When Sanctuary Ridge opened for play in 1999, it was called the Diamond Players Club and owned by a group of investors consisting of former and current professional athletes including MLB pitcher Todd Stottlemyer and PGA Tour player Steve Jones. Their vision was to expand the DPC label throughout the country and create a network of courses – much like the TPC has done – only on a larger scale. Unfortunately, due to the economic downturn in the early 2000s, it never became a reality and the Diamond Players Club concept faded away.
Reopened and dubbed Sanctuary Ridge, the course plays 7005 yards from the back tees to a par of 71. From back here, the course rating is 71.9 with a slope of 124. Five sets of tees ranging from 5,035 to 7,005 yards will make the course fun and challenging for golfers of all skill levels and abilities. The white tees at 5,695 will provide a good challenge for senior golfers.
Golf course architect Terrill LaGree – best known in the area for his work at Black Diamond in Lecanto, FL oversaw the design and construction. LaGree used the varying elevation changes and natural terrain to create a course that is very unique to the area. As a result, nine of the eighteen holes play downhill and only four play significantly uphill, which can go a long way in shooting a good score. For all his hard work, LaGree and Sanctuary Ridge received a nomination for “Best New Golf Course in America in 1999 by Golf Digest magazine.
For those looking to tighten up their game, Sanctuary Ridge offers a double sided driving range with target greens, a separate bunker area, chipping green and putting green. They also staff PGA instructors in case you can’t get it right on your own. On a clear day, you can see downtown Orlando, some 25 miles away from the range. There is also a fully stocked pro shop with top brand merchandise from Titleist, FootJoy, Adidas, Nike and more.
The Sanctuary Ridge Grille offers a full lunch menu as well as an exclusive dinner experience on Friday from 5:30 – 8:30 pm that requires reservations.
Memorable Holes – All Yardage is From the Blue Tees 6143 yards, Par 71 Course Rating: 67.5, Slope 113)
Number One: Par 5, 525 yards. Hopefully you were hitting your driver well on the range because the first shot of the day that actually counts requires that you hit it as far as you can – preferably down the middle. If that’s asking too much, long and in the fairway is good too. Your second shot is relatively blind so take a ride up to the crest and survey the landing area. It’s downhill from the 150 marker in and shots hit to the right tend to catch the slope and find their way towards the green. Anything hit short and right can easily find the large fairway bunker. A large, deep bunker lurks just left of the green which is relatively flat. Par is a great start here.
Number Two: Par 3, 185 yards. From the back tees (250 yards), the green sits about 100 feet below the tee box, creating a blind shot. Best to take notice of where the pin is as you drive from the first green to the tee. From the other tee boxes the green is fully visible. Anything long or left is trouble – extreme drop-offs (and snakes) make balls unrecoverable. Hit short of the green and there is a good chance you will come out OK as balls tend to release off the slope and roll towards the green. The hole will play much shorter than the posted yardage and it’s fun to watch high shots fall from the sky onto the putting surface. Another hole where par may win you some money.
Number 4: Par 4, 400 yards. From the back tees (445 yards) it’s easy to see why this hole is the #1 handicap. At 400 yards, it’s still a challenge but clearing the hazard off the tee and eliminating the dogleg is a lot easier. If that’s not an option then the hole becomes a lot longer. Successfully clearing the hazard off the tee will leave a manageable shot uphill to an elevated green protected on the left side by water and surrounded with grassy swales. Finding one of the deep fairway bunkers off the tee can wreak havoc on the scorecard.
Number 10: Par 4, 315 yards. This hole is both short and interesting to say the least. As long as you can clear the large tree on the right with something other than a driver, leave it in the bag. From the tee box, the landing area looks small but trust me, there is plenty of room out there as long as you don’t spray it too bad. Shots left off the tee usually find the slope and funnel back to the center of the fairway. You cannot see the green from the tee box, so just play it down the middle. Once you get up to your ball (provided everything has gone well so far) you will see the green sitting off to the right far below the fairway. Long ball hitters who can fade the ball have a chance to drive the green.
Number 15: Par 4, 345 yards. This hole starts with a tee shot from an elevated tee box. It’s a dogleg left par 4 with a second shot that requires a good carry over a grass ravine. The preferred line is down the middle and balls pushed right off the tee tend to funnel back to the fairway off the steep bank. The green is elevated and might require an extra club on approach if the pin is in the back. Beware of the greenside bunkers – they are deep and penal.
Last Word: Sanctuary Ridge lives up to its reputation as Florida’s mountain course. The elevation comes into play fairly quickly. The second hole par 3, listed as 250 yards seems very intimidating on the scorecard however it plays significantly shorter downhill. Unlike most Florida courses, water hazards do not play a significant role at Sanctuary Ridge; choosing the right club because of the difference in elevation does.
No two holes are in any way similar out here, nor will you find anything running parallel. There are only three par 5’s, two of which are rather long at 525 yards; and four par 3’s, three of which are on the front nine. The par three holes at Sanctuary Ridge are unique to each other. Whether it’s the monstrous number 2 which plays about 100 feet downhill or the much shorter number 14 which is pretty much a blind tee shot, these holes will test your mettle. Mr. LaGree is also partial to short par 4’s, and Sanctuary Ridge is not without its share. From the White tees, there are 6 holes that are 325 yards or less.
The course is reminiscent of a Scottish highlands course with all of its elevation changes. Throw in a few holes with water and a ton of bunkers – both fairway and greenside – and you have a challenging course unlike anything else in the area. The greens are not without mention; the speed and subtle undulation of these multi-tiered Bermuda greens roll true and can make or break a good round.
For more information at Sanctuary Ridge or to book a tee time, visit them online at www.sanctuaryridgegc.com or give them a call at (352) 243-0411. It’s a golfing experience unlike anything else in Florida.