Highlands Reserve Golf Club breaks the mold in Davenport

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

DAVENPORT, Fla. -- Building a successful relationship with Orlando golf requires loving it for what it is. The land often lacks significant movement, homes built too close to the edge of the courses can be distracting, water and wetlands sometimes seem redundant, and then there's the thing with all the carts and cart paths. Nobody's perfect.

18 Holes | Public | Par: 72 | 6647 yards
Highlands Reserve Golf Club
Highlands Reserve Golf Club is a Mike Dasher design, opened in 1998.
Highlands Reserve Golf ClubHighlands Reserve Golf Club - water

But once you accept its limitations you can begin to focus on its advantages. For instance, its abundant, utilitarian courses makes it a more than willing partner, one of the three or four most convenient places with which to shack up for public golf. It's also not hamstrung by any particular sense of bad fashion or style, at least not in the tacky way that other popular retreats like Myrtle Beach or Vegas can sometimes be.

Orlando golf starts to seem pretty good after a while. You'll manage to create a meaningful bond, finding contentment in its numerous if occasionally repetitive and self-possessed courses. You are, at last, satisfied.

Then, just outside of town, you meet a course you weren't expecting. Suddenly everything is confusing again.

Mike Dasher's Highlands Reserve Golf Club (opened in 1998) located 10 minutes southwest of Disney World is like a high-heeled, pouty-mouthed foreign exchange student in a room full of honor roll schoolgirls. It's suggestive, irresistible, and, at the risk of sounding shallow, one hell of lot more fun that the other prudes.

What makes it so is a piece of land that's unlike most everything else in the region, topped by a spirited design that matches the property's unique character. The course sits on the edge of a long sand shelf called the Green Swamp Ridge near the town of Davenport, spanning 120 feet from top to bottom. Dasher's holes fairly dance around it, two-stepping from a high point at the first green all the way to the low basin of the 13th fairway.

We say two-step because that's exactly what it does. Dasher's directive was to build an affordable, walkable, and fun golf course on a minimal budget, something in the neighborhood of $1 million. To do it, Dasher says, "We needed to pair up all the holes, have a paired routing, because I knew that would keep our total irrigated turf acreage down."

The paired routing is not only efficient from agronomic and walkability perspectives, it also helps the routing fit into a relatively tight 150 acres. Dasher used several methods to prevent monotony and claustrophobia on bordering holes. Thirteen through 17 are terraced into the side of gently rising bowl, separated by elevation, planted vegetation, and bunkering. Linear rows of pine trees similarly seclude sections of the parallel second and third and the 10th and 18th.

Because Highlands Reserve Golf Club is situated on what's basically a giant sand hill natural waste areas were available to Dasher wherever he needed them - all he had to do was dig, or to be more accurate, do nothing.

"The bunkers became any depressed areas we elected not to grass," he says, recalling a round played with a partner who was bunkered at the third hole. "He's digging in and getting ready to hit the shot, and he says, 'How deep is the sand in this bunker?'" Dasher replied, "Right there where you're at, I believe that's 90 feet."

"That's all native sand," he adds.

The waste areas serve as divisions between holes, strategic bunkers that cut into the angle of play (challenging aggressive drives at the par-4 seventh and 10th, or the approaches at 10, 11 and 12), and as turf and irrigation-saving washes. Most often they function as all three.

Dasher's diverse, uncommon design punctuates the distinctiveness of the natural site. The tidy tournament yardage of 6,673 will not overpower or intimidate anyone, but the routing keeps the player engaged with three sub-400-yard par-4 starting holes, back-to-back par-5s at eight and nine, several potential drivable par-4s for long hitters, one-shotters ranging from 100 to 225 yards, continuous changes of direction, and holes that provide the option to work the ball left or right or simply go for broke over a hazard.

The greens challenge at Highlands Reserve Golf Club

Accompanying all this is one of Orlando golf's three or four most sporting sets of green complexes:

"The design really begins at the greens," Dasher says, noting the design's roomy fairways. "We did not put in any USGA greens - that's all native soil and they're basically all push-up greens."

Most are open to the fairway and fall away into chipping and drainage lows on several sides. The variety of size, shape, and orientation is staggering: -- the first green is 52 yards deep and roughly 12 paces across with a swale across the center; -- the third green is tilted and almost perfectly round; -- five is crowned and elevated, a perfect foil for the short pitch shot approach; -- number nine green features upper and lower levels; -- the remarkable 10th offers a front left pin location sunk nearly three feet below the rest of the green; -- the 16th fulfills the promise hinted at the first. Modeled after the Gate hole at North Berwick, the Biarritz green is 53 yards deep and cut in half by a trough roughly two feet lower at the center than either the front and back. "I've always been looking for a place to do that, and that's where I decided to do it," says Dasher.

Highlands Reserve Golf Club: The verdict

Did we mention that Highlands Reserve Golf Club is fun? It's also one of the few courses in Central Florida where you can throw your bag on your shoulder and walk.

In every way, Highlands Reserve Golf Club is the antithesis of the typical Orlando golf course; it's not even of the same gender. Power players, the corporate crowd, and the Lake Nona types may criticize it for its length, for being a little proletariat around the edges, or for the housing development on the perimeter. They're missing the point. Highlands Reserve is sporty and original and its diversity is a blessing to repeat play.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.


 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf holiday

    George Owers wrote on: Jun 9, 2010

    Hi.
    My friend and I are coming to Florida for 2 weeks holiday beginning on the 6th July 2010 along with our wives and daughters. For some sanctuary away from the shopping malls we are trying to take in a couple of games of golf and as we are staying only 3 miles(approx) from Highlands Reserve I would be oblidged if you could furnish me with costs per round / club hire etc. We hope to take in at least 2 possible 3 games over this holiday period, and if you have any special rates etc.
    thanks
    George Owers

    Reply

    • RE: Golf holiday

      JJ wrote on: Dec 5, 2010

      They are pretty good there. Great place to have a game

      Reply

  • Price

    Dougie Allan wrote on: Jun 1, 2009

    Hi can you give me a price for a round of golf, cllub hire and buggy hire in July 2009. Do we have to book in advance.

    Reply

    • RE: Price

      m.moody wrote on: Aug 24, 2009

      cost of club hire

      Reply

      • RE: RE: Price

        william bennett wrote on: Nov 30, 2010

        Hi
        I am due to visit your club this saturday for a round of golf with a friend. can you advise if i can hire clubs and what is the cost.
        thank you

        Reply

  • Golf lessons for my son

    Ricardo Gordon wrote on: Mar 26, 2009

    To Whom it May Concern,
    My family and I will be in Davenport the first 3 weeks in August 09. I would like to arrange 2 weeks of golf lessons for my 13yrs old son with one of your professionals. Please let me know rougly how much this would cost.
    Please note my son has been playing golf for about 4 years but does not play off a hanicap.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Ricardo Gordon.

    Reply

  • a fun track

    Dean Hountalas wrote on: Jan 29, 2007

    Just got back from 4 rounds at your course on our golf trip. We stayed in a house arranged by the the Pikes.
    Kudos to your staff, very courteous, from club house, to starter, to cart guys. Fun course, and very challenging greens. If the winds kick up, it gets really tough, it is on high ground and some nice views. Had a good time.

    Reply

  • GOLF

    Alan Denman wrote on: Mar 30, 2006

    I will be in Florida on 2nd September 2006 for two weks stopping at Regal Palms Resort. I am very interested in taking Golf Lessons as well as hiring Golf Equipment and having a round . I would think i would be able to spend at least 4/5 days on the course during my stay. Could you please give me some idea of costs involved together with a suggested progamme.
    I have been trying to play golf for the past 25 years and have only just got my handicap which is 26. I am aged 55. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Alan Denman

    Reply

    • RE: GOLF

      Carol Ladd, Assistant Golf Professional wrote on: Jun 21, 2006

      Dear Mr. Denman,
      I apologize for the delayed response to your inquiry. In the future if you have any questions or comments please use the email mwalker@crowngolf.com to contact us and we will respond in a more timely manner. Our rates in September will be $38.00 weekdays, $40.00 weekends and $26.00 after 1PM. Club rental is $25.00. As for instruction, it is $40.00 per half hour and I will be very happy to assist you. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
      Sincerly,
      Carol Ladd
      Assistant Golf Professional
      Highlands Reserve Golf Club
      500 Highlands Reserve Blvd
      Davenport, FL 33897
      (863)420-1724

      Reply

  • HIGHLAND RESERVE.

    STEVE GORDON wrote on: Mar 24, 2006

    IN MARCH 2006 I WAS IN FLORIDA FOR THE TYPICAL DISNEY FAMILY EXPERIENCE.
    THANKFULLY THERE WAS TIME TO GRAB A ROUND WITH FRIENDS AND WE CHOSE THIS COURSE FOR EASE OF USE.
    GOOD CHOICE.OFF THE GOLD TEES IT PRESENTS AN ADEQUATE CHALLENGE TO MOST.THE FAIRWAYS ARE USUALLY WIDE AND HITTABLE. THE GREENS ARE BEAUTIFUL AND AT THE TIME WE PLAYED MORE THAN FAST ENOUGH, ESPECIALLY IF YOU WERE IN THREE PUTT TERRITORY.
    SERVICE UPON ARRIVAL WAS EXCELLENT WITH BUGGYS AND HIRED COBRA EQUIPMENT ALL READY AND WAITING FOR US TO GO.
    A VERY PLEASANT VENUE FOR ANYONE WISHING TO GRAB A ROUND. AND THE COST?
    EXCEPTIONAL VALUE AT £55 FOR GREEN FEE, BUGGY AND CLUB HIRE.
    GIVE IT A WHIRL.IT'S WELL WORTH A VISIT..

    Reply

  • Highlands Reserve - What a great place!

    Andy McCall wrote on: Oct 9, 2005

    Just found this site and had to express my thanks to Bill Nori and his staff at Highlands Reserve. Playing there in mid August was my first experience of playing golf in America and it couldn't have been better. Right from booking a tee time before I left the UK to the actual day it was so friendly and accessible. That and the fact that the course is a fantastic place to play made a great holiday even better. So much so that I am arranging a golf trip from my golf club for 2007!!!
    If you are in the area go play it.....its worth it!!!

    Reply

  • Great

    María Richter wrote on: Sep 19, 2005

    I just came from a golfing holiday at Highlands Reserve. What a treat. Staff VERY friendly and prepared to make my day of golfing a very pleasant one. Stayed for 15 days, played golf every day exept one when the course was closed even then the staff booked me another course nearby. Great service all over and a great course.

    Reply

  • Highlands Reserve Experience

    Carl Carpenter wrote on: Jul 21, 2005

    It looks as though Greg must have caught Highlands on an off day. I have visited the course three times, most recently this summer. I found the service to be friendly and very enjoyable. The staff always gives the players a nice day.
    The course was in awesome conditon.The course is growing up quite nicely. Go play it and see for yourself!

    Reply

  • service

    greg hotham wrote on: Apr 29, 2005

    We recently played a round at Highland Reserve and was very dissapointed in the service.First,we had a tee time for 1:30pm and didn't go off until 2:20pm.Secondly,on a hot day the cart girl never came back after the 7th hole.Third and certainly not the least there was not a marshall on the back nine.There was 6 groups in a 2 hole span.For a course that prides itself on service this was definately a disapointment. Safe to say we will never play this course again

    Reply

    • Excellent Golf Course

      peter wishart wrote on: Aug 6, 2006

      I recently had two rounds of golf on a magnifient course. Belonging to Fife, the home of golf, I would like to congratulate the service and friendliness of the staff when I played there. A great bargain was to be had as well. Only $62.00 for a round of golf, cart, Cobra clubs and lunch. Brilliant.
      Keep up the good work guys.

      Reply

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