Course Reviews/Travel

Country Club of Winter Haven PDF Print E-mail

By Jason Bruno



Formerly known as Lake Region Yacht and Country Club, the original 1950 Dave Wallace design was

in dire need of a facelift,  so new ownership made the decision to bring in the "Open Doctor" Rees

Jones to do the $4 million redesign. Jones' had no intention on turning CCWH into a severe Major

Championship layout like his work at Atlanta Athletic Club, Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines South.

In fact, he went for a more subtle and classic design style. "It's going to be a course playable for

all levels of players," Jones said. "It will walk easily. It will be a good nature walk. I don't think

anywhere around here can emulate what we are doing."


Country Club of Winter Haven is located in central Florida approx. 50 miles from Orlando, just northeast

of Streamsong Resort and a tad Northwest of Seth Raynor's 1916 gem - Mountain Lake.

The 434 yard par 4 - third, is easily one my favorite holes on the new Rees Jones design. The 
tee shot moves left to right through mature Live Oaks, the approach requires a well struck mid
iron to a green that has Lake Hamilton as the backdrop . . . simply a gorgeous site.
Although Jones' redesign is a fresh new look, it has a classic old school vibe and style. The
property at the Country Club of Winter Haven offers great variety, the mature oaks that line many
of the fairways offer beauty and require shot shaping ability . . . but the approaches tend to
be more open to angled and slightly elevated greens, requiring a test of trajectory control.

Flighting your irons correctly is the key to scoring well at CCWH.

The 523 yard par 5 - 9th hole. The narrow well protected green requires absolute precision . . . the
edges have steep fall-offs that funnel any mediocre shot into Jones' well positioned bunkers. Take note
of the wind here, as this is the most exposed portion of the property at Country Club of Winter Haven.

The longest hole on Rees Jones' 7021 yard layout, is the 11th at 555 yards.

The 14th is another beauty that dares you to thread the tee shot between the Oaks and fairway
bunkers, longer hitters who dare to carry it over the edge of the tree line . . .

are rewarded with a short pitch to another surface framed by the Lake Hamilton. Notice the steep
grass banks outlining the bunkers at CCWH, very similar to Raynor's 1916 design at nearby Mountain
The Country Club of Winter Haven is certainly one of the lesser known gems of the Central Florida
golf landscape, but after the Rees Jones' redo, it's sure to get noticed. The intention was to install
classic charm into a new design, and that's not easy to do . . . all while updating the playing
conditions and presenting a great test of golf for today's modern player and equipment - Mission
accomplished, kudos to Rees Jones.

To find out more about the Country Club of Winter Haven:






Grand Opening - Trump National Doral PDF Print E-mail


By Jason Bruno

Bleachers are going up around the new amphitheatre that serves as the backdrop for the 9th

& 18th holes, this new vantage point will certainly provide a new level of excitement at this

years WGC Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral.




Donald Trump hit the first official tee shot on Thursday, February 6th 2014

Miami, Florida - On a sunny and humid February morning, Donald Trump unveiled his latest

golf conquest - the revitalization of the famed Blue Course, now known as Trump National

Doral - Blue Monster. Perfect timing for a major course Grand Opening . . .  with much of the

nation blitzed by winter weather, the golf media came out in droves for a sight and a spin

around Trump's new Florida beauty (Trump's group which included European Tour player -

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano played right behind my group).

The par 5 - 1st on the Blue Monster had previously been the easiest hole on tour, with Gil

Hanse's new design, the 578 yd 1st is now a legit par 5.



During the unveiling, Donald Trump stated that he could have moved a few tees, put a fresh

coat of semi-gloss on the clubhouse and mailed it in . . . but that's not his style. He's invested

250 million in the property which includes the Hanse re-design of the Blue Monster, a complete

restructuring of the clubhouse, including a new ballroom, and a complete redo of the resort villas

(named after six of the games greats).





Perhaps the most overlooked improvement, is the new practice area & driving range complete

with L.E.D lighting for night practice (the first of it's kind). The old range and practice area at

Doral wasn't even worthy of a muni-amateur championship, not to mention a World Golf

Championship . . . that upgrade might please the tour professionals more than any other when

they arrive in March.



The 430 yard 6th is an example of Hanse's skilled bunker work



Gil Hanse was thrilled, “This is one of the most exciting projects that I have ever had

the privilege to work on. The property itself, being all sand based, is very unusual and unique

and a tremendous asset for a golf course. On top of it all, its location, in the middle of Miami,

is unprecedented."

The six holes on the Blue Monster that have the most significant design changes: 1, 8, 9, 10, 15,

& 16 (the approach on the 8th pictured below)

I went for the green after a big tee shot, and was pin high in the middle right bunker. . . would

have been better off layin up. The sand on the right is no bargain with the green sloping towards

the water. Brilliant design by Hanse, he suckers you into thinking if you play safe into the sand

it's an easy up and down for birdie. Once you arrive at the green complex you realize you went for

the "fools gold" (lesson learned). Note Trump's new heli-pad between the 8th green & 9th tee -

"The Donald" likes to make a grand entrance, and nothing does that quite like a chopper flying

into the middle of the arena.


The re-worked 10th is now the longest hole on the Blue at 608 yards.





The once short 11th is now 428 from the tips.




The new 340 yard 16th on the Blue Monster will still give the big hitters a chance to get home.




Other noteworthy changes at Trump National Doral include a newly designed hotel lobby; a

completely new and remodeled swimming complex known as The Royal Palm Pool, featuring

a lush landscape and an expansive patio design along with 22 lavish cabanas; over 100,000

square feet of six elegant indoor and outdoor premier event venues; Clubhouse improvements

with an incredible new golf shop - one of the largest in the Country and added modern locker

room facilities; a celebrated 48,000 square foot resort spa with over 100 signature spa

treatments and services; and a fully redesigned state of the art fitness center. Additionally, all

new restaurant and bar concepts will be introduced to the property in early 2014, including the

critically acclaimed BLT Prime, which will welcome guests for the first time during WGC- Cadillac

Championship tournament week.



This certainly is not your Grandpa's Doral, but dare I say it's WAY better in every facet . . .

even with construction still going on around the clock, the resort never looked better. I'm not

normally a fan of tearing apart classic course designs, but Dick Wilson's layout had fallen

victim to the modern era of the game, and yet somehow I think he'd approve of Gil Hanse's

re-design (I sure do). At a beastly 7,510 yards now, the Blue is once again a Monster . . .

and a really exciting one at that.



For more info:










Orange County National - Panther Lake PDF Print E-mail


By Jason Bruno


Orange County National, or as it is referred to in Central Florida vernacular simply - OCN, is a 36 hole

golf club and lodge that is ALL golf (not many courses in Orlando can make that claim), it's not affiliated

with any theme park or hotel chain . . . just 365 days a year of pure golf. There are no home sites on the

property, which makes for a serene experience on the links . . . and also is very unique quality for a profile

public course in the Sunshine State. The 360 degree driving range and practice area is as good as any

public facility I've seen. Many top instructors are and have been affiliated with the learning center at OCN,

including Phil Ritson and Sean Foley.



Orange County National's 184 yd par 3 - fourth at Panther Lake



Panther Lake's sister course, Crooked Cat is the perfect "B side" to it's more well known sibling, and if

you're mature enough to know what a "B side" is, it's not uncommon for the obscure to be preferred

by some. I would refer to Crooked Cat as a "sleeper", and wouldn't argue with anyone who actually

prefers it over it's feline relative. Hopefully we'll get a chance to return soon to do a proper review of CC.



Photo courtesy of

Crooked Cat's par 3 - fifteenth (par 3 thirteenth green in the background).




Every once in awhile we'll do a course review without the management having knowledge of our presence,

it's a great way of evaluating the service and conditions . . . and since we heard about new ownership

(Celebration Golf management) recently taking over one of our favorite Central Florida venues, we had

to make the trek. My usual accomplice Scott Baker and Orlando local/Disney Company staffer James

Sofia were aboard for this session around Panther Lake.


Panther Lake was designed by Isao Aoki and David Harmon back in 1997, and has since hosted

the PGA Tour Q-school finals on four separate occasions, the last of which was in 2010. In 2011,

OCN did a complete greens renovation on Panther Lake using Champion Bermuda, which in my

opinion along with Mini Verde is the best of the new hybrid dwarf Bermuda varieties being used.


The two nines at Panther Lake are significantly different, aside from the first two holes, the front

is flat-ish Florida terrain. The back nine rolls up and down and side to side, testing every facet of

your game.




The 228 yard - par 3 eleventh grabs your attention, club selection is everything here.




The best par 4 on Panther Lake is the slight uphill thirteenth, when you stand on this tee box it

looks and feels very reminiscent of Pinehurst, North Carolina. The corridor of Pine and Oak is just

gorgeous. Playing 440 yards uphill from the tips, you'll need two good ones here to reach the small

well undulated green.




The 624 yard dogleg right par 5 -fourteenth, is another gorgeous design that tempts you to bomb it

over the corner, regardless of which tee you hit from, resist temptation and use the wide landing area,

a perfect aiming point is the utility pole down the right center (visible in the background).




With new tees added, the Par 3- 15th played nearly a deuce at 193 yards (from the back tees it plays

227 yards). The one shotters at OCN are varied, scenic and require precision.





From one box up, the par 4 sixteenth plays 420 yards, a big tee shot will leave a short iron, but

be precise with your approach or bogey is likely.



The 167 yard par 3 - seventeenth, check out the sadistic pin location, if you look closely you can see

the ridge that bisects this huge green . . . anything short of the top tier will suck all the way back down

the slope, leaving a near impossible two putt. Considering the hole location was only a few paces from

the back edge, long was dead. Standing on the box -1 for the day, greed took over (of course I went

for it), hit too much stick and ended up in the back left bunker . . . Seve would've had a tough time

getting up and down from there. Fools gold I tell ya . . . insert fool = bogey.


After the round we had dinner and watched football inside the OCN clubhouse. The service all day was

superb, the playing conditions top notch and the company made it all a day to remember . . . can't wait

to get back to Orlando and take a spin on the "B side".



For more info on OCN:








BallenIsles East PDF Print E-mail


Story and photos by Jason Bruno


Back in 1971, things weren't so regimented when it came to major championship scheduling. In fact

when the PGA Championship rolled into West Palm Beach that year, it was in February. Yep, February.

That meant the 1970 PGA and the 1971 PGA were played as back to back majors, what a novel idea.

Florida weather in August (Yuck) was the reasoning behind the move, and since television contracts

didn't rule the world back then, the PGA of America decided to host their major during winter at their

headquarters in South Florida.


The original PGA National Golf Club (1964-1973), now known as the East Course at BallenIsles was the

venue. The Dick Wilson/Joe Lee design hosted not only the PGA Championship (won by Jack Nicklaus by

two over Billy Casper), but also the Senior PGA Championship from 1966-1973 and the World Cup of Golf.


BallenIsles East is to this day "under the radar" in golf saturated South Florida, rarely mentioned among

the elite venues in Palm Beach, the East Course does not have the unique topography of Seminole or

Jupiter Hills Club, but it's design will test ball strikers of the highest order. In 2008, the East was redone

by Keith Foster. Foster's big bold flash face bunkers stand out on this lengthened 7,189 yard layout.

BallenIsles is located in the heart of Palm Beach Gardens, just a 5 iron east of PGA Headquarters and

across the street from Old Palm Golf Club (the new home of Lee Westwood).


There is 54 holes of golf at BallenIsles, Joe Lee's North Course is undergoing a complete re-design, and

the South Course which originally opened as a 9 holer in 1964, expanded to 18 under Lee in 1970. The

South which is a favorite among the members, was re-designed by Gene bates in 2000.


The 398 yard first is a slight dogleg right par 4, the fairway contours add variety and aesthetics, the

sand is abundant and bold on the East, precision is required here.




The approach on the 431 yard second, the sand and green complex here remind me of Tillinghast's






The 192 yard - par 3 sixth, although not usually in play here, the waste area provides a great

visual and a useful element for drainage.




The par 5 eighth, once again Foster uses a waste area coupled with standard bunkering . . . no pushover

par 5 here.




The par 4 - tenth, once again the green complex is slightly elevated and well guarded. Club selection

is pivotal here, anything short here has the chance of coming back down the hill.





Another example of creative bunkering, this time on the par 3 eleventh.





The short par 4 - fifteenth, just a short wedge approach, but notice the contours surrounding this

green - falloffs everywhere . . . miss the green and the odds are against you saving par. This surface

is among the most undulating on the course.




The 184 yard par 3 - sixteenth plays slightly downhill





The daunting tee shot on the 18th, water guards the left side of this fairway, as well as the front

of the green. Bail outs right will leave a brutal approach from the fairway bunker. . . the prevailing

wind here is in your face and slightly from the right . . . a great white knuckle finisher.



The East is on my shortlist of favorite courses in my hometown of West Palm. Kudos to Director of

Golf Brian Kelley and his staff on the great environment & service at BallenIsles.



BallenIsles is a private facility managed by Troon Golf. For more info:




Black tee 72 74.2 137 7,120
Blue tee 72 72.0 132 6,774
Front Nine
Black tee 398 431 563 170 396 218 551 450 361 3538
Blue tee 384 414 545 151 377 195 519 418 349 3352
Par 4 4 5 3 4 3 5 4 4 36
Back Nine
Black tee 417 229 510 400 450 377 184 590 425 3582
Blue tee 397 206 495 386 427 361 168 577 405 3422
Par 4 3 5 4 4 4 3 5 4 36









Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course - Laredo, Texas PDF Print E-mail


story and photos By Jason Bruno

The 18th green at "The Max"




Max A. Mandel was a successful Laredo businessman who had a deep love affair with his city. He

was proud of his city's multi-cultural heritage and dedicated 50 years to his community.

Mr.Mandel passed away in 2002, but his legacy lives on . . . his family decided to honor him by

donating 390 acres of his land (with spectacular views bordering the Rio Grande), a million dollars,

and water rights to build a world class golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II. "The Max"

has been built not only as championship layout to attract golfers from Texas and beyond, but more

importantly to grow the game in the community of Laredo.

The Max A Mandel Municipal Golf Course in Laredo had a celebration last week commemorating the

opening of their new 9,000 sq ft clubhouse and introducing the new Robert Trent Jones II layout

to the golf media. Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez (pictured above with Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas) was

the guest of honor for the opening.





The new clubhouse





The back view of the new clubhouse




Located along the Rio Grande, "The Max" is situated on 270 acres.





The RTJ II design features 5 sets of tees that vary from 4,759 yards to 7,069 yards.

On the 454 yard dogleg right first hole, RTJ II tests the best players right out of the gate (from the back

tees). From the blue tees he eases you into the round where it plays only 347 yards.



The first fairway angles left to right towards the arroyo





The right fairway bunker frames the par 4 second hole





The 315 yard fourth hole, favor the right side, it's the best angle for the short approach.





If you go for the fourth green from the tee and pull your drive, this is what you'll face.





The 451 yard fifth starts with a blind tee shot, favor the right side here - the left edge of the bunker

is the ideal line here.





RTJ II didn't have to move much earth to create "The Max", here at the fifth, the contours blend

well with the native vegetation.





The shortest hole on the front nine is the par 3 sixth, at only 157 yards from the tips, the premium

here is finding the correct portion of this green . . . long will leave a severe downhill putt.





The 462 yard par 4 eighth plays straight into the prevailing wind, this brute will require your two best

knocks, even at two tees up it plays 418 yards.





The eighth green is large with subtle undulations, RTJ II designed the course to be challenging but also

very playable for the average golfer . . . you won't see much in the way of hazards or OB stakes at

"The Max".





The 210 yard ninth is the longest and toughest of the par 3's at the Max A Mandel Golf Course.

Also into the prevailing breeze, this green is slightly elevated and will repel anything that isn't

precisely struck.





The 511 yard (blue tees) tenth (pictured above) was my favorite par 5 on the course. RTJ II's

splendid use of the varied terrain at "The Max" is displayed here on the 10th. The tee ball must thread

between the Mesquite trees that frame the downhill tee shot, this will position you in the narrow

valley facing an uphill semi-blind shot some 200+ yards away . . .  a great chance to reach the green in

two. The putting surface is wide but shallow and tilts from left to right (Picture below).





Although reachable, the tenth green is well guarded with sand short and long.





The 167 yard par 3 twelfth is a perfect example of RTJ II and his design team's use of the land and the

existing tree canopy.





The one shotters at "The Max" are it's strength and the fifteenth might be the crown jewel, at only

138 yards from the tips, this beauty plays across a small canyon, and although it's the shortest hole

at "The Max", it requires proper club selection - long is dead, and short is a tough par save. Depending

on tee and pin placement, the tall Mesquite tree can pose an obstacle to mishit shots.





view from the front tee on the 15th





The scenic vistas along the Rio Grande (from the 16th tee).





Clay bunkers are the norm in this region - the fairway bunker on the 422 yard sixteenth shown here.





The seventeenth is a 90 degree dogleg right that plays downwind, blow your tee shot over the boundary

fence and you'll be left with a short/mid iron into this par 5.




Perhaps the most prevalent arroyo at "The Max" is here at the 18th hole, Mark Voss of RTJ II designs

disclosed to us that they lengthened the arroyo here into the fairway landing area not only for aesthetics

but also to create a more challenging tee shot - the left side can be carried by the longest hitters, and

leaves the shortest approach. Most players would be wise to favor the right side of this uneven fairway.





The approach from the right side of the fairway on the 426 yard finisher


"The Max" has already garnered acclaim, being named the 40th best Muni in the U.S for 2013

(Golfweek Magazine).


Special thanks to the City of Laredo, OnCourse Strategies, and Jason Veretto from Back9

Network (for enduring 36 holes in the 100+ temps on media day).



To learn more about the Max A. Mandel Municipal Golf Course:








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