Shared Secret

The 7th at Streamsong Red. Par 5 527, 521, 502, 396

Streamsong is less than a decade old, but its Red and Blue courses have a design philosophy that goes back more than a century. By sharing the land—and some coveted strategic information—with Blue designer Tom Doak, Red architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw discovered the inspiration to build a modern classic. But there was one hole they were not willing to divvy up: the magnificent No. 7.

Higher Ground

“Golf course architect” wasn’t always a real job. Beyond the courses he designed, most credit Harry Colt with trailblazing the enterprise into a profession. When he began formalizing arrangements and accepting fees for his work in the early 1900s, golf course architecture fundamentally changed. Numbered were the days of friendly collaboration amongst course designers and born was competition for jobs. Today, architects work privately, protective of their ideas and philosophies out of fear of losing out on a potential client or project.

This reality makes the design work at Streamsong’s Red and Blue courses even more remarkable. In the early 2010s, fertilizer giant Mosaic commissioned two architecture titans for the courses: Tom Doak and the duo of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They each toured the property’s massive footprint in search of ideal plots to build a golf course, and both landed on the same small tract. Despite several early negotiations, neither would yield. Then the conversation took an innovative, if old-school, turn: Could they work together on the same land?

The desire to work on superior ground launched an unlikely collaborative project, harkening back to Colt’s era. The two firms started construction together and worked side by side for months, trading routings, ideas and even holes before settling on a final routing for each course. Coore and Crenshaw’s Red course and Doak’s Blue course were named for the color marker each firm used to lay out their design on the map.

“We had a friendly competition at Streamsong,” Crenshaw told in 2013. “Our crew would peer over a hill and see what they were doing, and they would do the same with us. It was fun. Doak’s bunkers—my God, they’re beautiful.”

Competition most certainly bred success at Streamsong. The layouts are both superb, instantly considered modern classics.

Sometimes all the steps lead in the right direction. Although it is no longer a practice among modern golf-course architects, when Tom Doak and Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw agreed to share the land at Streamsong, they elevated each other’s game.

But this one’s mine

When I asked Doak which hole he would choose if he could take one from Coore and Crenshaw’s Red course, he quickly zeroed in on the par-5 seventh. It’s a standout hole that showcases two en vogue trends in today’s golf course architecture: minimalist design and “found” holes.

Minimalist courses are rare in Florida. The state’s typically flat and featureless land makes it difficult to generate interest without moving large amounts of earth. Streamsong is different. As the former site of a phosphate mine, the mining and subsequent reclamation process created a rugged, sandy landscape with massive dunes and hollows. The property is unlike anything else in Florida and ideal for minimalist design.

No. 7 falls under the classification of a “found” golf hole. These holes are mostly shaped by nature, showing themselves to designers before any land is moved or bunkers manicured. The seventh was one of the first holes that Coore found at Streamsong. It was one he refused to lose in the collaborative process, and it was featured in every variation of his routing plan.

Doak was impressed from the start. “Bill just had that hole fit perfectly in that slot,” he told me. “I said, ‘That’s a pretty good hole; I wish I had come up with that.’”

A rare sight

The first six holes of Red are out on their own. But after the tough par-3 sixth, players hike up one of the three massive dunes that surround the green, then up the steps to a perched tee box that reveals the unofficial start of a magnificent 30 holes built tightly together by the two firms. A 360-degree view from the seventh tee includes the fifth and sixth on the Red course, the clubhouse and the first and 18th holes on the Blue course.

The stunning view makes it difficult to focus, but the seventh hole is worth the effort. It sits hemmed between the Blue’s 18th and a large lake that runs along the left side of the hole. The ground on the seventh is mostly flat with gentle rolls, but mere steps off the left edge of the fairway is a sharp hill cascading down to the water. Strategic and treacherous bunkers are prevalent and scattered about the expansive fairway.

The long and narrow green is wedged between the border of the lake and a massive sandy knoll. The interior of the green has humps and bumps creating subtle breaks that always need explanation from the local caddies. Coore and Crenshaw provided some solace to players by placing three deep bunkers along the bank of the lake to save some shots from tumbling to a watery tomb. But the knoll is the most distinct feature. Like Mother Nature squeezing a balloon, the knoll appears to force the green out in the front and back. Since the Red’s opening in 2013, it’s become the stuff of legend among architecture buffs.

Pay now or pay later

No. 7 does provide a scoring opportunity for smart players; it’s a short par 5 that can be had with precise execution and thought. Coore and Crenshaw use the lake to drive the strategy of the hole. By pressing the green up against it, they force every player to eventually challenge the water with a shot. From where and how is a matter of preference.

Off the tee, the lake looms large and forces even the most skilled player to aim a couple of yards right. A tee shot up the far left side of the fairway is dangerous, but will yield the shortest approach into the green. 

For players with intentions of getting home in two, this bold option is particularly effective when the pin is in the back portion of the green. It allows enough space for a long-iron attempt to come to a stop on the surface.

Every yard farther to the right of the lake yields a slightly longer approach. A play to the far right is wise for both mere mortals who play par 5s as three-shot holes and for the overachievers when the flag is in the front section of the green. This angle allows for a running shot to sneak between the knoll and the front bunker and find the front half of the green complex.For the majority of players, the second shot is where the challenge—and the fun—kicks in. Coore and Crenshaw offer several options and each carries a different level of risk for its reward. Small but deep bunkers pitted throughout the fairway force players to carry or weave their second shots to stay safe. The left side provides the best angle to approach the flag, but brings the lake and three bunkers into play. The right side, for the most part, is left unguarded, but could lead to a poor angle and a date with the knoll.

One of the most interesting aspects of the seventh is the abundance of unguarded short grass right of the green. The flat fairway area will corral shots that miss the green by as much as 40 yards. To the naked eye, it seems like a great spot to miss. But as is the case with golf and life, what looks too good to be true often is. Coore and Crenshaw gave the stiffest test to the players who wait the longest to challenge the water. Now they face a chip or pitch on tight Bermuda grass over the knoll, with the lake looming behind. It creates approaches more awkward than a sixth-grade dance.

Lessons learned

Many of Coore and Crenshaw’s designs feel like timeless classics because of their respect for the history and character of the game. That usually means a commitment to strategic design, but at Streamsong they also benefited immensely from the long-past tradition of architects sharing their secrets. No. 7 at the Red is a shining example that sometimes history repeating itself isn’t such a bad thing.