Sebring Florida. Not exactly a name that congers up images of outstanding golf in a state that has so much to offer, but you’d be surprised at the quality of golf in the area. There are executive courses for those that are new to golf, as well as 13 championship courses that will test every aspect of your golf game. And, in an effort to grow golf revenue in the area, several courses and hotels have joined together to form The Citrus Golf Trail.
I just returned from a weekend down in Sebring and was absolutely amazed. Twelve golf facilities which are home to 16 courses. The quality of the golf courses I played this weekend was incredible. Lush green fairways and perfectly mowed greens; manicured tee boxes and sparkling water hazards waiting to devour a misplaced approach shot. Something else I was impressed with was the course layouts. Given the fact that this is one of the flatter parts of the state, the courses I played had a lot of mounding, which seems to suggest that a lot of dirt was moved to create this effect. River Greens had a couple of holes that played uphill and downhill, which was something I didn’t expect to see.
Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club offers the two championship courses to choose from – Turtle Run and Deer Run. I suspect Deer Run gets more play because it plays longer – 7,002 yards vs 6,402 at Turtle Run. I chose to play both from around 6,100 yards and found them equally as challenging. Deer Run is kind of interesting in that it ends on a par 3 island hole and can wreak havoc on what was a good score. Turtle Run features several holes with a creek meandering through it, forcing you to plan each shot accordingly. It tends to put more of an emphasis on shot making. Both courses were in fantastic shape, especially the greens.
Highlands Ridge is what I would call a hidden gem – unless you know the courses are there, you’re probably not going to find them. They’re off the beaten path in Avon Park, just north of Sebring, about three miles off of Route 27. There are two course here, the North and the South. The South is an Arthur Hills design and was closed on my visit, something to look forward to when I go back.
The North Course didn’t disappoint; as a matter of fact, if you didn’t know better you’d swear you were in the Carolinas; I don’t recall seeing a single palm tree during our round. There are several risk reward opportunities here as well as a few memorable holes. My favorite was the par 5 7th. As par 5’s go, it’s pretty short and the reward certainly outweighs the risk on your second shot, provided you hit a good drive. The same thing cannot be said about the par 4 5th hole, a sharp dogleg left. There’s way too much risk in trying to fly the hazard, not only do you risk hitting it in the hazard if you hit it poorly, you risk hitting it in the water if you hit it too well. Just play straight out toward the bunker and have about a 120-yard pitch shot into a long narrow green that is well protected with sand.
The most pleasant surprise was River Greens Golf Club in Avon Park. We had been told that the course was short and tight and for the average weekend golfer, could be very frustrating. I’ve often been accused of not paying attention to people and this is one of the few times it paid off. River Greens turned out to be the most memorable course on our trip. The TifEagle greens were immaculate, as were the fairways. I had the opportunity to play with Rodney Davis, the owner, designer, builder and General Manager of the facility who pointed out quite a few things as we made our way around. My favorite hole was the par 5 9th, which is actually two par 5s in one. You can play to the first green, making it a 482-yard hole, or play to the original green, stretching it out to 557 yards. Because of the water hazard involved off the tee, most players are not going to make either green in two. As we played the hole, Mr. Davis explained that the longer – and original – green, sits very low and had a tendency to flood. On one occasion when it flooded, he built a temporary green on higher ground. The members enjoyed this temporary green so much that he made it a permanent fixture and gave players their choice. River Greens offers several other risk/reward opportunities as well.
Now with all of these superb golf courses around, players are going to need a place to lay their heads at night and The Inn on the Lakes is the perfect answer. Guest rooms are smartly appointed, up-to-date and fresh, each room with its own theme. They also seem to be centrally located to all of the golf facilities. Chicane’s, the on-property restaurant is a foodie’s best friend. Dishes are made to order and their servings are plentiful. If you’re staying as part of a golf package, breakfast is included and they offer you a golfer’s discount on your favorite libations.
The Citrus Golf Trail is something that visitors and snowbirds with golf clubs need to consider when putting together their next golf vacation to the Sunshine State. During our round at Highlands Ridge, we met a group of 20 golfers that were there on a similar golf package. They said they have been coming to the area to play golf twice a year for 20 years. They have stayed at The Inn on the Lakes every year and view the owner Phil as a personal friend. I think that about says it all.
To see some of the great golf packages available thru The Inn on the Lake go to http://innonthelakes.com/golf-packages/ or to get more information, contact Phil Hatfield at Inn on the Lakes at (863) 471-9400 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.