Drive by La Cita Country Club in Titusville, Florida, and you will notice that a transformation is underway. In golf terminology, it has emerged from the rough and is heading down the 18th fairway. Management anticipates the mega-makeover will be complete by year-end.
In its heyday, La Cita set the standard for country clubs on Florida’s Space Coast. When its doors opened in 1985, this landmark country club attracted some of the region’s most influential golfers and socialites; not just from the immediate area, as most new clubs tend to do, but from as far as Orlando, Palm Beach and Jacksonville.
La Cita Country Club was an instant success, boasting clay tennis courts, on-site Hacienda-style accommodations and world-class cuisine. Yet its centerpiece — then and now — is its Lee Trevino/Ron Garl-designed golf course. This 18-hole championship course measures 6,614 yards from the back tees, with a 71.9 course rating and a slope of 136, all played on Bermuda grass. The White Tees play 6,087 yards (69.8/123) and a blended set of tees that combines the Blue and White play 6,310 (70.6/133). Ladies will be tested from the Red Tees at 4,651 (67.7/121). In all, five sets of tees make La Cita playable for golfers of all levels of skill and ability.
The course is a traditional blend of manicured turf, decorative landscapes and native woodlands. Mature trees line many of the fairways and water comes into play on 14 holes. Break out the bird watcher’s guide as you make your way around; you’re bound to encounter white egrets, sand hill cranes, ospreys, hawks and even the occasional eagle.
La Cita is definitely not your typical Florida golf course. In fact, it’s very challenging no matter which set of tees you play. The course takes full advantage of the surrounding topography; in addition to the lakes and woods, you’ll encounter small hills and slight elevation changes, something not common in this part of the state. For the most part, the greens are small and elevated. They tend to run on the fast side and roll true, which only adds to the excitement.
A full complement of practice facilities — including a driving and chipping range — are at your disposal. There’s also a large practice putting green in front of the clubhouse. The range maxes out around 235 yards, so most players won’t be able to hit driver.
Number 1 is a par 5 that measures 482 yards from the White tees. Right away, you’ve got a decision to make and it involves the massive oak tree that occupies the right side of the fairway. Most golfers won’t have to deal with it off the tee, however, it can influence placement of your layup shot. What does come into play off the tee is water on the left and sand on the right. Should you find the sand off the tee, your layup shot will be compromised by the large oak tree. A decent layup shot will leave a short pitch to the elevated green, which has a large bunker in front. Most golfers will need to carry the green because the bunker takes away any hope of a successful bump and run. Avoid the tree and par or better is within reach.
After the first four holes, you’ll cross the road to play numbers 5 and 6. Number 5 is a dogleg right par 4 that plays 322 from the White tees. The inclination for big hitters is to cut the dogleg by going over the trees, but, to me, the risk outweighs the reward. A good drive that avoids the large waste bunkers on the left will leave a short pitch shot into an elevated green that slopes right to left. The green is protected by bunkers on the right and water on the left, however, the water should not come into play. Should you find the water, the friendly and knowledgeable PGA professional staff offers lessons to fix that problem.
Number 6 is a 385-yard dogleg left that requires control off the tee. Hit it too far straight ahead and you’re likely to find the water. If a draw is in your repertoire, now is a great time to use it. Bend it around the corner off the tee and you’ll be looking at a mid to low iron uphill into the green. The 5th and 6th holes are ones that you will remember long after your round.
Number 15 plays 334 yards from the White tees and is one of the most interesting holes on the course. It’s target golf off the tee and requires about a 210-yard carry over water to make it to the dogleg. From there, you will have an approach shot that plays to an elevated green with a bunker and water on the right, and more water on the left. Successfully conquering this hole is something to talk about over drinks at the 19th hole!
Number 17 is a par 3 that plays 201 yards from the White tees with water on either side, so accuracy is at a premium. Number 18 is a great finishing par 5 that plays 456 yards from the White tees. It’s a narrow driving hole with a fairway bunker on the left. You’ll want to keep your layup shot right to set up an approach shot that takes the water in front of the green out of play. A good layup will leave a short chip shot – most likely over water – to an elevated green that slopes back to front and is protected on either side by sand. Although a short par 5 by most standards, it takes three well-played shots to reach the green and two good putts for par.
Last Word: Plenty of doglegs and mature oak trees with overhanging branches will challenge your accuracy, especially off the tee. Your accuracy is greatly rewarded on approach shots as well, because many of the greens are very small and crowned.
After your round, be sure to stop by the clubhouse for a cold beverage and some great food. The well-stocked bar has all your favorite libations, as well as several domestic and craft brews on tap and a respectable wine list. Seasonal menus authored by executive chef Daro Chan can be enjoyed for lunch and dinner, as well as for Sunday brunch. Chan was lured to La Cita last fall from Indian River Preserve, a nearby public course. His regional reputation is formidable, and his culinary range impressive.
One of the menu selections that piqued my palate was the Pot Roast Poutine: tender braised prime rib tips and cheese curds in a rich, brown gravy. At the time of this writing, it was available for both lunch and dinner. Another interesting option is the Salmon BLT: poached, flaked salmon, bacon and Swiss cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla with lettuce, vine-ripe tomato and lemon-dill mayonnaise.
Until only a few years ago, the club was in decline; despite the previous owners’ good intentions, appearances were not being kept up. In December 2016, the property was purchased by Vivian Dimond, an influential and highly respected South Florida real estate developer and investor who is also a famously gracious hostess. She immediately set out to restore La Cita to its former glory, from the clubhouse to the greens, where a new irrigation system was immediately installed, and a fleet of new golf carts purchased. Granted, the work continues, but conditions are improving on a daily basis, particularly on the golf course.
In addition to the Stay-and-Play component and member-for-a-day specials, La Cita currently offers some great golf membership opportunities. The Unlimited Membership includes unlimited access to the golf course, driving rage, tennis and racquetball courts, swimming pool, athletic club and clubhouse. Corporate memberships are also available. Snowbirds will appreciate the seasonal membership, which can be purchased with or without golf cart privileges. (All memberships have a low monthly food and beverage minimum.)
As La Cita puts members and guests first, and completes its renovations, this once-famous course should regain its place of prominence on the Space Coast. My advice: Play this course while you can; once restoration is complete, getting a tee time will be tough.
For more information or to arrange a tour, give the club a call at (321) 383-2582. If you’d like to book a tee time, the pro shop can be reached direct at (321) 383-5300. You can also visit the website at www.lacitacc.com.