St. Cloud Golf Club Like Nothing Else in Florida
ST. CLOUD, FL - St. Cloud Golf Club, in the Everytown city of St. Cloud, Fla., is difficult to interpret at first glance. The wide-open views across the fields where the first several outgoing and incoming holes lay are likely to make one think this is either one of the most boring or one of the most authentic links style designs in the region.
As visually sublime as it is, St. Cloud does itself no favors with first impressions. While longing for better-looking scenery it's easy to overlook the course's bountiful but subtle attributes.
Decorated only with broad acres of shortly mown grass, a modest number of strategically set bunkers, and pockets of low-level flora and wetlands, St. Cloud is not quite likely to recall the coastal landscapes of Scotland to any but the most enthusiastic and optimistic of players. Golfers may find themselves playing low, boring windcheaters and 30-yard putts from its gaudy fairways, but this course still resembles Kansas more than Fife. But if St. Cloud is an acquired taste, at least it doesn't look, or play, like anything else nearby.
The links-influenced design came about not as homage to St. Andrews but because of a more honest reason: cost.
The city of St. Cloud had always intended to build a municipal golf course on the 225-acre site near its water treatment plant, but when delays kept pushing the project farther into the future the city decided to turn it over to someone else. Golf course builder Reed Berlinsky was contacted and, heading up a partnership group, leased the land from the city and completed the job with Florida-based architect Chip Powell. Their goal: to build a fun, affordable, and "clean-playing" public golf course.
"We wanted to create something that was fairly unique using natural materials, and with the property, what we could do on the land, we felt we'd have to do something links-style," Berlinsky says. "The links-style golf course is not necessarily unique to this area but most of the other courses [like it] are on the high-end side."
As owner of a golf course construction firm that has built such notable courses as The King & The Bear and Mystic Dunes in Florida, and Bobby Weed's The Old Farm Golf Club in Virginia - Golf Digest's Best New Private course for 2001 - Berlinsky understands high-end golf courses. Building St. Cloud, however, was a novel experience.
To accommodate the proletariat ideals of the course, Berlinsky and Powell realized that the low-key approach would best serve the site and budget. They incorporated as many of the natural grasses as they could while irrigating the course 100 percent using the on-site effluent water.
Very little earth was moved to create the broad fairways, which are typically separated by strips of natural grass or a bunker, if anything. The greens, rather than being of the "pumped up" variety as Berlinsky calls them, are large and irregular, often falling away toward the rear. They're tied economically into the slope and contour of the fairway and are clearly part of the hole rather than separately existing entities.
The bunkering is less ceremonial, too, as traps are placed primarily in the fairways rather than greenside to facilitate easy maintenance. No fly mowing is necessary and the entire course is cropped with a single type tractor. Overall maintenance cost has been far less than projected.
"Both Chip and I have been around and have ideas of what we like in a golf course, so we kind of knew what we wanted to do here," Berlinsky says. "We wanted to not just do a standard bunker/green, bunker/green type of course, but vary the looks of how the greens and bunkers are presented and space them to also vary the shots you have to play."
The character of the course is reflected in the universal fairways of the first nine. The short grass of the seemingly endless first hole, a 570-yard par 5, blends seamlessly into that of the par 5 9th coming the opposite direction. Likewise the right border of the broad 448-yard 2nd is lost against the boundary of the abutting 461-yard 8th. And so it goes at St. Cloud.
Adding to the course's impressive variability is the constant change of wind direction. The holes swirl around a core routing to factor every angle of a wind that can blow particularly fiendish in the winter. Only holes two, three, five and six play remotely in the same direction.
If not for several internal wetland areas and existing water hazards St. Cloud might be the state's best effort at a true seaside replication. Even so, Central Florida players have been enjoying the atypical atmosphere and shotmaking opportunities the design affords.
"We've been surprised at how well people have taken to the course," Berlinsky says, adding that building golf courses where the appeal is almost exclusively in the playability goes against conventional marketing trends. Needless to say a flat, treeless course next to a water treatment plant in St. Cloud doesn't exactly sell itself, but the repeat play and positive response has proven that if the course is affordable and entertaining, golfers don't need waterfalls and island greens.
"We wanted to build a good, affordable public golf course where people can walk off and say that they played a good round, maybe their best," Berlinsky says. "Everybody has their idea of the perfect golf course, but if we can offer them a nicely maintained, well-conditioned golf course that's fun to play, then we've done a good job."
Who's It For
St. Cloud is a wonderful option for those looking to get away from "Florida-style" golf. The firm ground and natural roll, not to mention complete lack of rough, will give traditionalists something they don't find in too many other places - European style golf. It's also a perfect place for high-handicap players and recreational types who are likely to score one of their better rounds here.
Architect: Chip Powell
Yardages: 7,036; 6,592; 6,083; 5,531; 5,027
St. Cloud is located in the city of St. Cloud, approximately 20 miles south of Orlando International Airport. From the Florida Turnpike South exit Highway 192 east. Drive into St. Cloud several miles and turn right at Michigan Ave. Follow Michigan to the course.
Green fees are $25 Monday through Thursday, $30 Friday through Sunday before noon, $25 after noon. Twilight rate begins at 4pm and is $18.
Carrying your bag at St. Cloud is no problem.
St. Cloud Golf Club
5300 Michigan Ave.
St. Cloud, FL 34769
Conditions: 3 (out of 5)
Par 3's: 2.5
Par 4's: 3.5
Par 5's: 3
Practice Facilities: 2.5
Club House/Pro Shop: (Temp)
Pace of Play: 4
Overall Rating: 3
August 31, 2002