Southern Dunes: An Orlando, Florida Golf Course Review
by Pete Davison - AmateurGolf.com Panelist

Opened 1993, Southern Dunes was built during the golden era of golf and residential development in Haines City, Florida. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Disney and only about 15 to 20 minutes past Champions Gate and Reunion resorts. And if you're lucky enough to be in the area in February, you can play golf, then attend "Ribs on the Ridge" -- a national competition sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association. But for now, back to the golf. Because barbecue or not, Southern Dunes should be on your must-play list if you're visiting Orlando and appreciate a good test, great conditions, and a fair greens fee.

The original project entailed transitioning a former Citrus Grove (that suffered a devastating frost) to a wonderful golf and real estate development that was the vision of the land owner and some golf enthusiasts. The recipe for Southern Dunes was simple and still works for me today – give your guests warm hospitality, a wonderful tee-to-green layout and superior putting surfaces. The rest will take care of itself.

The original course was designed by Steve Smyers, a noted architect whose other designs include Old Memorial (Tampa); Isleworth in (Orlando); Olympia Fields (Chicago) and the Evian Masters Golf Course in France. Southern Dunes opened for play in 1993 to all sorts of reviews and accolades. But after more than 20 years of wear and tear, the course was in need of the remodel that occurred in 2016. Steve Smyers was again retained to remodel all 18 green complexes and to make changes to several holes including Nos. 12, 14 and 16.

It was an investment in the original vision for Southern Dunes. Firm, fast, and challenging with expanded pin positions was the directive. The new Tiff Dwarf green complexes reopened in Sept of 2016 and I can share with you, well done Southern Dunes and Steve Smyers. The course conditions were fantastic for my January round.

The course layout is thru the homes, but with ample fairways, 183 bunkers and more than ample space both right and left, off the tee. With mature trees, and well designed "waste areas" with natural grasses, the course provides a nice parkland style feel. The design of Southern Dunes provides a challenging, but fair experience from tee to green. Avoid the big gaping bunkers and try to leave yourself with the correct angle to attack the flag. While many Orlando area courses are flat with fairways feeding to swamps or water hazards, Southern Dunes provides subtle elevation changes with ample green space.

Five sets of tees will allow you to challenge your game from the back tees at more than 7200 yards or play it forward and allow yourself to play to the widest landing areas. (My foursome of single digit golfers played at 6800 yards, and with a rating of 73, it was plenty of golf course.) The green complexes provide you the choice of challenging the pin placements or using the openings at the front to run it in. Most importantly, get to know the greens and avoid going long, particularly on the downhill par-3 holes.

Should your plans have you in the greater Orlando area for work or play and a round of golf is on your mind, I would highly recommend making the drive down I-4 for a round at Southern Dunes. Stop in and see the GM, Shane Trice and let him know you read the review on AmateurGolf.com.

If your day was like ours (we played in about 3 1/2 hours) you will be looking at your watch and wondering what the replay rate is and if there is a spot on the tee sheet that can get you out for more.

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