Quick question for you:
All else being equal, would you rather play a golf courses where...
A) There are no houses visible from any hole, and even though civilization is nearby, when you're on the fairways, it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere
B) The course is the main amenity of a residential community, and so there are condos, houses and other buildings in view of many of the holes.
I'm guessing you'd choose Option A. I can't blame you - I would, too.
And yet, something occurred to me when I was thinking about this recently.
Two of the world's greatest courses - courses on practically every single golfer's bucket list - fall under Option B.
They are The Old Course at St. Andrews...
...and Pebble Beach Golf Links.
As alluring as a wilderness feel can be on a golf course, is it a prerequisite for a great experience? I don't believe so.
One course I played a few months ago confirmed this.
It's a private enclave called the Windsor Club in Vero Beach, Florida, and the way the residential community is integrated with the golf course made it one of the more memorable golf experiences I've had in the last couple years.
Windsor is one of the prime examples of an architectural movement called New Urbanism. New Urbanist communities are arranged a little more intimately than normal, usually with most housing clustered around shops, restaurants, etc. in an area at the center of the community.
At Windsor, the housing on the course is located in the center of the community and around the perimeters of the property. This gives the golf course an open, uncrowded feel, even though it's a key amenity in the community. Only a four-hole stretch of the front nine, which you can see in the lower-left portion of the Google Maps screenshot below, follows that more conventional setup (though the houses are set well back from play, across lagoons).
One public golf course in a similar sort of community - and one we recommend you fit into an Orlando-area golf vacation - is Harmony Golf Preserve, a Johnny Miller layout that flies well under the radar due to its out-of-the-way location. Officially opened in 2003, Harmony is a fully master-planned Florida town, complete with homes, a public school system (a K-8 school and a separate high school) and more than 1,000 residents.
Like many communities, its growth stalled during the Great Recession, but it is gradually gaining steam again. The course was renovated last year, with many out-of play bunkers removed and fairway acreage expanded in order to make it more playable and enjoyable. Impressively, though it sits at the center of Harmony, the course never seems to dodge between backyards the way so many other residential layouts do.
Harmony is far from the only course worth playing that lies at the center of a residential community. Here are a few others we enjoy where the real estate is an integral part of the course scenery:
Mid Ocean Club - Tuckers Town, Bermuda
Never mind the with-/without-housing qualification, Mid Ocean is one of the world's best golf courses, period. The views of the bluer-than-blue Atlantic Ocean, the classic C.B. Macdonald template holes and the swaying palm trees completely captivate the golfer. The British colonial-style houses, and the four road crossings one makes during the round lend a further sense of place to the experience.
St. George's Hill Golf Club - Weybridge, Surrey, England
We've professed our love for St. George's Hill, along with other great heathland golf courses, in the past, but the presence of (very stately and old) homes on the course makes it stand out from some of its peers. This particular area of the London suburbs is one of the toniest, and a walk 'round St. George's Hill demonstrates it quite effectively.
Hammock Beach Resort (Conservatory) - Palm Coast, Fla.
Playing the Conservatory, a superb Tom Watson design, is actually most interesting because of the real estate missing from the property. It is one of the poster children for the Great Recession's effect on golf, as a number of lots in the Bobby Ginn-developed community were initially sold pre-downturn for hundreds of thousands, only to be worth relative pennies just months later. Some houses on the property remain half-built, while some that were finished are flanked by empty lots on both sides. It's eerily memorable, but it doesn't stop the course from being well worth playing. Another course that falls into this category is Bella Collina north and west of Orlando, a course with a 100,000-plus square foot clubhouse that now welcomes daily fee golfers, a stark contrast to the multimillionaire's-paradise initial intentions of the developers.
Fenwick Golf Course - Old Saybrook, Conn.
This short, century-old nine-holer winds through a classic New England village on the Long Island Sound and drips history and charm. On your way down a local street from the first green to the second tee, you'll pass the Victorian-style former home of legendary local avid golfer Katherine Hepburn. Local legend has it Howard Hughes once landed his plane on the ninth fairway while courting her.
What are your thoughts on housing on golf courses? Do you live on a golf course? How does your "home course" (pun intended) handle on-site real estate? Are there any courses you've played where the community feel contributed to the golf experience?
We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!