The proof is in the putting at Highlands Reserve Golf Club in Davenport, Florida
DAVENPORT, Fla. -- Central Florida is a hotbed of golf courses that come in every shape and price range. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Other times, good golf can come at a small price, you just need to know where to find it.
Fortunately, in an area south of Walt Disney World Resort on Highway 27, there is such a place -- Highlands Reserve Golf Club. Here, the highest premium paid is directly on the course and it comes in a variety of features.
First is the 120-foot elevation change, one that forces some holes to ride uphill and down and others to crisscross back and forth in a series of tiered and terraced fairways. Second is the abundance of bunker and transition areas that in some cases are so steep and long you'll feel that you'll never dig your way out. The third, and perhaps highest premium, is the challenge of the large and undulating greens, as all are elevated, without borders and extremely fast.
"When the greens get quick here, you can shoot a big number," says Ken Weyand, Highlands Reserve's director of golf. "We try to keep the Stimpmeter right about at 9 or so. If we get it much faster, because of the undulations, it slows play down and it doesn't make it a lot of fun."
Architect Michael Dasher built the course in 1998 and several of his holes are worthy of individual mention. To begin is number 2, a downhill, 398-yard, dogleg left appropriately called "High Point." From the tee, you can witness the area's entire 120-foot elevation change. Pull out the driver and you might even experience a bit of altitude sickness, as a nasty waste area to the left eagerly accepts any shots short of center on this right-to-left sloping fairway.
Another interesting hole is "Horizon" the 199-yard number 4 that seemingly hovers along the rooftops of neighboring homes. Any thoughts of flying this elongated green is enough to land you squarely in the pit of the small pot bunker front and center.
At number 9, a 515-yard, dogleg right called "Sidewinder," you'll find the first of a series of deep, crater-sized transition areas that run almost the entire length of the hole on the right and are trimmed with a collection of fairway bunkers. Off the tee, you're forced to the left, which is to your benefit, as the fairway rises then peaks before heading downhill and funneling toward the hole. If you've managed to stay left and the wind is in your favor, you can actually reach this green in two.
Highlands Reserve Golf Club's back nine
On the back nine at Highlands Reserve Golf Club, the most unique series of holes are the stacked fairways of numbers 13 through 16 that cut across a wide hillside. Each succeeding fairway is elevated above the previous and plays in the opposite direction. At first they seem a bit confusing, but once you've established the boundaries of each, their individual challenges become apparent.
With the 476-yard, number 13 for instance, it's the second bunker on the right. Aim for it and you're in it. Anyone watching will then pull left into the transition area or push right onto number 14. But play it well, and this shorty of a par 5 is doable with a long or mid-iron all the way to the finish.
Next comes the 418-yard "Entrapment" so named for its five bunkers on the right and its seven bunkers on the left off the elevated tee. Often played into the wind, this fairway requires a lot of focus. It's a long par 4 with a natural scrub area on the left that sometimes grows up to 20 feet in height. Its elevated, protected green features several ridges. While birdie was had on 13, expect a bogey here.
Recovery is available with the 417-yard, 15th hole provided you played the severe right-to-left slope properly. Otherwise, anything left of the 150 marker is in a bunker or on number 14. As for your second shot, expect an uphill carry to an undulating green that's best played short for an uphill putt.
Near the top of the hill is number 16, a 384-yard par 4 called "Hourglass." At first you'll think it's so named for the pinched landing area between two fairway bunkers. But you'll soon discover with your approach that it's really a feature of the long and narrow green that seems flat until a second look reveals the deep swale eliminating the entire middle pin position. For back flags, you'll need a long and fast bump and run or at least enough skill to flop it and stop it on a dime. All told, the entire course at Highlands Reserve will test your titanium.
"We have no out of bounds. We have no water," Weyand says. "You'd think somebody would just come out here and light this place up. It just hasn't happened. For the good player, it's a good challenge. For the everyday player, the course is very playable."