To have grown up in Ocala and many parts of central Florida is to own memories of people and places that now reside solely in the minds a select few “natives.”
Black Bear number 17.
Independent Football League games at Webb Stadium, a Hasty Green Cubs game at Gehrig Field, the metal horseman guarding Peter Dinkel’s Restaurant, a high-noon shootout at Six Gun Territory—all iconic images of vintage Ocala for a member of the 40-something set.
Fortunately for the golfer, images of yesterday remain tangible. Attempting to revisit the memories of dinner and theater at Burt Reynolds’ Encore! will put you at the pump of a BP station, but a golfer hoping to revisit the site of his first birdie needs only a tee time to find himself on that familiar sacred soil.
So, to ponder one’s favorite holes may not simply be a matter of contemplating yardages, hazards, contours, or esthetics, but to recall those places where memories were born, nurtured, and may never be extinguished.
For this lifelong Central Floridian, born and raised in Ocala, the first stop on a tour of favorite holes takes you to “The Muni.” No, we don’t call it Ocala Golf Club, or even Ocala Municipal Golf Course—that’s for transplanted Yankees and anyone born after 1990. To us, it’s simply Muni, or Muni No. 1 if you’re a real native stickler.
We refer to the Muni where old Bill’s barking “At ease!” still echoes down the breezeway, where Lloyd Clifton sliced and diced Donald Ross’ pre-Depression nugget of history, where many an Ocala youth began to understand golf protocol and etiquette through the examples of Rudy Johnson and Jim and Joanne Yancey.
MUNI NO. 7, OCALA GOLF CLUB
3130 East Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala
It’s hard not to like a short par-5 and the Muni has much to offer in that respect. The seventh was always a true work of art before the 1987 redesign, albeit in a twisted sort of way. The tee box was located more to the west with the trees of the left-hand rough coming into play if one administered a fade. So, you had better known how to play a draw; this is where things got interesting.
RedTail number 18.
The old layout of the hole brought 36th Avenue traffic into play—the players were set up actually hitting toward the street. If you couldn’t draw the ball, you may have sent it through someone’s windshield.
Nowadays, the tee box does not set you up aiming at traffic, but the possibility of launching one into a windshield remains and can still strike fear into the lay golfer who struggles with the banana-slice trajectory.
Great par-5 holes render risk-reward options. Here at the seventh it’s slightly more reward than risk, but I’ve seen really good players score every number from two to 10 here and even several letters. I remember it was here on this short par-5, in the final round of the Henry N. Camp Invitational more than a decade ago, that Jim Williams III holed out a 4-iron for double eagle. Later he would claim, “I hit it thin.” (No, no one followed that up with the nauseating golf cliché, “thin to win.”)
Harbor Hills number 10.
‘A Formidable Challenge’
REDTAIL NO. 18, REDTAIL GOLF CLUB
26026 Member Lane, Sorrento
To be a strong course, one must have a strong finishing hole, and the 18th at RedTail fits the bill just fine, thank you. Like a New York Times crossword puzzle, many times I’ve started this hole with the best of intentions but failed to finish.
This long par-4, up the hill with hazard left to an elevated green, offers a formidable challenge, one from which I repeatedly refuse to back down. I feel like Cool Hand Luke—bloodied, battered, and sprawled out on the ground, everyone begging me to stay down, yet I keep getting back up only to be slugged again and again.
So, I return to RedTail simply waiting to see what happens to me on the 18th—carnage or jubilation?
A month after I played RedTail for the first time, I was asked what I remembered about it. All thoughts went to that dreaded 18th hole. The first 17 holes could have been lined with juggling bears riding unicycles, but still the 18th would monopolize all my recollections, stuck in my memory and my craw.
That’s just it about golfers—the challenge is the fun. No self-respecting golfer should enjoy a course that does not offer a challenge.
Some day I’ll meet that challenge. Some day.
Eagle Ridge number 4.
‘A Lasting Impression’
GOLDEN OCALA NO. 7, GOLDEN OCALA
8300 NW 31st Lane Road, Ocala
Golden Ocala is now a private club, but back in the day, it was the no-frills jewel of Marion County. For the purist, it was golf nirvana with a wrapped chicken salad sandwich at the turn.
We’d not seen anything like it here. The contour of the fairways and deep-faced bunkering, not to mention the replica holes, which became famous overnight, spawned replica courses around the country. You didn’t even start on No. 1, but on what I consider the best hole on the course, the par-5 seventh. Oh, the memories of driving down the dirt road to that old abandoned school house where the golf shop was located. The practice range was a weed-field of mismarked yardage signs and dirt piles while the course itself was completely hidden from view.
Waiting for your tee time was a bit like waiting in line at Space Mountain. You couldn’t see the ride itself, and that made the butterflies churn even harder in anticipation. You never saw a blade of Bermuda grass until the moment you made your way onto the first, er, seventh tee.
Today, the hole still creates a lasting impression. Most of the talk of Golden Ocala surrounds the replica holes, but the non-replica holes—especially the seventh—are veritable treasures as well.
‘Easy To Fall In Love’
HARBOR HILLS NO. 10, HARBOR HILLS
6538 Lake Griffin Road, Lady Lake
In any discussion about the best or favorite holes in the area, it’s practically cliché to write about the 10th at Harbor Hills. So, without shame, I write about the long par-4 with an 80-foot elevation change from the tee to the fairway. Standing atop Central Florida with Lake Griffin resting in the distance, it’s easy to fall in love with this hole.
Upon hitting the tee shot, it becomes easy to rue such a dysfunctional relationship. The scenic value of Harbor Hills No. 10 is unrivaled, but along with enjoying the view, one must also tolerate the double bogey—or worse—that seems inevitable here.
If you admire that beautiful subtle draw off the tee, you’ll likely have to swallow the ensuing drop from the water hazard hidden from view. A safe high fade will reward you with a long iron from a fairway bunker. All this thanks to that 80-foot drop that transforms draws into pull-hooks and fades into wicked slices.
There are two ways to be fortunate here. One, the tee shot lands in the fairway, or two, there happened to be some eye candy catching rays by the clubhouse pool directly behind you. Either way, you must still hit a golf shot.
But, hey, the view was nice.
Golden Hills number 4.
‘Very Little Margin
PINE OAKS SOUTH NO. 3, PINE OAKS OF OCALA
2201 NW 21st Street, Ocala
As golf holes go, the par-4 third at Pine Oaks’ South Course is nothing spectacular, although it does demand some good shot-making, especially the approach into an elevated two-tiered green with very little margin for error.
Beyond that, this hole claims a special place in Ocala’s golf annals, representing the original opening hole of what is referred to as Muni No. 2. Originally built as a nine-hole course for Ocala’s black population during the days of segregation, the course was redesigned in the 1980s and expanded to 27 holes, with large traces of the original nine hiding in the South Course layout.
Even these days, it’s hard to stand on the tee and not feel as though the old clubhouse is right there with all eyes upon you. You can hear the bantering of the old men who couldn’t care less if they’re conversing too loudly.
As soon as the new clubhouse and redesign took place, an era had been extinguished. But I like to think that standing on the tee of South No. 3, a small flicker remains.
‘A Unique Shot-Making Experience’
COUNTRY CLUB OF OCALA NO. 15,
COUNTRY CLUB OF OCALA
6823 SE 12th Circle, Ocala
A personal favorite aspect of any golf hole is that of teeing off out of a chute. When one plays the championship tees at the Country Club of Ocala, this experience comes to fruition at the par-4 15th.
Teeing off out of a chute carries with it a lot of weight for me in terms of golf enjoyment. I could tee off out of a chute into a landfill and be happy with the experience. Thankfully, this hole is a far cry from a landfill and offers a unique shot-making experience.
You must land your tee shot far enough down the fairway to reach a level hitting plateau and from there, steer your long-iron approach that protects the front middle of a kidney-shaped green. All the while, patrons back at the clubhouse bar have a clear view of your troubles and are likely to remind you of them upon your return.
Oh, yeah, did I mention the vortex left of the fairway? What was designed to be a drainage area looks like easy enough rough to negotiate. The problem is no one has ever found a ball hit in “The Bermuda Triangle.” My guess is that Art Bell will soon do a radio remote from this location and we may soon have our answers.
‘Bullets & Landmines’
BLACK BEAR NO. 17, BLACK BEAR GOLF CLUB
24505 Calusa Blvd., Eustis
Have you ever gone repelling at a golf course? This is possible at Black Bear on the par-4 17th. The hole plays something like 800 yards into a gale of Gitche Gumee proportions, and if that isn’t enough, the Cliffs of Dover await short right of the tee box.
If you hit your approach into the valley or over the green, be prepared to tie a monkey rope around your waist so your partners can haul you out. What a great location for a Columbia Sportswear commercial.
Keep in mind, this is no dogging of the hole. This is why I love it so. Patton loved the thrill of battle, Lee declared that it is fitting war is so dreadful lest we love it so, and I crave the bullets and landmines that Black Bear brings, notably on the 17th.
My fate here at the 17th has resulted in more visits from the Red Cross and St. Bernard search dogs than in smiles and high-fives.
GOLDEN HILLS NO. 4, GOLDEN
HILLS GOLF & TURF CLUB
4782 NW 80th Avenue, Ocala
I remember when the par-5 fourth at Golden Hills was easily reachable in two shots. Then somewhere along the way, Rees Jones came in and decided he needed a spot for this historic course to begin.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like the old days when a par-5 was still kind of like a par-4 and all sandwich wraps were called burritos.
Truth is, the hole is better now and Golden Hills is on the national map thanks to Jones’ brilliant design. He left the first three holes mainly in their original state: comfy starting holes where players pretty much decide not to make bogey and get their wish. But on the fourth, you go from the gums to the teeth and Golden Hills ceases to let up from that point.
Standing on the tee box, I simply drink in the view. It’s as though gazing to the northwest you can see for a hundred miles, meditating upon your glory for the last three holes, enjoying your last meal before they walk you down the Green Mile.
So, how do I play the hole? Drive right behind the oak tree, punch out the second cut, block out the approach right of the greenside bunker, chunk a wedge into that bunker, blast out to 25 feet, and three-putt. Solid triple bogey.
‘A Long Hole With A Deceptive Carry’
EAGLE RIDGE HERITAGE NO. 4, EAGLE
RIDGE HERITAGE GOLF COURSE
13605 Del Webb Blvd., Summerfield
The annual George Albright Scramble at Eagle Ridge provides one of the great settings in Ocala charity tournament golf. It’s the Heritage Course here, the par-3 fourth hole, that I look forward to every year.
On its own, the Terry Doss-designed hole is quite underrated by reputation in that it is a long hole with a deceptive carry over water. (Play it to find out what that actually means.) But what I like best is the peel-and-eat shrimp, coolers of beer, and fishing-boat hole prize that awaits every year at tournament time.
As a result, there’s always about a three-group backup, so you have more time to eat, drink, socialize, and criticize those playing in front of you.
Yes, many a fond memory has been built here over the last several years and I’m still waiting to win that fishing boat. Nonetheless, the shrimp and beer will never disagree with me as long as Dr. Larry Sutton keeps forking over the team sponsorships, which have claimed two Albright titles.