The people I meet along the way were always going to be the most meaningful part of the journey I've been on since I launched this effort to begin playing the great golf courses of North America. And as much as I've loved the experience of playing so many fantastic courses these last couple of years, the time I've spent with friends old and new has been the best part of the experience. And the strength of those relationships -- far more than the top-100 lists I may be able to check off over time -- will be the true legacy of this entire endeavor.
A little over a year ago, I connected on Facebook with a restauranteur and avid golfer from Ontario, Canada, named Andy. We shared an obvious passion for the game, and Andy invited me on more than one occasion to come and experience some of the great golf that Canada has to offer. We also talked about the possibility that I might be able to host he and his wife at Pete Dye Golf Club if they found themselves traveling through West Virginia. But we haven't yet found dates to make it work.
Then, in early April, my family and I were traveling to Florida over Easter, and it turned out we were going to be there -- in Lakewood Ranch, about an hour south of Tampa -- at the same time and in basically the same place that Andy and his wife would be vacationing. I had a pretty packed golf schedule lined up for my trip, but when Andy reached out to invite me to play his home course in Florida, Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to get together with him. I was in even before Andy told me that he'd shared my blog with the good folks at Legacy GC and that they wanted to comp my round. This would officially be the first time I've gotten anything for free because of this little passion project of mine. From here on out, you can call me Mr. Big Shot!
I'm not going to do a full review of the club here, but I'll share some pictures and favorite holes, along with some of the moments I especially enjoyed while playing alongside Andy.
So, quick overview -- Legacy Golf Club opened in 1997 and is a par-72 course that tips out at just over 7,000 yards with six sets of tees ranging all the way down to 4,866, making it an ideal place to play for golfers of different abilities. I want to say Andy and I played it from the "Course #2" tees at 6,594 yards, but we were having such a fun time, I don't honestly remember. We might have been playing from the next tees up at 6,254 yards. In any event, from this point out I'll refer to distances from the Course #2 tees just for the sake of consistency.
As one might expect of just about any course in central Florida, water features heavily in the design of this Arnold Palmer Signature Design course, as this picture from the tee on No. 12 illustrates. The fairway is practically an island -- more generous than it looks, but don't stray too far to the right or left teeing off or this 365-yard par-4 could quickly become the world's shortest par-6.
Even with so much water, however, the Arnold Palmer Design team have done a remarkable job routing the course such that sand features almost as prominently -- and can impact your shot strategy just as much -- as the water throughout the course. One of my favorite holes -- No. 2 -- is a short, 322-yard par-4 that offers players the option to play their tee shot out to the left, to an island of fairway surrounded by sand that is reachable with anything from a mid-iron to a fairway wood, or to play directly at the green on the right, flirting with both water and sand in an attempt to drive the apron of runway in front of the green or even to reach the putting surface. Risk and reward at its finest.
I was fortunate that the risk of hitting driver at the flag paid off for me, finding the short grass about 50 yards short of the hole.
By the time we reached the fifth hole, the sky had really begun to lighten, and the course was waking up. I really enjoyed this hole, the first par-5 on the course. No. 5 is a 518-yard par-5 that bends gently to the right with a forced carry from the tee. The play from the tee seems to be a bit of a fade off the right edge of the left fairway bunker.
The approach on the fifth hole plays to a wide, irregularly-shaped green tucked between deep bunkers left, right and long. The hole offers a good example of the interesting green complexes at Legacy. The greens themselves are not incredibly undulating -- not tricked up, if you will -- but the surrounding bunkering and water make them challenging targets to hit. They also rolled very consistently from hole to hole, which enhances both the playability and enjoyment of the experience playing the course -- a hallmark of a good greenskeeping crew.
The knock that a lot of Florida golf courses get is that after the first few holes, it can feel like you're just playing variations of the same hole again and again for the entire round. That's especially the case for a lot of courses built within housing developments, where course design is a secondary concern at best and the object is really just to give homeowners -- mostly retirees -- a place to go knock the ball around everyday. And one of the things I loved about Legacy is that it never felt that way to me. Obviously, the housing plan influenced the routing, but the course never felt like I was playing the same hole over and over. The design team did a really nice job varying the layout such that decisions off the tee require real thought and approach shots call for different clubs, different shot shapes and present different challenges throughout the round. This is not a cookie-cutter driver, 8-iron all day long kind of course ... and that's saying something considering I've played a course just like that within about a 10-minute drive of here.
The 6th hole is a great example -- a 356-yard par-4 that runs out of fairway about 310-yards off the tee. Even though the far water may not be a danger on the opening shot, players may want to lay back with a fairway wood or hybrid just to give themselves a full swing approach over the lake to the green tucked tight between a bunker and the unforgiving bank that will kick any shot short or right into the penalty area.
The 7th hole will forever be one of my favorite holes on the course. It's a challenging par-4, just short of 400 yards, with a lot of sand left and water right. But the reason I'll always enjoy it is because Andy and I rolled up over a small hill in search of Andy's tee ball and found ourselves in a close encounter with this awesome fellow. When we first encountered him, he was just lying in the fairway. But soon after our arrival on the scene, he decided to make his way S-L-O-W-L-Y across the fairway and into the water right of the hole.
With nobody hot on our tail, Andy and I waited around to watch this gator's journey, and we marveled at the thought that this is probably as close as we'll ever really get to experiencing what it would have been like to watch dinosaurs roam the earth.
Jurassic Gator wasn't the only gator or the only wildlife we saw on the course, adding to the joy of the day, with all kinds of native birds like this guy:
And this guy:
And even this momma turtle laying her eggs alongside the 13th green:
Andy tells me a group of maintenance works also recently saw a panther -- not all that uncommon in Florida -- in the woods just off 11th green (if I recall correctly).
The 8th hole is a very cool little par-3 with an island green. It plays just 138 yards but presents plenty of challenge with sand short of the green, a small putting surface, and banks right and long that twill make this big-ish island feel a lot smaller if you mishit a shot and watch it get bounced into the surrounding water.
The front nine finishes strong with a long par-4 measuring 454 yards. The tee shot plays out to a fairway right, or long hitters can challenge the water and sand to go at the left fairway and a more direct route to the green. The second half of the hole is surrounded by a sea of sand that starts about 200 yards out from the hole on the right side and wraps all the way behind the green and extends back down the left side of the fairway to about 140 yards from the hole. With the clubhouse in the distance and any number of members and guests watching as you come in the ninth hole, this is no time for a meltdown.
Bounded by dense woods on the left, the 10th (pictured above) and 11th holes are unlike any other holes on the course. No. 10 is a particularly tight par-4, playing 415 yards with water down the entire right side of the hole. The hole bends from left to right, and there is no room for error here and not much safet to be found laying up off the tee if you have hopes of eeking out a par.
The approach on 10 plays to a green perched precariously close to the water's edge with a long bunker left and water right. On this particular day, the hole was cut back-right on the green, making a challenging shot even more difficult. Fortunately, guided by Andy's experience, I was ble to play safely into the middle of the green and escape with a two-putt par.
The 11th hole -- a 525-yard par-5 -- doglegs in the opposite direction, moving from right to left with a tee shot that plays out and over dense vegetation and wetlands. There is room to bail out right, but doing so will make this hole a lot longer as the dogleg is nearly 90 degrees. If you get off the tee alright on this hole, there isn't a lot of trouble to be found as you march down the fairway -- mostly just sand as you approach the green. But do watch out for that panther lurking in the forest!
The next coupel of holes on the course -- 12 (pictured above) and 13 -- play over and among some of the largest bodies of water on the property. No. 12 is a par-4 where the fairway and green are one long island (not technically an island because of the small land bridge that connects it to the rest of the course, but effectively an island). And the approach shot is particularly intimidating as the green has not only three large bunkers left and short-right but is also virtually surrounded by water. Unless you've played to the extreme left of the fairway, there is not much opportunity to play a shot along the ground into this green, and you will have to challenge both water and sand in order to try to stick your shot anywhere close to the flag.
The 13th is a long par-3 (189 yards) that is all carry over the water. Players can bail out to the right, but they still may face a delicate shot over water or, at the very least, to a green with water beyond. This is a really fun par-3 that requires nerves of steel. I'm proud to say Andy and I both parred this one -- and though I'd birdied No. 7 (the Jurassic Gator hole), I think my 3 on 13 may have been my hole of the day given the degree of difficulty.
No. 14 is rated the hardest hole on the course -- a tough driving hole with water down the entire left side of the hole and dense woods to the right. The approach shot plays over the water, which cuts in from the left, making it an even more difficult shot for players whose drives have found the rights side of the hole and now must face a long shot that requires they carry the ball all the way to the green. At 408 yards, a drive up the left side of the fairway -- flirting with the water -- will offer the shortest shot into the green, but with the narrow green tucked between bunkers to the right and water on the left, there is just no let up in the challenge on this hole.
It's hard to think of a hole I didn't like at Legacy, and the back nine is filled with holes I really enjoyed (not at all because I played them particularly well). No. 16 is a fun par-5, measuring 536 yards. The tees are surrounded by water, which makes for a dramatic look even if the first shot isn't particularly danger-ridden. There is a fairway bunker out to the left, but the fairway is quite generous. Water down the entire right side of the hole does come into play, though, and will shape your strategy on your second (and likely third) shot(s).
After so much water, the 17th might feel almost like you've finally found some respite. But don't be fooled. Here it's the sand that'll get you! This mid-length par-3, a 165-yard hole, has sand seemingly everywhere. There is room to bail out right to a narrow bit of fairway, but the length between the tee and green is almost nothing but sand and some tall natural grasses that are even more trouble should an unlucky shot find its way into the vegetation. The shallow green is wide, but distance control is a premium, with more sand beyond the putting surface. Find the green off the tee; that's the only real option on this short hole.
The round at Legacy concludes with a tough, 408-yard par-4 that wraps around two lakes. From the tee, the fairway is angled from left-to-right, daring you to pick the most aggressive line you think you can safely play to make the hole play shorter than its length on the card.
Find the fairway, and you're still left with a long approach over water to a green tucked between bunkers left and right ... or a bail out to the fairway short and left of the green with hopes of setting up an easy pitch and putt on this closing hole. It's a really good risk-reward closing hole and I was delighted to see Andy drain a birdie putt here to cap a three-under par 69. My score was considerably higher, but we had such a great time that I didn't care in the least.
Andy (right) is a really, really good golfer and an even better guy. I had such a great time playing with him and was so grateful that he invited me out to play. I told my wife that evening that Andy is one of those guys I instantly felt like I would enjoy golfing with all the time were it not for the hundreds of miles and the international border between us. I was sorry I couldn't meet his wife, Sonja, who is also quite the golfer from what I understand. Unfortunately, Sonja was playing in rock star Alice Cooper's charity event in Arizona this particular week, and I guess I can understand choosing that over a round with me!
While I'm writing about this round, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Andy and Sonja lost their son a year or so ago to opioid drugs. I wouldn't mention their family tragedy here except for the opportunity to bring a bit more awareness to the awful crisis of opioid addiction and the terrible price that families everywhere pay when our loved ones become victims of these and other drugs. I am beyond impressed by the resilience of Andy and his family in the wake of such loss. I only share this with their permission. And I encourage you -- if you or a loved one are battling opioid addiction, seek help immediately. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control have information about available resources here. And in Canada, you can find information about the crisis and available resources here.
Big thanks to Legacy Golf Club's Head Golf Professional Wendi Patterson and PGA General Manager Kevin Paschall, along with all of the staff at the club, for their hospitality. And, of course, a huge thanks to Andy -- a wonderful new friend and golf partner. If you find yourself in the Lakewood Ranch area, be sure to schedule a round of golf at Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch. And, if you find yourself in or around Burlington, Ontario, be sure to stop and have a meal at Andy's restaurant, The Judge and Jury!
Have you played Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at email@example.com to let me know what you think of the course and club or even just of this blog post!