Lee’s course has water aplenty, but also offers options
TAVARES, Florida – Deer Island Country Club sits on 400 secluded acres of prime Florida waterfront real estate, nestled amidst the Harris Chain of Lakes. This semi-private, 18-hole championship golf course was designed by renowned golf architect Joe Lee and opened for play in 1994.
Deer Island Country Club is the only island golf course in Central Florida and offers breathtaking views of Lake Dora and Lake Beauclair. With Florida’s largest chain of natural lakes as the backdrop, this is truly a paradise for golfers, boaters, and nature lovers. Homeowners and guests live an Island lifestyle, and the focus is on both the water and golf. That said, the golf course is the island’s main attraction.
In building the course, Lee felt that a day on the golf course should be enjoyable with no need to terrorize everyday golfers. Lee has often referred to Deer Island Country Club as the most unique design of his career. His courses typically feature undulating greens, strategically located hazards that are visible to the naked eye, and uniquely designed bunkers. Deer Island has all of these and then some.
Shortly after Deer Island Country Club opened, it received a four-star rating from Golf Magazine, and the tee sheets were full regularly. Unfortunately, the community never really took off and has struggled financially since it was built. A few years later, the original developer went bankrupt, and the subsequent owners lost the property to foreclosure.
But all was not lost. Deer Island Country Club was recently acquired by local Three Volcanoes nursery owner Wally Owens, who lives in the community. Included in the purchase price were all of the undeveloped residential lots in the neighborhood as well as the golf course. Owens plans on reinvigorating and developing this lakefront development.
“There was some talk that the entire club was going to be shut down, and we were able to purchase it ourselves,” Owens said. “We live there, and we really like it. Our goal is to get some houses built and to support the golf course.”
Driving around the island, the potential is without limits. The nursery may be his day job, but Deer Island Country Club has become his true passion.
Lee’s routing is surprising
There is a lot of rolling terrain in the fairways and the greens, many of which are surrounded by large bunkers, are small by Florida standards. There is water on all 18 holes although for those who wish to avoid forced carries over the hazards, Lee’s design offers a less penalizing way around most of them.
Deer Island is alive with an abundance of wildlife. The wetlands that surround it are home to over two dozen bird species including osprey, hawks, blue herons, and sandhill cranes. You may even come across some soft shell and snapping turtles, alligators, or the occasional bobcat. And be sure to keep your eyes open for the family of bald eagles. The club is close to acquiring its Audubon Society accreditation and has the potential to become one of the top five courses in central Florida.
From the back tees, Deer Island measures 6,885 yards. Move up two tee boxes to the White Tees and the yardage drops to 6,285. It still provides a good challenge and may let you leave with a little dignity. Deer Island offers six sets of tees with yardages beginning at 4,215 yards. Pick the tees that fit your game and you’re sure to have a good time.
As you would expect with a golf course with this much water, Deer Island Country Club has some very memorable holes. No. 2 is a 493-yard par 5 dogleg right that plays around a lake which can be an ominous site for golfers who slice the ball off the tee. If possible, play your tee shot towards the bunkers on the left with the fade. Find one of those bunkers and par gets a whole lot tougher. Water and sand protect the right side of the green as well as a bunker behind it.
The fourth is a challenging par 4 that plays 393 yards and is Deer Island’s No. 1 handicap. The hole plays along the shores of Lake Dora and has at least three bodies of water that need to be dealt with; four if you count the lake. You may want to consider hitting something less than a driver off the tee, just to keep it in play. Your approach shot plays slightly uphill into a green that slopes left to right.
No. 7 is a challenging par 4 that plays 369 yards and slightly uphill from the White Tees. You’ll need to carry a lake off the tee and thread your tee shot between fairway bunkers on either side in the landing area. Be sure to take a close look at your second shot; the water in front of the green is fronted by a large bulkhead and is surrounded by a large bunker in the back. The green is angled and is a lot wider than it is deep. A right-side pin placement may be tempting but tricky.
The back nine features two par 3s that are the toughest and easiest holes, respectively, on the golf course. The 163-yard par 413th hole is rated the toughest, and no matter which tees you play from, it’s all carry over water into a small green with two bunkers behind it. Take your par and run.
No. 15 is a 125-yard par three that has its fair share of trouble. Thankfully, it’s all on the left side. Choose the right club, hit it solid and you’re sure to have good results.
The 18th hole is a great closer. This par 4 plays 390 yards from the White Tees with a fairway bunker in the landing area on the right and water on the left that you cannot see from the tee. Anything that finds the left side of the fairway off the tee is going to require you to play an approach shot over the lake on your approach shot into another small green protected on the left side by sand.
Every round deserves a proper warm-up and Deer Island Country Club’s six-acre driving range features two large teeing areas at opposite ends of the range. There’s a practice bunker adjacent to the West tee as well as a practice putting green. The staff at Deer Island CC can be booked for personal and group lessons by appointment. They offer learning programs for everyone, from beginners to aspiring Tour-level players.