The 27-hole Cleveland Height Municipal Golf Club in Lakeland Florida has a long and storied history. It dates back to 1923 when H. A. Stahl, a Cleveland, OH real estate magnate, was invited to visit the city by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce to check out the possibility of developing a large subdivision in the area. The maneuver seemed to pay off; Stahl purchased 560 acres on the south side of Lake Hollingsworth for $935,000.00 and the development – which was to become Cleveland Heights – was well on its way to being developed.
Sensing the opportunity to provide recreational opportunities for the residents of his newly created Cleveland Heights, Mr. Stahl included plans to build a golf course. The course was designed by Donald Ross contemporary W. S. Flynn and, in the spring of 1925, the golf course and the clubhouse opened. However by 1927 when the depression hit, Stahl fell prey to the same financial difficulties that plagued other tycoons of his day and he lost his investment.
By the end of the decade the City of Lakeland took over control of the property due to delinquent taxes and to this day the city continues to own and operate Cleveland Heights Golf Club. In the early 1980’s the city added nine more holes making it a 27-hole golf complex.
These days, Cleveland Heights Golf Club plays host to a variety of local events including an annual 4-Ball Golf Tournament and the Major League Scramble. Although it is a municipal course that is open to anyone wielding their own set of golf clubs (or you can rent them in the pro shop) Cleveland Heights also has memberships available – and at a reasonable rate.
Cleveland Heights is truly a unique golf experience. The clubhouse, renovated in 2001, boasts over 20,000 square feet and offers an extensive breakfast, lunch and evening lounge menu.
The courses are identified as A, B, and C. Someone decided to get a little creative and add a Florida floral touch to the names as they are now referred to as Azalea, Bougainvillea and Camelia. Yardage from the back tees ranges from 6,345 (A/B) to 6426 (B/C) to 6,517 (C/A) yards with the respective slopes of 122, 123 and 123 from the same tee boxes. Although there are three sets of tees at Cleveland Heights, if you’re a golfer with any game at all I would highly recommend the blue tees in order to provide enough of a challenge.
Back when the economy was booming (early 2000s) Cleveland height was doing over 70,000 rounds a year. The early part of this decade saw annual play drop to less than 50,000 rounds a year but, with the economy starting to pick back up, Brock Witmyer, General Manager at Cleveland Height, estimates there will be around 55,000 rounds in 2013.
Memorable Holes – Camelia (C) Course
Number 3: Par 4, 348 yards. If you are long off the tee – and by that I mean 300+ yards – then by all means take out the driver and have a go at the green. For the rest of us, take out a hybrid or long iron and play it safe. Water crosses the fairway and, for the majority of golfers, takes driver out of play. Your approach shot plays slightly uphill to a green that offers very subtle undulations.
Number 5: Par 5, 505 yards. This is one of the most unique holes in the area, especially from the back tees. You will play your tee shot over water with trees on the right and directly in line with the green. What makes it unique is that it’s about a 200 yard carry over the water and, if you significantly navigate the tee shot, you’re still left with at least 250 or more yards to the green. Keep your layup shot left to avoid the trees and same body of water. Your approach shot is to a green that slopes ever so slightly from back to front. Par is an excellent score from the blue tees.
Number 7: Par 4, 421 yards. This long dogleg right is the number one handicapped hole on the C Course. A good poke off the tee will still leave a long iron or hybrid (for most) to a slightly elevated green. Although there are no sand traps around the green, the water does come into play on the left and behind the green. Number 7 is a nice golf hole!
Memorable Holes – Bougainvillea (B) Course
Number 4: Par 3, 157 yards. This is one of the prettiest par 3 holes in the area; especially with the lake behind it. It has handicapped as the easiest hole on the B Course. If you can hit your 160 yard iron straight you shouldn’t have a problem. If not, you will have to deal with the sand and water on the left and trees on the right.
Number 5: Par 5, 495 yards. Playing your tee shot out the left side of the fairway on this dogleg right par 5, will go a long way in scoring well on this hole. The strand of large oak trees on the right tend to block out any clear shots to the green from that side of the fairway. Your approach shot is into a small elevated green with water behind it. Anything over the green is in trouble.
Number 9: Par 4, 360 yards. The best tee shot here is one down the right-center of the fairway. Trees on the left side can make for a creative approach shot or leave none at all. The approach shot plays uphill so be sure to take an extra club to make up the difference. The green is slightly elevated which takes away the bump-and-run. The green is well undulated and helps make this an enjoyable finishing hole.
Last Word: As municipal courses go, Cleveland Heights is one of the nicer courses I have played in Florida which includes munis in Ft. Myers, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and the Jacksonville/St Augustine area. Like most Florida courses, you will encounter all kinds of wildlife including hawks, geese, and alligators. I had heard that peacocks had been spotted on the course from several people however I never saw any during my round.
What you see is what you get from the tee – there are no surprises here. Most of the tree lined fairways at Cleveland Heights offer generous fairway landing areas which typically feed into slightly raised greens. Most greens vary in size from small to medium and provide moderate undulation; nothing too torturous. For the most part, greens are easily accessible with the majority of sand traps situated on the side or behind the green complexes. On many holes, the greens are elevated such that they drop off on all sides, which can easily turn an errant approach shot into a quick bogey or worse. Over the 27 holes water hazards come into play in one way or another on no less than 16 of them.
Cleveland Heights is very walker-friendly – something you don’t see much of in Florida. Stone bridges, reminiscent of the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews are a recent addition and add a nice touch. If you want to score well on the course here at Cleveland Heights, smart golf is necessary. That means leaving the driver in the bag on many holes.
Brock Witmyer, General Manager at Cleveland Heights shred with me what is in store for the course during the summer of 2013. There are some major renovations in store including a plan for renovation of holes 1 through 8 on A Course and the practice green. This work will involve removing the top 4 to 6 inches of the greens and then replacing it with one inch of organic material, sprigging the greens and re-sodding the practice green. Tif-Dwarf Bermuda grass will be used.
Also, changes to the tee boxes on A course will be laser leveled and reshaped using materials that are coming out of the greens. The driving range will be re-shaped and more artificial mats will be added to the front part of the tee. The netting that surrounds the range will be replaced as well. Lastly – but very importantly – irrigation controllers will be redone. Because of all this work, the A course will be closed from May 21st to the middle of September.
For more information on Cleveland Heights you can visit them online at http://clevelandheights.phantomgolf.com/index.html or better yet, give them a call at 863-834-4653.