When golf course architect Mike Dasher started work on the Highlands Reserve Golf Club in Davenport Florida he was asked to build a course that was “affordable, walk-able, and fun golf course for all to enjoy.” With Highlands Reserve he has accomplished all that and more. It has even been rated 3 ½ stars by Golf Digest’s “Places to Play.”
Located just 10 minutes southwest of the hustle and bustle that makes up the Disney area of Orlando, Highlands Reserve sits on the edge of a long sand shelf called the Green Swamp Ridge and offers elevation changes of 120 feet. Many of the holes are built on a bowl with the high point being the first green and the low point being the 13th fairway. The course is built on a piece of land that’s unlike just about everything else in the region,
The terrain within the Green Ridge Swamp lent itself to Dasher’s terrific use of sand and waste bunkers. Unlike most Florida courses that see their course ratings raised because of numerous water hazards present in the design, water only comes into play on two holes at Highlands Reserve. What makes this course unique is that waste areas not only serve as hazards on the course, several are used to define the divisions between holes. Many are strategically placed and help to create certain risk/reward situations.
If you were to ask Mike Dasher what sets this course apart from others in the area, he would tell you that it’s the design and contours of the greens. And, at Highlands Reserve, they come in all shapes and sizes. All feature a tremendous amount of undulation. The first green is 52 yards deep – 52 YARDS! That can be the difference between a pitching wedge and a 7 iron on your approach shot depending on pin placement. Some green are tilted (#3) and some are crowned (#5) which can screw up an otherwise perfect chip shot. Most are elevated – eliminating the Florida seniors’ favorite shot: the bump and run. Perhaps the most memorable green is the 16th which is modeled after the Gate hole at North Berwick in England. The green is 53 yards deep and cut in half by a trough roughly two feet lower at the center than either the front or back. A front left pin placement on number 10 will find the hole sitting six feet below the rest of the putting surface.
Highlands Reserve is a “Scotland meets North Carolina” kind of course. Many holes feature spacious wide open fairways like you would find in the Home of Golf while others have Carolina-esque pine tree-lined fairways. There’s even a little bit of old Florida at the course as it plays through nature preserves and citrus groves. This course will definitely not intimidate or overpower the average golfer. It’s definitely not the longest course in the area at only 6673 yards from the back tees nor is it the toughest with a slope rating of 118 and a course rating of 72.1. It is however, exactly what it was meant to be: affordable, walkable, and fun golf course for all to enjoy.
Highlands Reserve appeals to all types of golfers. To the beginner or average golfer, there is a lot of room with wide open fairways and forgiving landing areas. For the low handicapper the challenge comes in the vast undulating greens strategically placed throughout the course.
As for the amenities, Highlands Reserve offers a full length driving range and practice green as well as a small pro shop and snack bar area with your traditional golf fare: hot dogs, sandwiches and adult beverages. You will find that these are not the “world class” amenities that some courses offer but then again, you won’t find three digit greens fees here either.
Out on the course, yardage blocks are provided at 100 and 200 on par fours, plus 250 yards on par fives. The 150 yard stakes are visible on the fairways, and pin placement sheets are posted on each golf cart.
Memorable Holes (All Yardages are from the Black Tees)
Number 1: Par 4, 387 yards. Number one is a nice starting hole. It’s a straight away par 4 with a large tree and woods on the right and more woods on the left. It requires an accurate tee shot down the middle and up over the ridge. The flagstick is barely visible from the tee box especially if you are playing from the gold tees as they set in a bit of a valley. Your approach shot is going to be to a 9 iron or wedge into a small green protected by a large grass bunker on the right. The green is very long and narrow so club selection is important and depends on pin location.
Number 4: Par 3, 175 yards. This moderate length par three play slightly downhill and may require one less club to get you there. Trees on the right side frame the hole and the green is protected in front by a nasty little pot bunker. If the pin is in the middle of the green, you will need to fly the bunker in order to score well.
Number 6: Par 3, 225 yards. Houses and OB make up the right side of this long par 3 hole as well as a very nasty little pot bunker in front of the green to make life a little (more) miserable. The green is wider than it is deep so choosing the right club is essential off the tee as you don’t want to hit through the green
Number 11: Par 4, 307 yards. A short hole that is anything but easy. The large oak tree half way down the fairway on the left can easily come into play off the tee as well as the strand of pine trees on the right. The large waste bunker in the front of the green has collected its share of approach shots to this relatively small green. Par is always a good score here.
Number 13: Par 5, 476 yards. Although this is a somewhat short par 5, you still need to hit your tee shot without finding any of the fairway bunkers in the middle of the fairway. And, should you really get ahold if your tee shot but push it right, more hazards await. The green is fairly deep and flanked on the right with a deep bunker.
Number 16: Par 4, 384 yards. This dogleg right plays uphill; consequently it plays a lot longer than the stated yardage – and usually into the wind! Push your tee shot right and you are likely to find the large waste bunker. From there, you’ll probably want to hit an extra club into the green. Be sure you know where the flag is located as there is a large deep trough that cuts through the middle of the green – almost like someone dug a two foot trench through it. This is definitely one of the most interesting greens in Florida!
Number 18: Par 5, 506 yards. This dogleg left par 5 is framed on either side of the fairway with large pine trees and makes for a nice finishing hole. Anything hit straight off the tee can easily find the woods. Hit your approach shot downhill to a large green fronted on the left side by a large sand trap
Last Word: Highland Reserve offers a good mix of tight, tree lines holes and wide opened holes. Greens are typically elevated, some that would even be considered uphill (that’s over 10 feet above the fairway in Florida). Sand traps are plentiful and can be downright penal in nature. The use of grass bunkers adds a nice touch on a couple of holes as well. Immense waste bunkers just past the right side of the green on the par three sixth hole are easily visible from the tee but if you find them, you’ll remember. The tee boxes on several holes on the back nine offer beautiful, panoramic views of the area.
As previously stated, the greens are what define this course. Many are two, even three-tiered with crowns and many subtle undulations. Someone cut a chunk out of the 16th green – there’s a trough running through the middle of it. It almost makes it look like the green is split in two. I may have birdied that one if they put the hole down there!
Highlands Reserve is conveniently located off Hwy 27 about 15 minutes from Disney. It is a pleasant golf experience and, as the slope ratings and yardages indicate, it can be enjoyed by all levels of golfers. For more information you can visit them online at www.highlandsreserve-golf.com where you can listen to some good old Celtic music as you browse the site. Or, give them a call at (863) 420-1724.