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Bearable bunkers beckon

By Steve Elling | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted July 30, 2003

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An occasional series examining new area courses.

  • Eagle Dunes Golf Club

  • PARTICULARS: 6,588 yards (men's gold tees), par 72.

  • DESIGNER: Mike Dasher, Winter Park.

  • OPENED: June 2003.

  • GREENS: Tifeagle Bermuda.

  • COST: $25 Monday-Thursday, $30 Friday-Sunday (after 2 p.m., price drops $5).

  • STATUS: Public course with residential development.

  • LOCATION: 24000 Marbella Dr., Sorrento.

  • PHONE: 352-357-0123.

    SORRENTO -- Visually, the site where architect Mike Dasher constructed Eagle Dunes Golf Club looks more like Scottish linksland than typical Florida flatland.

    There are rolling sand dunes, plenty of natural gunch alongside the fairways and a pronounced paucity of trees. The wind kicks up a good bit, too.

    "All that's missing is the ocean," Dasher said.

    Actually, when Dasher -- a designer based in Winter Park -- signed on to build the new Lake County course, which opened last month, there was little water on the site at all. That's a far cry from the old days on the property. Back when the area was considered extremely remote, the former property owner, the late Conway Kittridge, erected a block house as a weekend fishing retreat. Lake Kitty, named after Kittridge himself, meandered through the grounds.

    "They say he used to fly a float plane in here on weekends," Dasher said.

    For those who like their socks and golf balls dry, Eagle Dunes operates on a different plane altogether. Flotation devices won't be required.

    While some wetland areas actually were reconstructed -- which doesn't happen every day in swamp-happy Florida -- water only comes into play on three holes. In other words, the course name says it all.

    You will be hunkered in bunkers. Beachcombers and master sand blasters will love the place because there are more sandy waste areas, traps and bunker complexes than any course in the region. In terms of visuals, it's reminiscent of Orlando's ChampionsGate's International Course and Orange County National, or the nearby Black Bear Golf Club in Eustis.

    That isn't to say it's unduly punitive, by any stretch. The waste bunkers are firm, allowing players a reasonable chance of reaching the green, and are easier to escape than the rough in many instances. In fact, the developers hammered the fairness issue home with Dasher on a daily basis.

    "The key is user-friendly," said Dasher, whose area courses include the well-regarded North Shore and Highlands Reserve layouts. "In fact, 'user-friendly' was the word from
    Day 1."

    There are only a couple of holes where players can't roll the ball onto the super-pure Tifeagle Bermuda greens. During the course opening June 10, Dasher skidded a low hook onto one of the greens, prompting a playing partner to crack, "Dasher, you must have designed this course for yourself."

    "Me and 99 percent of the rest of the people who play the game," Dasher responded.

    The front nine presents an interesting mix, both visually and in terms of playability. The second hole is the toughest on the course, a rough par 4 of 440 yards, while No. 4 will woo anybody with an ounce of testosterone and nerve. At 270 yards from the gold tees -- which measure 6,588 yards in all -- it's easily reachable for many players, assuming they thread their drive around the yawning bunker guarding the front of the green.

    "When I first saw the course, I wasn't a fan of No. 4," general manager Allen Self said. "It's only 315 yards from all the way back. But we've found the good players and middle-handicappers really like it. It entices players to bite off more than they can chew."

    The course already is in digestible shape -- for some, anyway. PGA Tour star Chris DiMarco dropped by two weeks after the opening and shot a course-record 63.

    "I'm guessing that mark will stand for a while," Self said.

    There's a nice stand of trees on No. 6, probably the most scenic hole in terms of backdrop and framing. The tee shot must be drilled through a goalpost-style set of tree stands on both sides of the fairway.

    Almost without exception, the course presents few surprises in terms of blind shots or hit-it-and-hope forced carries, which should make it popular with the occasional visitor or elderly player.

    "There's not a lot of tricks out there," Self said. "You don't find yourself saying, 'Boy, now that I know how to play it, I'd do it differently.'"

    Excepting the 10th hole, that is. A lake is situated in the fairway landing area, and first-time players are left to guess how far they should carry their tee shot, or whether driver is the correct club. It's a minor nit, but one that should be addressed. Otherwise, most players can bash away with their drivers with relative impunity.

    "It's a golf course where you won't lose a lot of balls," Self said. "If you shoot 92 out here, it's not because you had 10 penalty strokes."

    Nope, only because you didn't have the grit to survive the sand dunes.

    Steve Elling's golf column appears Wednesday. He can be reached at

    Keep'n Score

    2003 Orlando Sentinel Communications