FORT MEADE, Fla. - Now that the Black course has opened, the debate about the best course at Streamsong Resort has cranked it up a notch.
The discussion started when the Blue course by Tom Doak and the Red course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw debuted in 2012. The two are essentially intertwined within the leftover dunes carved from an old phosphate mine owned by The Mosaic Company in remote central Florida. They each have their distinct features - more water and scenery on the Red, more elevation and memorable holes on the Blue, etc. True to their geography, they've almost always been linked side-by-side in the course rankings of every major publication. Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and Golfweek have the Red edging out the Blue in their 2017 rankings (No. 10 vs. No. 14 at Golf, No. 17 vs. No. 22 at Digest, No. 35 vs. 55 on Golfweek's Top 100 Modern U.S. courses. Last year's Golf Advisor user-based rating also put Red ahead of Blue.
But adding a third course in 2017 — the dynamic Black by Gil Hanse — has blurred the lines within that color spectrum. A recent Twitter debate, along with recent visits to Streamsong from many on our staff, sparked a need to present our personal rankings.
Great back n forth w/ #WeAreTheNorth linkster @RickSCOREGolf regarding @streamsong. Both in the camp of #Black being our preferred layout of the 3. What say you? No riding the fence. @MattGinellaGC @DavidMcLayKidd @jayblasi @LinksGems @WorldGolfer @the_fried_egg @AccidentlGolfer pic.twitter.com/CpQHwZhKON— LinksNation (@LinksNation) January 29, 2018
No doubt, Oregon's Bandon Dunes Golf Resort is the leader in the clubhouse in the debate about what's the best course on property. It has four courses ranked among the top 50 public in America. Streamsong is gaining ground in a hurry, though. I asked our experts — Golf Channel Travel Insider Matt Ginella, Golf Advisor Managing Editor Brandon Tucker, and senior writers Bradley S. Klein and Mike Bailey — for their favorites and why. Truth is, there is no right or wrong, just healthy perspectives.
We want to hear from you: How would you rank Streamsong's courses? You could comment below or you could give us your #Streamsongranking on Twitter @GolfAdvisor .
The Ranking: 1. Red 2. Black 3. Blue
Anytime I start breaking down and ranking multiple courses at one resort, I like to use the 10-round system. How would I break up 10 rounds at that particular destination? For example, at Bandon, I think Pacific Dunes is the best course on property, but in the 10-round breakdown, I’d play three at Pacific, three at Bandon, three at Trails and one at Old Mac. At Destination Kohler, I’d play the Straits course five times, three on the River, one on Irish and one at Meadow Valleys. How would I break up 10 rounds at Streamsong? I’d play the Red course five times, the Black three times and I’d play the Blue twice. For me, the Red has been a love affair at first sight. Every tee pulls me to the green. There’s a high fairness and fun factor throughout. And there’s a three-hole tempo and variety of half pars to the routing that never gets old. If Red were a music album, it’s like U2’s Joshua Tree for me. Not a bad song in the bunch. Hit play and enjoy the ride.
The Black is exactly what it needed to be: Close in proximity to the first two courses, but vastly different in the way it looks and plays. I love the scale, the extension of the green complexes, and variety throughout the round. I especially like the mix of par 3s, the Punchbowl, and the way Hanse used the portion of the property referred to as “The Glove,” holes 12 thru 16. And then the par-5 18th—with the options and drama that’s sure to ensue—is not only one of the best holes on property, it’s one of the best finishing holes in Florida.
As for the Blue, as much as I like the fact that it’s visually stunning, and that it’s user-friendly off the tee, with the green speeds at Streamsong, there are too many of the putting surfaces at the Blue course that give me fits. So much so, and especially if the pins are tucked in tough spots, it becomes a distraction. Greens like 3, 5, especially 7, 8, 11, especially 12 and 17 are too extreme for the average amateur golfer and cause too many three, four, and in some cases, five putts. But they’re not only hard to putt, they’re hard to hit and hold. I know for a fact that Doak didn’t expect the green speeds at Streamsong to be so consistently quick, which is what ultimately bites Blue in the butt. - M.G.
Bradley S. Klein
The Ranking: 1. Blue 2. Black 3. Red
All three of Streamsong's courses are worthwhile. If forced to vote — something I am reluctant to do — I'd opt for the Blue as the standout. I've always thought that the first two courses, Blue and Red, suffer because they share the same space and overlap midway. This produces a traffic cluster in the crossover. Red starts off brilliantly, but loses its focus at the goofy little par-3 8th hole and doesn't regain clear form until midway through the back nine. Meanwhile, the newest course, Hanse's Black, is expansive and free-wheeling in scale, but offers a few too many sky-ball drives where you have little idea of the fairway and can't watch the ball roll out. And for all the fascinating contours of its mega-sized greens, it would be nice if you could actually watch the fate of your approach, which on about half the greens you cannot.
So Blue gets my vote, mainly because of the mix of par-4s, including three very short ones and very brutally long ones. I am also enamored with what I think is the best of all 54 holes out there, the dramatic over-the-pond par-3 7th to a punchbowl-style putting surface amidst towering, reclaimed dunes. - B.K.
The Ranking: 1. Blue 2. Red 3. Black
My view of the three courses at Streamsong is a little skewed because I haven't seen the Red since December of 2012, a month before it officially opened, but recently played Black and Blue. The Blue is tough from the approach in, no doubt, but I really enjoyed the flow of the course and especially how it set up on most tee boxes. The green complexes are fast and can be penal, but I never felt like the properly struck short-game shot was punished; they were all unenforced errors. As daunting as the par-3 7th green is, I think it's one of the "signature" shots in all of reclamation/quarry golf. Coore-Crenshaw's Red is perhaps a little more playable around the greens, but Blue has more holes that are ingrained in my brain (Nos. 1, 7, 13, 17).
The Black, meanwhile, I felt tried to do a little too much. Sure, I had two makable eagle putts, and I prefer par-5 finishing holes over long 4s, but this round felt like a member's course, where trap doors await for those familiar with the land and the lines on blind shots, while first-timers may make a few timid swings. Take a caddie and trust them. - B.T.
The Ranking: 1. Blue 2. Red 3. Black
The Blue Course won me over at the proverbial, "You had me at hello." By that, I mean the opening tee shot. While the climb to the first tee is literally breathtaking, the view on the first box is certainly worth the effort and sets up the most interesting walk at this unique resort. From start to finish, but not by much, the Blue is the most intriguing of the three. The seventh, of course, is one of the most stunning par 3s that isn't next to an ocean, and the course ends with a gem of a long par 4 that all depends on nailing your tee shot over the hill and down the speed slot. But If I were to arrive and was told the Blue was closed, and I had to play the Red Course, I certainly wouldn't be disappointed. Because like Doak, I'm a fan of pretty much anything Coore-Crenshaw as well. And in this case, the Red Course delivers over and over again and might even be the prettiest of the three layouts.
In all fairness, I've only played Gil Hanse's Black Course once, so I certainly don't know most of its nuances. But I do like the punchbowl green on the ninth (and the huge undulating greens in general), love the windmill, don't mind fairways I can't miss and think the 18th risk-reward par 5 that plays downhill over a lake is an exceptional risk-reward par 5. Sure, some of the fairway bunkers are really difficult and a lot of work to rake, which is all the more reason to avoid them at all costs. And the best part about Black is that it's separate and not as much like the other two. - M.B.
Jason Scott Deegan
The Ranking: 1. Black 2. Blue 3. Red
My rankings generally come down to one thing: Fun. I didn't always have fun standing on the tee at Streamsong Red worried about all that water and sand. I didn't have fun putting off the seventh green on the Blue (although it's a great hole, otherwise). But I had fun from first tee to last green on the Black. Although the criticisms of overdone greens on the blind ninth, the green to the right on no. 13 and short-par 14th are valid, I still applaud the spirit of those holes on the Black, even if they must be tweaked in the future. I also think the experience playing out of the new clubhouse is much more enjoyable. It's got better food selections, the range is more accessible and the Gauntlet putting green is a great hangout spot.
If you think my rankings are nuts, they are similar to the populist reviews of Golf Advisor users. Black has the highest percentage of five-star reviews (granted the smaller sample size only has one four-star review so far), while Red is the only course with two three-star reviews. The Blue is the most polarizing - true to form with some Doak courses - with eight four-star reviews and a dreaded two star. Of course, I offer this caveat: Red is the only course I've seen once. It could jump the others with further inspection. - J.D.
Have you played the Streamsong courses? Tell us your favorite below or give us your #Streamsongranking on Twitter @GolfAdvisor .