens. The price is right too since they don't charge for attitude, with green fees starting at $20 and not going much higher. The only real drawback is that the course is probably unwalkable since the second nine is about a half mile from the clubhouse, and until they start a ferry service, there is another long ride around a sliver of lake between the 12th tee and fairway.
Conditions: 3 (out of 5)
Par 3's: 2
Par 4's: 3
Par 5's: 2.5
Practice Facilities: 2
Club House/Pro Shop: 2.5
Pace of Play: 3
Overall Rating: 2.5
Green Valley is the Place For Me
If Swiss Fairway's rugged appearance exudes international flavor then Green Valley Country Club, located just north of Highway 50, is prototypically American.
Green Valley's original nine holes were designed in the late 1960's by an old Scotsman according to Lloyd Clifton, who worked as a consulting agronomist and rebuilt several of the early greens. In 1990 Clifton's firm was hired to add a second nine and to do so they had to rework three existing holes. In essence, 12 of the holes are now Clifton, Ezell & Clifton holes and six are from the original design.
The layout runs over some wonderfully hilly land. Several of the higher elevations - the crest of the sweeping 6th fairway and the tee at the par three 13th - provide wonderful views east and south toward Clermont and beyond. They must be among the highest points in Lake County and the routing does an admirable job of taking advantage of them and finding the most thrilling highs.
Typical for the era but not for the region, the design features linear fairways and large rolling greens, several heroic carries and water hazards, and mostly natural contouring. The bunkering is kept to a minimum as well, placed to the front and sides of the greens. The trees that were planted in the early years to give it a traditional, mid-Western look, are now mature and line many of the fairway.
Lest one think Green Valley a relic, we note here a number of strong holes and some that border on the modern. The trio to start the round - 570 yards over a high crest, 522 yards uphill, and 437 yards downhill through a chute of trees - represent a most formidable beginning, and the 415-yard 7th plays to a dangerous peninsula green extended into a lake and requires an all-or-nothing shot to reach it in regulation. That's followed by a 167-yard par three over the same hazard with no room to bail out short and a long par four 9th with water bordering both the landing area and the green to the right.
In addition to classic length, Green Valley has plenty of quirk and charm as well. More than a few holes play at 90º angles, including the par five 1st, the 6th, the 15th, and the difficult 433 yard uphill/downhill 18th. The most peculiar is the 10th which doglegs the long way around a lake on the right, 360 yards, with a green directly across the water at only 275 yards. It's feasible for the longest of hitters to go straight across if they can find some clearance from the tee, and all other players must pick their line carefully to clear the hazard yet not run the drive through the fairway.
This old semi-private members club is almost as laid back as Swiss Fairways and takes the competition as far as elevation changes are concerned. There aren't too many places to go around Orlando that feature these types of hills while delivering a rather old school golf experience. Green fees aren't bad either, starting at $20.
13114 Skiing Paradise Blvd.
Clermont, FL 34711
Green Valley Country Club
14601 Green Valley Blvd.
Clermont, FL 34711
Conditions: 2 (out of 5)
Par 3's: 3.5
Par 4's: 3.5
Par 5's: 3
Practice Facilities: 1
Club House/Pro Shop: 1
Pace of Play: 4
Overall Rating: 3.5