July is the month for the Open Championship this year at Royal Liverpool in England along the Irish Sea. As you watch the tele and wish you could play for the Claret Jug on a spectacular and challenging links course, I know just the place. And guess what, it is right here in Osceola County, just off the Florida Turnpike and south of the theme parks In the quiet village of St. Cloud, you turn south on Michigan Ave. from Highway 192 to the end. Through the gates you will find the flags of the countries of Great Britain and the clubhouse which houses the well stocked pro shop and the Links Grill, which can be phoned up with your food & drink order at all three #8 holes in the red British phone booth known as the ‘deli teli’.
Royal St Cloud Golf Links with its 3 nines of 27 amazing golf holes and over 10,000 yards is rated the #1 Links Layout in all of Central Florida, designed by Chip Powell and General Manager Bill Filson, a PGA Professional. If you have admired Carnoustie, St. Andrews and Turnberry, you will feel like you are there. With no intrusions, the golf course laid out on over 400 acres is one with nature. The flora and fauna are plentiful with wild flower plantings throughout the property, multiple styles of bunkering and some you will wish weren’t there such as Hell’s Bunker & Devil’s Pocket. Water comes into play on over half the holes although there are no real forced carries, and you can challenge a few ponds to shorten your next shot. It takes a play or two to learn where not to be on the these links.
Each nine hole design has its own distinctive flavor and touch of the British Isles. The White(Irish) nine starts out with a wide open fairway 555 yard par 5 “Nervous”, where you tee off right next to the porch of the Stone Bridge Tavern & Grill. With water on the left and well placed bunkers on the right your second shot should favor the right side to avoid the water and a green sloping right to left. One of my personal favorites is #3, a par 3,150 yard “Little Poison” to a two tiered green, surrounded by a berm. On the ninth tee, embedded in a stone wall is the face of Hookenfacher, the god of long drives. Myth has it that if you rub his nose with the head of your driver, you will have a straight and long drive on this 525 yard par 5. I wish you a good blessing. Don’t miss the photo-op on the replica of the Swilkem Bridge at St. Andrews on the 5th hole. I was there when it was being built by a stone mason, and the plantings have matured around it to make it look like it’s been there along time.
The Scottish (Blue) nine starts with a short par 4 (Devil’s Pocket) with a sod faced bunker that catches a fair amount of shots and does not like letting them out. Another unique feature is the river rock strewed stream less than 100 yards from the green that can not be seen from the tee. The next hole is a straight-away 390 yard par 4 and a tribute to the Links’ state location called the ‘Gauntlet of Palms’ where you find the only palm trees on the course. My favorite is the 422 yard 6th with ‘Church Pews’ that border the right side of the 7th fairway and tiny pot bunkers on the left. An accurate drive and second shot to a lengthy green can produce a rare birdie. ‘Scottish Revenge’ has a back tee on a stone bridge with a shot that requires avoiding the pond on the right, a fairway sloping left to right and bunkers bordering the left and protecting the entrance to the green- a great finish to this nine.
The newest (English) nine I think is the most challenging and my personal favorite. Every hole is distinctive and a very interesting design. It is hard for me to pick, but here are a few; The ‘Hidden Green’ #2, a 553 yard double-dogleg gem that has trouble lurking everywhere. The tee shot must avoid water on both sides of the fairway, bunkers near the landing area, a forest all along the left, bunkers along the right and more protecting a smallish green tucked away behind the forest. This is a three shot green to secure a birdie or par. The shortest par 3, the 140 yard #4 is protected by a group of bunkers along the left and back, and a berm with river rock banks on front right. Quick story: playing with my foursome one of the guys shanks his tee shot onto the rocks and it bouces on the green and into the cup. Maybe that is why it is called ‘Paradise’. The next hole is a 385 yard par 4 with mounded dunes and tall grasses bordering both sides of the fairway. A slice will put you in the water behind the right dunes, but a good shot will allow a mid-iron to an elevated green sloping front to back with pot bunkers left and back with a collection area right. Birdie and par are possible at ‘Bunker Alley’. The longest par 3 is 220 yards #8 uphill to a ‘Rectangle’ green with bunkers around the edge. If you are straight and Hookenfacher gave its blessing, no problem.
The yardages given were from the back tees, but there are 4 sets of tees to let any golfer have a chance to play well, ranging from just over 7,000 to 5,000 yards from the forward tees. There are practice putting surfaces before every nine, a practice chipping and sand area at the back of the Pro Shop and a large lighted practice range with targets on the south side of the property. Lessons are available from the Professional Staff.
The Stone Bridge Tavern & Grill is the perfect place to enjoy a hearty lunch after golf or a delectable dinner. It is one of my favorite after golf restaurants with great service, delectable food, and a fine selection of libations. I enjoy sitting on the porch and watching the players tee off and fun repartee.
Visitors and residents are all treated the same with equal rates no matter where you live. If you want to play some great links golf, with a friendly staff and good food, Royal St. Cloud Golf Links is the place. Call 407-891-7010 or visit www.RoyalStCloud.com to learn more.