One of the biggest surprises I encountered while covering Florida golf for Worldgolf.com was Victoria Hills in Deland.
The golf course is–how shall I put this?–Fazioesque. Each hole is an individual composition of trees and landforms and colors presented in almost psychologically arousing arrangements. The compositions feel balanced, but they’re also diverse; eighteen paintings of the same thing, however beautiful, gets repetitive. At Victoria Hills, the paintings shift to changed venues, from cloisters of hardwoods to scenes along marshes and lakes, to rugged uphill or downhill sections back to Pinehurst-like tree corridors. The course is just so pleasing to look at and artfully shaped you can’t help but think of Tom Fazio.
If Tom Fazio had designed this course rather than Ron Garl, it would be considered one of his better, more natural efforts. But it’s because it is Garl’s that it is so, and was so, surprising.
Up until Victoria Hills, Garl had designed dozens of golf courses, mostly in southwest Florida. The majority of his work was in the Pete Dye knockoff style of the 1980’s and early ’90’s where more is better and no amount of water or artifice is too much. With mostly abysmal land to work with, it’s no surprise so many of his courses look and feel the same–and dated.
Victoria Hills makes the case that the land makes the design. The site, as referenced above, is lovely–sections of pine and hardwood, wonderful elevation changes and sand soils. Garl took it all, scraping away earth to create large evocative waste areas and using the topography to cradle or prop up bunkers along the edges of the targets. It’s a good template for the big greens with bold, interesting contour.
The course is part of a housing development so the routing is a little wandering and spread out, and the homes have crept in–too close in some places. Garl could have edited the shaping and bunkering on holes like 10, 14 and 18. And some holes are just not successful, like the par-5 6th over a lake at the low side of the property, and the par-4 13th, also with water, that could have been a staple on any of his earlier designs.
But when it’s good, it’s very good. The par-3’s are scenic and challenging. Holes like the 3rd and 17th–both shortish par-4’s with greens benched into slopes above bunkers–feel like they grew organically out of the earth exactly where they are. Seven and eight, also par-4’s, feel old and rustic with good draw and fade movements and bunkers that bleed up into backside slopes.
There’s a lot to talk about here, and a lot to love. Whether Garl would have made the course he did here in 1985 is anyone’s guess, but given such good property in 2001, he hit a solid triple. (91)
Architect: Ron Garl