On my recent trip to Florida for the recent PGA Show I took the time to have a little bit of R&R and more time to work on my game. Avoiding the hustle and bustle of golf courses in the Orlando/Kissimmee area was good decision. It’s the peak season for golf in the “Sunshine State” but then you factor in thousands of migratory golf industry types into the equation and the courses become pretty congested. This year, I took time away from the beaten track of International Drive and stayed with family (Bobbi and Joe) in Plant City, FL which is a mere 45 minutes away from Orlando (as long as you hit a certain exit by a certain time). Once the show wrapped up I had a few products that I wanted to test for my site. Golf balls from Srixon, Forte Golf, and OnCore Golf. Well, there is only one way to test new product and that’s to play golf.
Located in Lakeland, FL is an area of the city called Cleveland Heights. The area itself is void of trailer parks and is an area of Lakeland that is established. Looking for a place to play golf that was close to “Bobbi and Joe’s” I took to Google and searched for golf courses. Admittedly, I did this prior to driving down as well. “The Heights” was a course that really intrigued me. And to be totally frank I don’t know why. perhaps it was the award that it won in the “Lakeland Ledger” (newspaper). So I took a chance and drove out to the course. No tee time.. it was later in the day and honestly it’s a big “no-no” in my books.
The Heights is a 27-hole facility that is run by the City of Lakeland which puts it into the category of a “muni”. While many “munis” leave you feeling a little uninspired as you pull up The Heights was a total opposite. The clubhouse and lot area has terrific curb appeal and it’s a clubhouse (20,000 sq ft) that looks more like a semi-private club with it’s “Spanish-style”estancia styling which was renovated in 2001. Once the vision of Cleveland real estate magnate H.A. Stahl the course was hit hard by The Great Depression. The city of Lakeland would intervene after the taxes fell behind and later took over the property. Originally, The Heights was an 18-hole layout but in the 1980’s they added a third nine making it into the 27-hole facility that it is today. Before I continue, I should add that The Heights also features a full-length driving range just past the practice green. There are lights there, so it makes me wonder if during certain times of the year the range is open for night practice.
Check-in at the Pro Shop was very easy and the staff was very friendly and they were very pleased to accommodate my desire to play. When I played I could not believe the rates. For nine holes it was $11.99 USD which is unheard of especially considering the time of the year. Did I mention that it included a riding cart? The Pro Shop staff engaged in conversation and were not eager to push me out the door. They made me feel welcome and relaxed. So off I went to practice on the range and the range balls are of a good quality. Having concluded my practice on the range and putting green I was greeted by the starter who said that it was quiet and I could go wherever I liked. I asked him which was the nicest to look at and without hesitation he said the Azalea Course (known as “A” Course). So I teed off… a par 4 gentle dogleg with a berm about 100 yards out from the elevated green adorned with a lovely old stone bridge. My first thoughts looking out from that tee was that I could not believe this was a muni for less than $12. The beauty never went away. The 2nd hole was a 202 yd Par 3 and the backdrop behind the green was gorgeous.
As far as aesthetics went I absolutely loved the Par 4 3rd hole. A cute slight dogleg left. In a way, the tee box and oaks dressed in Spanish Moss with a little creek running along its length reminded me of something from Augusta National. I don’t know why but it just did. I won’t give a hole by hole narrative as I think the point has been made that it is a very nice golf course on the eyes. If there was one negative I guess it was the greens. They were long but it was late in the day and Bermuda grows like wildfire so it’s not fault. A couple of the greens looked like they were under repair and there were plenty of ball marks not fixed. An epidemic that haunts muni and private courses alike. Make a mark… take pride.. walk up to it and fix it like the guys and gals on Tour. Oh and there was the guy that grabbed my OnCore Elixr as I was driving up to my shot on the Par 5 8th. I watched him actually grab it and never said anything. Casual golf right? I felt like the Easter Bunny I dropped an egg and someone found it.
The natural beauty and splendor of this golf course never faded. There was a bit of wildlife out there too as I saw Roseate Spoonbills, Kingfishers, Sandhill Cranes the usual Ibis and Egrets. Perhaps it was the way that the sun was setting but as I was driving down the cart path towards number 4 (spread out from the hole prior) the way that the Spanish Moss hung in the trees with the setting sun behind was something right out of what I picture when I think of Florida golf. The evening was captivating and the 9th hole was an uphill Par 3 to finish out.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you find yourself in the Lakeland area looking to play some golf in a relaxed atmosphere on a beautiful course with a tight budget. Give The Heights at Cleveland Heights a look. I look forward to seeing the “B” and “C” course the next time around. It’s beautiful.
Until The Next Tee!