Stoneybrook East Golf Club: Distinctive Character and an Air of Maturity
Chip Shot: US Homes is making a major play in golf course developments, strengthening their portfolio with the November 2000 opening of Stoneybrook West Golf Club in Winter Garden to accompany the original Stoneybrook Golf Club on the east side of town. With these two clubs, the name Stoneybrook now becomes even more significant in the greater Orlando golf scene. Bracketing one of the strongest golf markets in the state, the two Stoneybrook courses offer very different styles of golf.
ORLANDO, FL - When Stoneybrook West opened in November 2000 in Winter Garden, Stoneybrook Golf Club, back on the east side, suddenly felt like an older sibling.
Not that anything about the course is old-in fact the large clubhouse still looks and feels shiny new-but compared to the West layout and the continuing development all around it in the southeast quadrant of the city, Stoneybrook just seems older and more staid than it is.
Part of this is due to the style of the course, which is rather ageless. It could be three years old (it is, having opened in December 1997) or thirteen years old. Its features defy type or period, falling neither into an "old school" or traditional mold nor the massive earth-moving category of modern golf design. It could be said the course is comfortable. It's quintessential Florida if nothing else.
It should be, coming from the offices of the Clifton, Ezell, Clifton Design Group. Anyone vaguely familiar with the list of Florida-based golf course architecture firms will be intimately familiar with this firm which has produced almost as many courses in the central and southern parts of the state as Joe Lee.
A Clifton, Ezell, Clifton general imprint is evident in the design at Stoneybrook. The fairways are large and well defined; large, singular bunkers are used as directional targets as much as for hazards; the greens are spacious and undulating, usually featuring one predominant ridge or tier; and there is plenty of water. Most of the required shots are framed to give the golfer clear view of what's ahead so intimidation isn't a chief defense. Even the holes featuring bulkhead-supported greens perched over water (holes 8, 17, and 18) are clear and straightforward with generous bailout areas.
Stoneybrook is owned and managed by US Home, a company that is increasingly venturing into golf course development and making a strong move in Florida (a third US Home Stoneybrook course exists in Estero, and there are plans for a 54 hole complex in Bradenton). Naturally there are homes lining nearly every hole on the course, but they are often guarded by large pines and are set back far enough so the naturalists are able to block them out.
Stoneybrook is an example of the challenges that routing a course through a development can create. The course literally sprawls through the upscale US Home neighborhood and though the homes are tasteful and largely unobtrusive, it never really separates itself from them. In fact, several of the treks from green to following tee are as long as many of the holes, making the course virtually unwalkable (carts are included in the greens fee). The distances between the fifth and the sixth holes and the eleventh green and the twelfth tee must be two of the longest gaps in the state.
The Clifton, Ezell, Clifton Group are as adept at designing within the confines of housing developments as any Florida firm, having built enough courses to understand what works well and what doesn't. In an interview with The Orlando Business Journal last year, George Clifton said that golf club technology as much as anything else has changed design approaches to residential courses, bringing more area of any given property into play than in previous times.
Stoneybrook is a reflection of their sound residential design concepts. "We like to double up on a few holes on each nine to give golfers a wider target," Clifton said, (one and two, 10 and 18 at Stoneybrook, although there is a lake between the latter two holes). "We also don't like to see houses as a backdrop for the green."
Stoneybrook isn't a tricked up course, which lends it a distinctive character and an air of maturity. In fact, in spite of the housing and occasional railroad-tie walls, there exists a rather lush, naturalness to the club. The soft visual lines and the minimalist bunkering nudge the course toward the side of gentility. And maxing out at a "mere" 6,820 yards from the championship tees, the course is very accepting of all levels of golf.
Most of the golf courses that have lit the Orlando scene in the last three years show a level of construction far more complicated that here. Orlando in general has displayed an aggressive lean toward the dramatic side of design (see Disney World, Universal Studios, etc.). Stoneybrook's southeast sector is the city's next frontier and already the area exhibits tremendous signs of development.
"The entire east side of Orlando virtually exploded overnight," says Ian Shepherd, who opened Stoneybrook and is now Head Professional at Stoneybrook West. "That market was really primed for a great golf course. Eastwood had been there a while (another Lloyd Clifton design), but when we got there, things really started going."
Despite its relative youth, Stoneybrook sits amongst this burgeoning quarter of the city as old guard, as if it's been there forever. Surrounded by construction and the certainty that newer golf courses will soon arise nearby, Stoneybrook can say it was there first. As it is, for daily fee golf, Stoneybrook is still the best game on this side of the city.
The course is actually developing its own reputation of sorts, one centered around holes 15 through 18, a quartet labeled "The Final Four" and marketed as Central Florida's finest finishing holes. This 3-4-4-4 series, with names such as "The Equalizer" and "The Eliminator," are the most photogenic holes at Stoneybrook and serve as a rousing climax partly because they get away from housing and interference more than any others.
Despite the acclaim of "The Final Four," Stoneybrook is most interesting when it begins to break away from formulaic shotmaking, when it shades sight lines and slightly disguised greens and entryways.
There are numerous ways to approach the green of the second hole, a 424-yard (back tees) par four. The surface slopes left-to-right and is unprotected by short bunkers allowing for run-up shots, though the area directly in front is raised slightly above fairway level so the putting surface cannot be seen. There is some amount of guesswork in getting so close because all that can be seen is a flagstick, water right, and a back bunker.
The 403-yard par four seventh is a strong par four with an ambiguous fairway. The hole angles away and to the right from the tee with a large bunker guarding the right side. There is plenty of room to the left, but the more the bunker is challenged, the shorter the hole becomes. To complicate matters, the green is long and thin, guarded short by sand, and also runs away from the fairway. The left side of the hole offers the best angle to a back right pin but the approach is liable to be longer from there.
The 540-yard eleventh hole is visually less instructive as well, making for more intrigue. Tee shots must stay left of a large, dominating bunker, but not pulled into the lake that lines the landing area on that side. Long drives will put big hitters in a position to go for the slightly uphill, unprotected green, but they must clip the corner of a marshy area eighty yards short of the target to the right. Once clear of that, however, balls may bounce up the green. Lay-ups must negotiate this hazard as well, but short pitches into this hole are tricky because the surface is raised, rolling, and obscured.
Stoneybrook deserves credit for its fine conditioning, a feature that makes the course incredibly attractive to play. It also is deserving of praise for being the standard bearer for the east and southeast side of Orlando. New courses will have to better Stoneybrook to make a name for themselves, something that will not be easy to do.
Rates for most of the spring are $51 on weekdays before 2pm, $30 after 2pm. Weekends (Saturday and Sunday) are $61 before noon, $51 from noon to 2pm, and $30 after 2pm.
To get to Stoneybrook turn south off of either Highway 50 (Colonial) or 408 (East-West Expressway) onto Alafaya Trail and go approximately four miles (3.6 if exiting from 408). Take the second Stoneybrook entrance on the left.
Stoneybrook East Golf Club
2900 Northhampton Ave.
Orlando, FL 32828