Errol Estate Country Club: Still Great After All These Years
APOPKA, FL - Errol Estate Country Club is located in the northwest section of Orlando in the sleepy town of Apopka. As would be fitting for such an average American locale, the golf course is also something out of our collective experience, a roughed in memory of how golf was played and thought of before the architectural boom and high-end expansion that occurred in the 1980's.
Designed in 1971 by Joe Lee, Errol Estate began as a private club with 18 holes of golf. Two years later Lee was called back to install a third nine and the club has had three nines of distinctly different styles ever since. Little has changed at Errol Estate since the early seventies except that it is now open to public play. There is a large clubhouse, a large and active outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts-everything one would expect from a community-grounded country club. The members, who seem eager to share their course and slice of tranquility with public players, are proud of the club's unchanged atmosphere and history.
At one time, Errol Estate was amongst Orlando's most prized clubs. Lee, who then was just emerging from the large shadow of his mentor Dick Wilson to eventually become one of the most prolific golf architects of his time, designed what was at the time, a very elegant and contemporary course. The 27 holes he laid down took advantage of the splendid naturalness of the site which must have seemed very upscale and unique to Orlando at the time.
In many ways they still are. The three nines, now called Lake, Highland, and Grove, weave through a number of lakes of various sizes, cascade up and down the hilly terrain, journey into forested segments, and romp around some low-laying swampy areas.
Though the design of Errol Estate now falls somewhere between modern and classic, the course does retain a straightforward, if relaxed, playability. Accuracy is most needed to negotiate the 27 holes and most of the hazards are placed in a traditional manner. Lee's recognizable low-profile bunkers flow lazily into the flanks of fairways and bracket, often in threes, and the modestly sloped greens. There are only a handful of forced carries, and these are of modest difficulty, and much of the intrigue of the course has to do with how the holes are set against the gentle slopes and the encompassing environment.
The Lake nine at Errol Estate, part of the original 18, is the lengthiest and probably the most complete (read: challenging) of the three. All three starter holes at Errol Estate play from elevated tees and the first hole at the Lake course is arguably the best. The tee is set amid a grove of trees and affords a splendid view of the entire 568-yard par five that doglegs left around a large central lake, the second hole waiting farther in the distance.
This nine plays out to 3,406 yards and though it takes its theme from the several lakes that define holes 1 through 5, its real reputation is forged by the difficulty of the three finishing holes. Whereas the opening quintet is rather wide open and dominated primarily by the centerpiece lake that one, two, and three wrap around, six through nine break off into the trees, climbing uphill, downhill, and back up again to the clubhouse.
Seven is a difficult, classic dogleg par four. The measure is 442 yards from the rear markers and the drive is marked by a large fairway bunker at the inside corner. From this point, the fairway tumbles downhill and left, flowing into a small green that is guarded left and right by bunkers and trees. The drive is made trickier by the crowding of the mature trees that block certain desired aerial routes to the inside. A draw is the only real play from the tee, followed by an accurate mid- or long-iron to the awaiting green.
The eighth is a level 200-yard par three to a tight green blocked front right and left by bunkers. Nine is 425 yards over a section of wetland, up a steep hill, and exposed to any wind that might be active. The length of this hole, especially to a back pin placement, is effectively over 450 yards due to the slope, prevailing winds, and the slight bend of the routing with an ominous bunker at the inside corner.
The Highland nine is named as such because of its up and down nature. The first three holes on this track are among the most lovely at Errol Estate, and the par three third remains one of the prettiest and photogenic one-shotters in Orlando.
At 3,329 yards from the tips, the Highland is the shortest of the three nines and probably offers the best opportunity to post a score. The first hole exhibits a stunning, classic American golf presence. The tee sets on a perch overlooking a valley lined with trees on the right and embracing yet disproportionate mounds to the left. From the bottom of the landing area the fairway rises and bends right before leveling at the green. This graceful par four plays longer than its stated 395 yards and seems to come from somewhere out of the upper Midwest perhaps, but certainly not Orlando.
Two is similar in appearance to the first, a 522-yard par five that bends continually left around repetitive clusters of dense oak. Trees eventually line both sides of the fairway, narrowing in progression, lending the hole an isolated, natural aura. Two well-placed shots down the right will leave a short approach into a tucked green that falls off viciously on the right.
The idyllic third is an enclosed par three of 183 yards that plays from a benched tee across a little valley to a plateau green. The green at this gallery-esque beauty is humped in the middle and surrounded by Lee's patented three-corner bunker system.
If this nine has a weakness it is its lack of continuity. The fourth and fifth, coming off the splendor of three wonderful and thematically unified holes to begin the nine, are flattish and somewhat disconnected offerings. The Highland regains some momentum with a difficult downhill approach at the 407-yard sixth after a blasé drive, and again at the panoramic tee at the severely downhill eighth, but the memorable quality of the opening trio is never again achieved in such style.
The Grove nine, built two years later than the Lake and Highland nines, has a type of difficulty all its own and an engaging mixture of holes of varying styles. At 3,339 yards, it plays almost exactly as long as the Highland course, but sets up quite differently and is the most purely strategic of the three. The 18-hole combination of this nine with the Lake nine is probably the stiffest test at Errol Estate.
The Grove is primarily lowland golf with four holes skirting a wetland area that is first encountered at the downhill, double-dogleg 518-yard starter. This is a nicely interconnected angle hole, with the difficulty of each shot dependent upon the position achieved on the previous.
The left side of the fairway is defined by a large oak that persuades drives to be played to the right. Because the wetlands begin just beyond the landing area and follows the right side of the hole all the way to the green as it bends back to the right, the second shot must either lay well back for safety reasons or carry over the heart of the swamp, 220+ yards to reach the green. Well-placed drives that draw around or otherwise get past the oak on the left will have a more direct route to the small flat green, but lay-ups will still need to negotiate the hazard.
The wetlands affect the second even more. At 400 yards the hole wouldn't seem overly long if it didn't dogleg severely right and tight to the hazard at the 200-yard marker. It may be foolhardy to attempt aggressive drives here as they must necessarily fade enormously around the corner to find the thin fairway since the swamp cannot be carried by mortals. The conservative play is to lay back off the tee, but then the approach must carry in full the swamp for some 175 yards, avoiding a palm placed annoyingly at the inside corner.
The fourth is another tight par five, only 488 yards, but placement and angles of attack mean everything. The flat landing area to the right looks inviting but from here the second shot is virtually dead, blocked by tall pines and necessitating a wedge pitch-out second unless you have an exacting 200-yard wrap-around fade in the bag. Bold drives up the left, where the fairway pinches and a small stream cuts across, will yield a straight shot at the slightly elevated, tri-bunkered green, but this is a most risky line. Here the player is rewarded proportionately according to the degree of bravery displayed.
The most rousing hole on the Grove is the downhill 388-yard sixth. Two large bunkers are cut into the right side of the landing area and the fairway slopes heavily right-to-left. If the bunkers can be avoided (or driven past with 280-yard bombs) an additional roll can be found that will leave only a wedge into another tri-bunkered green. Otherwise a mid-iron approach from a hanging lie is the likely shot, bringing into play the stream that cuts in front of the green complex.
The last important hole is the prodigious 444-yard eighth, a par four that bends first left around a bunker cluster and then right around the wetlands asking for two powerful shots to carry both corners. If not, this easily becomes a three shot hole.
The attraction of Errol Estate is the variety of holes and the unexpected rise and fall of the land. Not every hole here is brilliant-if you could take the best 18 and string them together, then you might really have something-but most of them comfortably fit into the land and reflect the serene nature of this still fairly rural section of Orlando.
The course's setting amidst the quiet 30-year-old community will also remind many of perhaps a different part of the country (something that evidently appeals to the high number of transplants) and of how they remember playing golf in the days before the game exploded and every new course aspired to be a "Country Club for a Day". Errol Estate actually was, and still is in many ways, a real country club, and that experience has not been compromised.
Errol Estate Country Club
1355 Errol Parkway
Apopka, FL 32712
Lake-3,406, 3,232, 3,123, and 2,840 yards, par 36
Highland-3,329, 3,200, 3,064, and 2,945 yards, par 36
Grove-3,339, 3,227, 3,079, and 2,767 yards, par 36
Errol Estate is located in Apopka, north of 441 on Errol Estate Parkway.
Green fees at Errol Estate vary. From October to December 18, hole combination rates are usually $40 plus tax on weekdays, $45 plus tax weekends. Starting in January they increase to $50 weekdays, slightly more on weekends. Off-season rates are $25 and $32 respectively. Call the pro shop for exact rates.
Because members account for most of the rounds at Errol Estate, carts are the rule. The club might allow walking during the week in the afternoon on a particular nine, but it's not encouraged. The elevation changes would make it a challenge, but for those used to hoofing, Errol Estate would not be overly difficult.