When Wisconsin Winter sets in, it can be challenging not to start daydreaming about somewhere warmer – a place more laidback, with beautiful views and ways to spend time outside… Especially if that time includes golf.
Like you, I’ve got places I daydream of, and one of those is Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Florida.
Streamsong was where my wife and I went on our first out-of-state vacation in 2015. While I played the Red and Blue courses in the mornings, she spent her time in the sun by the infinity pool, even having her own personal bartender at Hemy’s Poolside.
While the resort is significantly more family-oriented and a bit busier, overall, these days – there are now plenty of non-playing better halves and their kids at the pool during late mornings and early afternoons – it’s still got that cool, relaxed vibe we loved.
This past December, we were able to leave our 3- and 4-year-old at their Nana and Papa’s near The Villages and get away for a few days at Streamsong. To say we were excited would be an understatement. As anyone who has little kids, especially during the Winter months in the Midwest can attest to, it’s not easy, and a resort like Streamsong can be just the remedy you need.
The last time I’d been to Streamsong was in January of 2018, when I was able to sneak away for a round on the Tom Doak-designed Blue course with a couple friends from North Hills while attending the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
The Gil Hanse-designed Black course had just opened at the time, so there was no chance of getting near it during the hectic PGA week. I’ve been looking at pictures and commentary on it now for years, and finally was able to play it myself during our recent visit.
Streamsong Black is the ideal golf course for a player like myself who tends to spray the ball a bit off the tee. It’s wide, fast fescue fairways and massive greens mean there’s a lot of room for error, as long as you can get out of the sand and putt reasonably well.
This is similar to the Mammoth Dunes course at Sand Valley. While it’s not easy to lose golf balls at either course, the fun is found in the angles and choices, and in the wild putting surfaces.
Developed by The Mosaic Company on the site of a former phosphate mine (hence the name of its P2O5 Restaurant, for example), Streamsong has anything but your average Florida golf courses. There are no homes to be found anywhere, and its rugged terrain is fraught with exposed expanses of sand and unbridled nature.
Its ponds teem with large fish and turtles, and huge alligators. I’m told they have monsters well over 12 feet that can hold up tee times coming downhill from the first hole of the Coore & Crenshaw-designed Red course.
I’ve always loved everything marine animal-related (I’ve been PADI certified since I was 11 and dreamt of being a marine biologist as a kid), so to me spending time out back of the Blue/Red clubhouse watching the pond that connects those courses’ signature holes (the par three Blue 7th and Red 16th) is therapeutic.
While Streamsong is a walking-only facility in the mornings, carts can be utilized during the afternoon. With Kelly joining, we set things up with a cart and were paired with Matt, Jeff and Jason from Michigan.
I tend to get lucky when it comes to playing partners. In fact, I can only think of a couple times I’ve ever been disappointed with [previously unknown to me] folks I’ve been paired up with. This was not one of those times. We had a blast with the Michigan guys, as well as with our forecaddie, Robby, aka Big Country.
If you’re playing at Streamsong, especially on the Red or Black course, take a caddie. And, if you’re able to, request Big Country. BC is one of those larger-than-life characters you come across from time to time in golf; he’s got just the right combination of a big, positive personality, adeptness for his job and great willingness to help that truly enhances the on-course experience.
Along with Erin Hills caddie Julius Germany (my #1 all-time) and former Streamsong jock Noah Zelnik (now at Moccasin Wallow in Palmetto, FL), Big Country makes my Mount Rushmore of top caddies.
The Black course at Streamsong has terrific scale, using the terrain’s natural elements dramatically. Great examples of this come early and often, including on the short par four second hole, which introduces the course’s best photo backdrop: The windmill.
Hanse’s routing uses the windmill as a backdrop often on the front nine, which utilizes a significantly larger, more sprawling footprint than its inward holes. Overall, the property the Black course was developed on is ~ 300 acres – a huge plot of land, yet merely a drop in the bucket at the 16,000-acre Streamsong resort.
Interestingly, the early portion of Hanse’s work on the Black course coincided with time spent on the Olympic Course in Rio De Janeiro. The two projects were in stark contrast to one another: The Olympic Course was designed on a small piece of land, was fraught with drama and politics and took forever to get done. Streamsong’s Black course, on the other hand, was with an efficient, seasoned development partner in Mosaic who was able to help usher the project along efficiently. The project’s entire timeline was accelerated, from its early 2015 announcement to its late-Summer 2017 debut. Things obviously went less smoothly in Rio.
One of the top architects in the golf industry today, Hanse’s work is well-revered for its strategic, minimalistic design elements. With wide fairways, gargantuan green complexes (averaging over 11,000 square feet) and terrific use of land movement, the Black course embodies that sentiment beautifully.
A few of my favorite holes
A major challenge toward the start of your round, the third plays around 400 yards with a long carry over a creek to get home in two. I hit my best long iron of the day on this hole, only to three-putt for bogey.
While I hit one of my best drives of the round on four, it was also the only ball I lost.
Taking photos before teeing off, I didn’t pay enough attention to BC and thought I’d aim between the split-fairways and would be in good shape. I hit the dreaded straight ball, though, perfectly between the two fairways (exactly where I aimed) and directly into the creek.
Regardless, this is an awesome golf hole. I love split fairways, to start, and love that Hanse made the choice between going for the lower or upper one so important.
Hitting from the lower fairway means going incredibly uphill, and 100% blind on the second or third shot. While the second from the left/upper fairway is also partially blind, it should be significantly easier and with more room for error.
Either way, he stretches players out on the fourth hole – 601 from the tips and 581 from the black tees (during an uphill march) – forcing them to hit their longest club on the setup shot.
This green is crazy, by the way: Massive, and with all kinds of intense internal mounding. This was one of my favorite green complexes on the entire course and I wish I’d’ve had the opportunity to fly my drone over it.
One of the true signature holes on the Black course, the fifth is a mid-range par three that plays way uphill to another oversized green complex.
The miss here is left. Anything short and right is bound to be well below the putting surface in the huge bunker that frames the hole so well.
All the courses at Streamsong have at least one great short par three. The Blue course has the fifth, the Red has the eighth and the Black course has two: The seventh and fifteenth.
Surrounded on all sides by steep drop-offs and blow-out bunkers, the seventh forces players to hit an exacting tee shot or pay the consequences through challenging sand play.
Maybe the craziest green on the entire course is found on the eighth. A long par four, the hole culminates with a deep front-to-back ribboned green that is one of the largest on property.
If I had to guess, I’d bet this complex is at least 25,000 square feet of MiniVerde Hybrid Bermuda grass.
The great greens continue on the ninth – one of the most fun punchbowls I’ve played:
The tenth is an interesting hole layout with exemplary cross-bunkering. Finding your line off the tee can be a bit of a challenge here, so be sure to lean on Big Country [or whoever’s caddying for you and your group] for his advice.
A phenomenal par five, the twelfth is one of my favorite holes on the Black course because of its great approach zone. Incoming shots need to carry a massive wasteland to a highly elevated green.
One of the signature holes on the course, the 14th is a drivable par four that’s to me reminiscent of the 14th at Bandon Trails. A lot of players have the length to hit this green, but holding it will be a whole ‘nother story.
The green on fourteen is tremendously crowned, with severe internal contours that lead shots wayward in all directions, and ultimately off the sides.
I’d argue that the fifteenth is the most charming of the Black course’s one-swing holes. A short par three tipped out at 131 yards, the green is again the star of this show.
A wide from left to right, shallow from front to back green complex that from the edges appears fairly flat (for Streamsong Black), two ridges bisect the middle of the putting surface both latitudinally and longitudinally. The result is almost like four distinct half-bowls that can all be pinned – it’s a really unique setup I can’t recall ever having seen before.
Another fun, creative par three, the seventeenth plays over wasteland to an enormous green cut into the bottom of a side hill. The hill, which three of us utilized, can be used to propel shots onward, similar to a reverse redan.
From 189 yards, all three of us were within 15 feet of the pin after playing bank shots that rode the hill.
Every great golf course needs a memorable finale, and the Black’s eighteenth is one of the best finishing holes you’ll find anywhere. A beast of a par five, it’s only reachable for the longest of hitters, so position is key especially when strategizing on the approach.
The third shot will almost always be over water – a deep chasm well below the playing surface that then leads upward past a steep bunker face to a plateaued ribbon green.
Similar to the fourteenth at Erin Hills, there are portions of the green surrounds that can be used as a backstop, but it also has plenty of overgrowth and several traps that can result in challenging downhill recoveries.
The eighteenth is just another of many unique and dramatic hole layouts on what I’d consider to be one of the most dramatic courses I’ve played.
One of the top golf destinations in the country, and the entire world, Streamsong is the perfect escape for the cold Wisconsin Winter months, and it will only get better as they recently announced a fourth course being developed onsite during January’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
The new Coore/Crenshaw-designed 18-hole short course will measure roughly 3,500 yards, and will be just steps from the lodge’s front doors offering a quicker, more accessible playing experience for guests. Click on the image or caption for more on that project’s announcement:
The 2017 addition of the Black course at Streamsong gives the resort a course for all golf enthusiasts:
- Coore & Crenshaw’s Red course has the most wow-factor and is its most challenging layout – it’s tougher off the tee, but slightly less benign on the greens
- Doak’s Blue course offers a lot of forgiveness off the tee, but has some of the wildest greens; I think it’s the best overall course at Streamsong
- Hanse’s Black course is wide open with the best use of elevation and “big features” – it’s the most dramatic of the layouts with a lot of memorable holes and strategic features
I love courses that are unique, and the par 73 Black course at Streamsong is certainly that. Filled with drama, long sightlines and the perfect combination of rugged design and smooth contours, it’s a world-class golf experience at a world-class resort, and one that every time I visit I can’t wait to get back to again.
Location: Streamsong, FL
Yardage: Green-7320, Black-6747, Silver-6226
Slope/Rating: Green-135/74.7, Black-130/72.0, Silver-125/69.5