Harmony Golf Preserve in Florida lets patrons get back to nature, one with the birds and the bees
HARMONY, Fla. - The concept of the utopian community exists at the heart of American history, if not as its very founding ideology. We're familiar with such fabled, and usually failed, endeavors, and look at the various groups such as the Shaker villages, the Moravians, Mennonites, and the Oneida and Amana Colonies as curious experiments that were perhaps too ambitious.
It's understandable to consider the utopian notion primarily as a relic of the history book, a collection of stories from the past of people whose idealism, while intense, seems strangely antiquated. Yet we forget that the urge to form cohesive societies and enclaves of perfect life is modern too and exists everywhere around us.
If the evidence of contemporary utopianism is not still vivid from various lessons learned in the 1960s, then it at least influences the psychology behind the hundreds, if not thousands, of "theme" residential communities and developments that spring up every year across America.
From something as simple as a gated community or motif neighborhood (i.e., all the homes built in Colonial-style architecture) to "concept" communities master planned down to the color and material of the sidewalks, the quest for the ideal living environment has evolved into something more sophisticated and commercial, but the ideal is alive and well nonetheless. One such community is Harmony, Florida (no relation to the 19th century Harmony movements in Pennsylvania and Indiana), a fledgling town to be built around natural preservation, recreation, and sociability.
More than a decade ago, Harmony owners and founders Jim and Martha Lentz realized that what they most valued in a community could not be found in suburban America. What to do? The Lentz's decided to create a town of their own.
Jim Lentz purchased 11,000 acres of citrus and farmland approximately 25 miles southeast of Orlando International Airport and began planning a community that would better reflect the principles of peaceful living and environmental connection that he and his wife wanted.
They believed that there were others like them who were exhausted by both the alienation that suburbia creates and the necessary destruction of the landscape that goes with constructing it. The purpose of Harmony is to provide, as Lentz calls it, an "environmentally intelligent community" founded on principles of coexistence, with nature and with humans. The project (named after Martha's mother's maiden name) is well under way with the construction of homes, a town square, and a K-8 school (70 acres have been donated to the local school district for a future high school).
Residents will be encouraged to interact and communicate, while certain economic measures have been taken to protect the environment (for example all light fixtures will be aimed downward to minimize light pollution, and only 30 percent of the 11,000 acres will be developed).
"We're literally building a new kind of home town," says Lentz. "We approached every detail, even the design of the street signs and lamps, as if we were designing our own dream home, which in a sense we are."
The centerpiece of the Harmony development is the sprawling 7,428-yard Harmony Golf Preserve designed by Johnny Miller Design, Ltd. The low-profile course flows cautiously abreast - not over or through - the existing wetlands of the site, with environmental concerns rather than real estate dictating the routing. The community's policy of least disturbance and the emphasis on the development's union with nature means that there are no residences directly on the golf course or fronting either of the property's two 500-acre lakes (although they will be visible just off the course, separated by residential streets or walkways).
As natural and undisturbed as the site is, it's nevertheless typical for a Central Florida golf property, which is to say, it's dead flat. Miller's team, led by director of golf course design Fred Bliss, may not have had the ideal topography to work with but the freedom to build any type of course while routing it free of the restrictions of home lots was liberating.
"This project had the least amount of infection, of contamination, by the all-mighty greenbacks than any I've ever been involved with," said Miller at Harmony Golf Preserve's grand opening.
To make up for lack of character in the land, the Miller team decided to flex their muscles with the Harmony design, doing with length what the land could not provide in subtlety. Obviously the 7,428 championship yards is enough to qualify it for brute status, but the scale of the course while prodigious, is not overbearing.
Many of the holes are simply long, notably the 625-yard fifth and the 245-yard, par-3 third, but yardage does not tell the entire story. Even from the championship tees the one-shot holes offer variety by playing to different green complexes with different clubs (187, 245, 228, and 160 yards respectively). The design lacks a true short four-par, but from the men's tees several mid-length two shot holes such as the second and the seventh offer delicious options with the drive.
Harmony will remind many of the next closest course to it, St. Cloud Golf Course 10 miles north on Highway 192. Both are youthful and raw at the moment but provide a flexible and utilitarian brand of golf. The sprawling fairways and open-fronted greens make the course accessible to the higher handicap player, while the potential for serious length and some rather adventurous internal green contouring will likewise stand up to the scratch game.
If it were up to Miller and the Lentz's, Harmony will be a course, and a place, to relax and enjoy golf along with the openness of the surrounding nature. The earnestness of Miller's feeling toward Harmony was evident in his voice as he applauded the honesty of the project, as well as the unbeatable bass fishing in the nearby lakes.
"This is a very special place, a place that is very near to my heart," he said. "Harmony is about getting back to the birds and the bees, and that's what it's really all about, isn't it?"
Where To Stay
The nearest hotel to Harmony is the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport Hotel (407-825-1234), a 30-minute drive. Dozens of other hotels, near Disney World Resort or International Drive, are slightly farther.
Where To Eat
Harmony currently has no dining options, but the town of St. Cloud is 10 minutes away with a variety of casual eateries. Orlando is stacked with food options, from popular after-golf venues such as the Orlando Ale House on County Road 545 across from the Grand Cypress Resort, to the bevy of theme restaurants along International Drive, another 5-10 minutes west of the Orlando International Airport.
To play, it's $55 for Harmony residents, $60 for Osceola County residents, $65 for Florida residents, and $85 for out-of-state residents. Twilight rates are available after 1 p.m.
Opened: November, 2002
Architect: Johnny Miller Design, Ltd.
Yardage: 7,428; 6,955; 6,394; 5,955; 5,410 yards
Harmony Golf Preserve
7252 Five Oaks Drive
Harmony, FL 34773
December 5, 2002