As the current President of the prestigious American Society of Golf Course Architects, Bob Cupp recently said, “What the golf industry desperately needs to add is fun.” Instead of penal features such as cross water hazards, deep cavernous bunkers and multi-plex putting surfaces, Cupp advocates more modest and affordable designs suitable for general play. “We need to lead more people—especially families—to play more golf, more often, for the sheer fun of the game,” said Cupp who started his career working with Jack Nicklaus Design.
Those telling quotes echoed when I had an opportunity with friends to play an attractive Cupp design— Shadow Wood’s North Course in Bonita Springs, FL. All of us agreed it was a fun, pleasing private course to play for members and invited guests alike. True to his philosophy, Cupp eschews penal and fun-killing design traits commonly seen at many high profile development courses in SW Florida. There’s water at Shadow Wood yet with only a few exceptions it serves as a lateral hazard and not a forced carry. Likewise, the bunkers are shallow and often strategically placed to save a ball from a watery grave. In fact, I luckily found a fairway bunker on my drive on the first hole which prevented me from finding a lateral hazard. And I still made par on the hole.
Along with five sets of tees—ranging from 7065 yards to 5238 yards—there’s also a family or forward tee at 4644 yards, ideal for beginners and youth. Again, “fun golf” is practiced and not just preached here.
I have a fondness for short par-4s and how strategy comes into play on them. Case in point was the 319-yard second hole where you’re faced with a dogleg right around a pond. The more you cut off the dogleg, the shorter the second shot to the green. However, finding the right line affords not only a shorter second shot but also a more open shot to the putting surface, avoiding a yawning greenside bunker. Our foursome played it in different ways, all from different tees, and no one made more than bogey.
I also liked the variety in the par-3s at Shadow Wood. Surprisingly, many par-3 designs are often cookie-cutter when it comes to distance. Not here. A five-iron, seven-iron, five-wood and a wedge were my choice of clubs on the par-threes, a good indication of Cupp’s design sense. Probably my only quibble with Cupp’s handiwork (or possibly via a local course decision) is the forward tee box on the par-3 eighth hole. I didn’t like how the tee placement compels a forced carry over a waste area and high grasses. Forward tees should have an open approach to a par-3—ever mindful of the “fun” mantra.
Along with a player-friendly design, Shadow Wood boasts admirable course conditions thanks to Superintendent Eric Ruha and his staff. The greens are especially quick and smooth and true. Likewise, the tees, fairways and bunkers are all well-attended. Usually not a fan of in-cart GPS systems, I must confess it made perfect sense for one on-course contingency, beyond its normal benefits of providing distance and monitoring pace of play. As we approached our second shots on the 15th hole, a message popped up on our cart screens: WARNING. HUGE GATOR NEAR GREENSIDE POND. CAUTION. In all my years playing golf in Florida, I’ve never seen a more effective use of such technology.
The member-owned Shadow Wood is located within The Brooks master-planned community and offers memberships to residents in Shadow Wood and Shadow Wood Preserve, as well as nonresident membership options. Members have access to two Cupp championship courses, a nine-court tennis complex, and a third golf course designed by Arthur Hills that is serviced by a second full-service clubhouse at Shadow Wood Preserve. It recently celebrated nearly a $5 million renovation project that included added gathering spaces, al fresco dining and a complete re-do of its popular Grill Room. The club reports “a stable membership base” with three consecutive profitable years.
As Bob Cupp might quip, “Happiness is a fun golf course…with positive cash flow.”
For more information, visit www.shadowwoodcc.com