North Shore Golf Club: Beauty Personified in Orlando
ORLANDO, FL - Remember the cosmetic commercial from the 1980's in which Kelly LeBrock says, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful"? The city of Orlando must feel the same way.
Already the greater Orlando area contains more quality golf courses open to the public than almost anywhere in the country, and still more are on the way. Yes, there's justifiable cause for envy, just don't hate Orlando for it.
As if the debuts of ChampionsGate, The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes, Magnolia Plantation, Legends of Clermont, and Mystic Dunes (are we forgetting any?) in the last 18 months weren't enough, the city now adds North Shore to its embarrassment of riches, a course that enhances an already gaudy portfolio and fortifies its southeast, the only quadrant of town lacking in superior public golf.
North Shore is the latest installment of architect Mike Dasher's ongoing coming out party. After tackling the sandy, hilly terrain of west Orange County at his much hailed debut course Highlands Reserve, Dasher went to work on the flat pastureland site of North Shore, so typical to eastern Orange County.
The course is located approximately seven miles southeast of Orlando International Airport near Lake Nona and is stylistically unique among the aforementioned tracks. It's a low-profile country course that slides around lakes and wetlands, then detours through a grove of large ancient oak trees before reemerging into the clear at the finish.
Aside from the picturesque oaks, the property didn't offer much in the way of naturally interesting features. The land for the first nine is rather common, spotted with some wetland areas but largely void of distinctive character. The second nine, on land opposite the clubhouse, wanders into the oak forest that provides scenic, pastoral frames to several of the holes.
The contrast between the two landscapes, and the question of how they would be utilized, was evident to Dasher from the beginning.
"North Shore, being in east Orange County, was a lower, wetter site obviously, but the back nine, with the big old oak trees that are down near the lake, is just gorgeous. The front nine offered its own set of challenges trying to route a good nine holes around some big cypress heads and wetland areas."
"The front nine is different than the back nine," Dasher elaborates. "It doesn't have the big oak trees but the front nine probably taxed my design abilities a lot more trying to come up with something that was attractive and enjoyable to play. I think we were able to do that."
The outgoing nine (as well as the 10th, 17th and 18th, which are of the same style) may not be thought of as pretty compared to some of the incoming holes, but it's on that side that the intriguing and more creative golf is found. Dasher, who oversaw Arthur Hills' southeastern projects from 1980 until 1996, has routed these holes to accentuate angles of play and to disguise optimum positions. The entrances to the greens are low and open to invite running shots. Mounds are frequently positioned short and to the sides of the entrances serving as bumpers as well as obstacles.
Of the bump-and-run mode of play that Dasher has allowed North Shore he says, "That's a part of the game that I pay a lot of attention to. I like to see the ball rolling on the ground, kicking off of slopes and things like that. I think that's an element of the game that you miss out on watching the guys on the tour, but there's a lot of us mortals out there who have to be able to bounce the ball on the green where that's just as good as flying it to the pin."
The best example of how the design of North Shore endorses the ground game is the third, a 454-yard par four with a large lake along the right. A procession of rough moguls and a fairway bunker define the churling left side of the fairway and the green, open on the left, is protected short right by a large mound. The inviting line to long hitters off the tee is down the center and right side near the water where the landing area is spacious and flat, but from that angle, the fronting mound can wreak havoc on the approach. Dasher explains:
That particular green was set up like that because you have the big dunes that are on the left side of that hole and tie into #7 so I was trying to create an effect of some rolling dunes and, as on a lot of Scottish links courses, the greens are sort of low and sheltered and protected."
"The guy that's trying to fly the ball at the pin when (it's) behind that mound, that's a pretty difficult pin to attack like that. Yet the left side of the green is easy to attack, in fact if you can land a shot about 30-40 yards short of the green, it will kick forward and onto the green. The big hitter has a very (clear) advantage off the tee on that hole, but the short hitter, if he hits it to the proper placethere's a variety of ways to play the hole."
Similar methods of attack can be practiced at the fourth, fifth, ninth, and eighteenth. The tenth utilizes pitch-and-kick undulation off the tee where a drive of just under 200 yards will catapult forward into a fairway basin that equally prevents long drives from rolling much farther than 250 yards. The green at this mid-length par four is elevated, bald and crowned, as well as semi-blind from a right side approach.
Yet as notable as North Shore is for the playability features of the first nine, it's the homeward nine that will escalate its reputation precisely because it houses the holes that will show up in the most photographs. These are the holes that seem to get players excited.
"Most people talk about the back nine, but there's only four or five holes that have the big oak trees, but those are what leave the lasting impression," notes Dasher.
For the record, holes 11 though 13, 15, and 16 are set beautifully among the oaks and offer their challenge (with the exception of the tricky 320-yard 16th with a false front green) in a highly traditional American sense versus the more International shot-making style of the previous holes. But when you are given such a serene natural setting, why not use it?
"We were involved early on in the planning of the North Shore project so we were able to route the back nine holes to minimize the number of trees we had to remove," Dasher says. "Number 11 is framed completely with oaks and I think we only took out one or two trees to build that hole. There were some pastures working down toward the lake with these big oaks scattered about and we were able to route the hole down there."
"We did have to take out some trees on number twelve (a 417-yard four par bordered by lines of oak), but right in the middle of that landing area was a big two-story log cabin which, you know, when you take that house down, you have a pretty big hole there. But when we built that back nine we probably cleared twenty or thirty large trees is all."
The differences between the two nines, and the fact that many players tend to favor one over the other, means that there's something for everyone at North Shore. Perhaps it's telling of Dasher's preference, however, that the 17th and 18th holes emerge from the woods and play in the open, bumping their way back home.
"I have heard from more than one player comments similar to 'Boy, wouldn't it have been great if you had the same kind of tree cover on the front,'" he says, "but I think we were able to make that into a pretty darn good nine holes. The trees are nice but I really like the front. I think it turned out quite well."
It remains to be seen if North Shore can outlast its newness and novelty to establish itself as one of the golf destinations in Orlando à la Falcon's Fire, MetroWest, and ChampionsGate. When it's no longer the newest course in town and after everyone's taken their obligatory trip there, will it remain in the upper echelon?
It's difficult to say. Several courses on Orlando's A-list thrive on reputation alone and can't match the design, integrity, or playability of North Shore. If courses were spoken of and played solely on their design merits, North Shore would certainly make the list.
Regardless, it should be safe to conclude that after this, Dasher's fourth course, he has finally arrived.
North Shore Golf Club
11507 North Shore Golf Club Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32832
Opened: December 2001
Length: 6,898; 6,518; 5,833; 5,023
Architect: Mike Dasher
From 528 (Beeline) turn south on Narcoosee (Highway 15, approximately 2 miles east of Orlando International Airport) and drive 2.5 miles. Turn left on Moss Park Road and go 1.8 mile to clubhouse (on right).
Rates for Florida residents are $45 weekdays and $49 weekends through the end of April, after which they will drop. Non-residents pay $59 and $65 through the end of April.
Dasher has taken the care to route North Shore tightly to make it an easy course to walk. This is one of the few courses in Orlando that permits walking, but there is a silly $8 walking fee.
January 25, 2002