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Course Critic

The tale of two nines at North Shore Golf Club

The back nine is a beautiful combination of oaks and hazards.
Photo: Ron Whitten

By Ron Whitten exclusive

Golf Digest's Ron Whitten, the preeminent golf course architecture critic, will review a course each week for

I recently asked someone about the new North Shore Golf Club in Orlando, a public course just a few minutes southeast of the Orlando International Airport. "Too bad the front side isn't as good as the back," he said.

Having now seen North Shore, I respectfully disagree. The front is different from the back, but that doesn't make it a worse nine. Yes, the opening hole is a drivable par 4 of just 301 yards (264 from the regular tees), but it doesn't slow up play if you simply wait to tee off until after the group ahead has putted out. (If anything, it helps spread out play.)

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  • Yes, the front nine was created from old pastureland, has power lines sizzling along its edges and an elevated turnpike along its far flank. Yes, a bridge overpass is the backdrop to the stout-hearted 235-yd. par-3 sixth hole. (A rather artfully-positioned backdrop, I might add. I think the sixth green was put where it is specifically to be framed by the overpass in the background.)

    But that doesn't make it a bad nine.

    Some would argue that it's an ugly front side, compared to North Shore's second nine, a stunner that has all but two holes woven through an inspiring forest of old oak trees. I'd agree that the front wasn't blessed with the same attributes as the back (few courses in Orlando are), but I'd counter that there's really more golf architecture on the front than the back.

    As it should be. Any architect worth his price (and Mike Dasher is worth more) knows how to enhance things when Mother Nature doesn't provide enough. Dasher, a former Art Hills associate who lives in Orlando and recently designed the underrated Highlands Reserve course southwest of the city, was especially creative on North Shore's front side. He provided lots of challenging green contours and surrounded them with interesting chipping areas, so the greens, particularly the one on the par-5 seventh, are reminiscent of the domed ones at Pinehurst No. 2. He used wetlands and ponds wisely, as lateral hazards that can be carried by those wishing to cut off yardage and avoided by those less adventuresome. His use of sand was anything but ordinary. Gentle manmade sand dunes edge the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth. He placed a target "carry" bunker in the center of the fairway on the 367-yd. fifth hole, and has a great set of diagonal bunkers off the tee on the fourth. The long par-3 sixth I've already mentioned. It is counterbalanced by the 138-yd. eighth, over a pond to a diagonal green. I suspect Dasher intended this as a mirror-image tribute to the 12th at Augusta National.

    Agreed, the back nine is gorgeous. It has that Deep South plantation look and feel to it. Hemmed in by ancient oaks, the 12th fairway is probably not much wider than Magnolia Drive leading to Augusta National's clubhouse. The 525-yd. gentle dogleg-left 15th, down a corridor of oak to a green edged by a pond, may be the prettiest hole I've seen in years.

    But architecturally, those holes were no-brainers. Dasher should be complimented for not screwing them up, but he'd be the first to admit those holes didn't tax his architectural skills nearly as much as the ones he created on the front nine, the ones some people seem to gloss over, so dazzled are they by the beauty of the back.

    Good architecture is more than cosmetics. It should include it, but it should encompass much more. North Shore does.

    North Shore isn't perfect. It feels rather awkward having a boulevard between the clubhouse and the practice range and first tee. As housing develops around the 18, I suspect a lot of the beauty, especially on the back nine, will get compromised. But in the highly competitive golf market that is Orlando, it's worth seeking out. It has just as much variety as other new layouts like ChampionsGate and Mystic Dunes, and at a fraction of the cost.

    The Verdict

    The course deserves a better name. It's not really on the north shore of anything. Lake Hart is somewhere to the southeast, but not visible from the course. Luckily, I don't rate courses on the accuracy of their names.

    On Golf Digest's 10 point scale (1 being Unacceptable, 5 being Good, 10 being Absolutely Perfect), I rate North Shore Golf Club a 6.5.

    The Details

    North Shore Golf Club
    11507 North Shore Golf Club Blvd.
    Orlando, Fla. 32832
    For tee times: 407-277-9277
    Green fees: $59 weekdays, $65 weekends. Resident rates are less.
    Walking allowed anytime.

    Do you have a question for Ron? Send your inquiries to with the word "Whitten" in the subject field.

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