ORLANDO, Fla. -- And now there are three at Streamsong Resort, Florida's most unique golf destination.
That's three courses that are not only among the top layouts in Florida, but possibly the entire country. After all, the Blue and Red courses at Streamsong Resort are ranked among the top 100 you can play by two major golf magazines. The new Black Course, designed by Gil Hanse and partner Jim Wagner, certainly holds its own with the Red and the Blue.
I got to check that out firsthand recently as the new Black opened to the public. While the style of golf is similar to what was there in the Red and the Blue courses, the Black has its own distinct identity and perfectly complements what was already there.
First off, though, it's necessary to explain what makes Streamsong so unique. Built on an old phosphate mining site owned by the Mosaic Co., the extremely sandy site is perfect for sculpting links-like courses that are so foreign to anything else in Florida. While there is no ocean here, of course, the layouts have that rolling links look to them. What is unique, however, is that even when conditions are firm, the option to putt from off the greens or bump them toward the hole is always there, yet these greens are very receptive.
The unique aspect of the new 7,100-yard par-73 Black Course is that the greens are double the size of the other two courses -- 11 acres of greens complexes, in fact, on the Black Course. That, to me, represents a course within a course. Getting to the greens is just half the fun; navigating them to the hole, whether by putting or short game or approach, is a whole other game.
With all that said, if you're coming to Streamsong, you owe it to yourself to try to play all three courses. That was my plan initially, but I got in later than I anticipated on my first day and didn't get to play the Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw-designed Red, which is arguably the most scenic of the three courses.
I played the Blue Course after the Black and can tell you it's just as I remembered it: plenty of memorable holes, terrific flow, an elevated first tee and a good finishing stretch. Like the other two, it's well-conditioned and offers great sight lines, especially from the par-3 seventh, which brings the clubhouse into view.
I should also mention that Streamsong Resort is one of my favorite places to stay. From its modern hotel and well-thought-out rooms to its two wonderful glass clubhouses and restaurants designed by Albert Alfonso, this is a great getaway. And besides golf, you can also grab a great meal, skeet shoot, bass fish or get a unique spa treatment. It may be in the middle of nowhere, but once you get there, there's no reason to leave.
More central Florida golf on the agenda
Streamsong is a destination unto itself, but I figured I would take advantage of being in central Florida by checking out a few other resorts while I was there, too.
My next stop would be north of Tampa at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla. Known more for its tennis than its golf, the golf is surprisingly good. But then again, that shouldn't be that much of a revelation. Besides grooming some of the best junior tennis players in the world, they've also been doing that with young golfers at the resort's prep school, where the top-ranked freshman golfer in the world, Karl Villips, is getting ready for his college career.
As for the golf, there are 36 holes at Saddlebrook Resort, the Saddlebrook Course with its unique cypress trees, and the Palmer Course, which is what I got to play this time around. Despite it being just 6,200 yards from the tips, it's far tougher than the yardage. It plays around a development, so it's a bit tight, and there's plenty of water. The greens are subtle, too, so they're not super easy to read. If you're looking for an honest challenge, this is a good test.
Of course, Saddlebrook's tennis pedigree didn't escape me. As a host of professional events with four different surfaces of courts, I got to take part in a 2-hour drill after golf on Har-Tru. Let's just say, I had no problem sleeping that night.
As for the rest of the resort, Saddlebrook is similar to its neighbor Innisbrook Resort, which makes sense given the two resorts were designed the same people. The biggest difference is that Saddlebrook is more centralized. Once you get there, you can either walk or take a golf cart anywhere. With plenty of restaurants, pools and other activities, you'll never get bored. And be sure to try to the restaurants' carrot cake and key lime pie; they're made from scratch at the resort's own bakery.
Grand Cypress and Shingle Creek in Orlando
Grand Cypress Villas
My last two days were spent in Orlando at two of my favorite resorts – Grand Cypress and the Rosen Shingle Creek. I only stayed a night in each place, but it was enough to get a feel for just how wonderful both of these resorts are.
Grand Cypress, which has set the bar for Florida resorts for a longtime with its 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf, hasn't been resting on its laurels. Accommodations at the Grand Cypress Villas have been updated in every conceivable way, including ultra-high-definition televisions and new cabinets, floors and bathrooms.
As for the courses, this time around, I got to play the New Course, Nicklaus' tribute to the Old Course at St. Andrews. The first and 18th holes are, in fact, replicas of the first and 18th holes on the Old Course. And there are nine double greens with the number of the holes that have them always adding up to 18. Besides that, it's hard to miss a fairway on this course (there's no rough) and you can play bump and run or target golf, depending on your strengths and the type of shot ahead of you. I never get tired of playing this course, though the other 27 holes are traditional Florida golf at its best.
Video: Grand Cypress is on Ginella's Orlando golf itinerary
At Rosen Shingle Creek, this might be one of the most underrated resorts in Florida. Luxurious rooms, plenty of fine dining, spa, pools, tennis courts and a terrific 18-hole course await guests of this 1,501-room/suite hotel. I got to stay on the VIP level this time around and had access to the VIP Lounge on the 14th floor, where they serve snacks, drinks and coffee most of the day. And one of the best perks, though I couldn't take advantage of it since it wasn't my last night, is the airline baggage service, where you can check your bags instead of carrying them to the airport.
As for the course at Shingle Creek Golf Club, it just underwent a renovation, and though the changes were due to resort logistics, the course is as good or better than it ever was. With plenty of water and difficult greens, Shingle Creek is plenty challenging, but certainly fair and playable by all levels, which means it's a great resort course.
And nothing beats Shingle Creek's location right behind the Orange County Convention Center on Universal Drive. For those in Orlando for business, it's the perfect combination of work and play.