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The green scene.

the green scene

"My reputation is, I build easy golf courses, but people love to play them." Ted McAnlis grins wryly and lazily lifts an arm toward a distant dogleg to the right. "That's a 220-yard carry across wetlands." The wetlands commence at the bottom of the tee with a mass of palmettos, which wait eagerly to swallow a golfer's blind ambition.

But the piece de resistance of the fourth hole of The Venice Golf and Country Club stands along the horizon: a huge pine, directly in the line of flight, painfully, implacably situated 219 yards away, on the very edge of success. "You could drill a great tee shot right into that tree," McAnlis observes softly. The high Florida sun causes him to squint, but that doesn't conceal a gleam of diabolical delight.

Ted McAnlis, builder of a number of fine local layouts (Misty Creek, River Wilderness, Tara, Waterford) loves golf and loves even more constructing the terrain across which the game is played. And although the game itself hasn't changed over the years, the terrain certainly has. Today's courses are imaginatively constructed to meet the skills and needs of a range of players, from the recreational duffer to pros in search of a challenge.

That's a welcome change from a trend that started in the late 1960s, when architects began to compete to make their configurations as onerously unplayable as possible. "It was how you got your work on TV," says McAnlis. A nationwide audience could watch the pros struggle to overcome the daunting hazards of an architect's handiwork. No quarter was given, and none best be asked, by the pros or the club's members.

The acres of wetlands and the looming obstacle on the far side of the fourth fairway at The Venice Golf and Country club might lead one to conclude that golf course architecture still follows that philosophy. "Yes, but this is the tournament tee," explains McAnlis. Farther ahead and slightly to the left is the members' championship tee, a mere 180-yard carry. Beyond and still farther left is the regular members' tee, with little carry, nearly a straight shot down the fairway. The tees vary not only in distance but in placement. Your ego dictates which tee you choose, and how tough a hole plays.

As golf continues to boom in popularity (the National Golf Foundation estimates that one new course must open every day in the United States just to keep pace with demand), more and more golfers are growing impatient with courses that are penal. McAnlis sums it up: "I'm not a professional golfer and I don't enjoy taking 13 strokes to get out of a bunker twice my height."

The course Gary Player designed at Laurel Oak Country Club reflects this new attitude. The layout is forgiving enough for the casual golfer yet offers plenty of rewards for the more skilled player. "It allows virtually all of our members to experience the best part of their game," says head pro Ron Montressor. "The members are raving over it."

The new, more democratic approach to golf-course design is also evident at Serenoa Golf & Country Club, east of I-75 off Clark Road, where M. David Alden, a young Sarasota-bred landscape architect, wanted to give average golfers a fair chance on the links. "I didn't trick up the course, with hazards and traps everywhere. A golfer at any level should be able to play Serenoa."

Alden, whose father supervised the construction of several layouts at the Bobby Jones complex when David was just a toddler, took advantage of the natural contours and wetlands of the Serenoa tract, which was relatively flat farmland owned by longtime Sarasotan Cyrus Bispham, the developer of Serenoa. But the architect also created some 80 acres of lakes, situated to pose a challenge to the longer players, who had best be in control of their tee shots.

Playable courses make marketing sense, points out Rod Robinson, president of Taylor Woodrow Homes of Florida, developer of The Meadows in Sarasota. Arthur Hills designed The Groves, the newest of The Meadows' three courses, especially for older golfers who could no longer hit the long balls needed on the club's other two courses. Those golfers are an important part of The Meadows' market, so Hills made The Groves a short course. Designed and built to championship standards, it can also challenge golfers at the very top of their form, says Robinson, who believes such flexibility characterizes the best new architecture in buildings as well as golf courses.

"The trend is toward moderation but challenge still," says Ron Garl, another architect who has designed locally (Bent Tree, Oak Ford, The Plantation). Garl's reputation is probably more one of challenge than moderation, however - witness the TPC at Prestancia. "There are no great easy golf courses," he states flatly. "Golf has a lot of tradition - you must remember that as an architect."

By tradition, Garl means the conditions characteristic of Scotland, golf's birthplace, where courses were carved out of rough, rolling landscape that punishes each and every error - a design Garl still prefers.

But to ease the golfer's burden, Garl and other architects are subtracting sand traps. "You don't need to do traps on both sides of the fairway," says Garl, who is building a course for the new University Park Country Club. "A hazard should give you direction. There must be a safe route." This also means a green need not be heavily fortified by sand traps, which are expensive to build and maintain and for many golfers are attractive only in aerial photographs. The courses at Serenoa and Venice golf clubs have fewer than 50 sand traps, half the number of many older Florida courses. And the traps are flat, so they can be easily raked by cost-efficient mechanized equipment. In deep traps, rain washes the sand toward the bottom, and this requires expensive manual labor to maintain.

This doesn't mean approach shots to the green on the new courses are without what in golf are gently termed hazards. As sand traps diminish, golf course architects have embraced the indigenous: live oak, spruce pine, wax myrtle, palmetto and just plain old Florida wetlands, all placed at strategic points.

Hazards, frustration, challenge. They'll always be part of the game. But as Sarasota players are gratefully discovering, the best new courses offer something to everyone - and give every player his very best shot.

Fred Huber is a writer and real estate salesman who specializes in golf-course communities.
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Title Annotation:golf course design
Author:Huber, Fred
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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