Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country Club

Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country ClubTwo well-known measures of the quality of a restaurant are: Do the locals like it? How many visitors come back again? It’s not a bad yardstick to use on golf courses either, especially in areas like Orlando that depend on a faithful local base with returning cadre of visitors. Under both criteria, Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country Club passes the loyalty test with the flying colors of deep green fairways and white crushed coquina brought in by the ton to improve playability and better define the landing areas.

Add that conditioning and improved aesthetics to a reputation for courteous service and a challenging layout and get something rare in resort-area golf. A pledge of allegiance from its faithful. Or put more simply, repeat customers.

The Ted McAnlis design, one of Golf Digest’s “Best New Courses in America” when it opened in 1994 is unique in other ways. The strategically-placed bunkers (rebuilt after being lashed by three hurricanes in 2004), abundance of canary palms and complete over-seeding last winter have the course looking more tropical than most in the Orlando area. The look is more South Florida or Caribbean resort than many of the courses in central Florida. And under the direction of new Superintendent Marc Smith, the greens are in their best shape in a decade. If you haven’t played Ridgewood Lakes since the summer of ’04, you’ll find it more intriguing and likely more beautiful than ever.

Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country Club, Orlando, FlYou’re liable to meet one or more of the area’s touring pros at the full-size grass-teed driving range and complete short game area tucked behind the clubhouse. They’ve found it a great place to quietly work on their games. And they seem to appreciate the straightforwardness of the entire operation, another example of which is the recommendation of which tees to play to maximize your enjoyment of the round and minimize your frustrations. Only 5-handicappers or better are steered toward the 7016-yard back tees, only those with handicaps under 12 should play the 6547-yard blues while mid-handicappers should have their most interesting challenge from the 6031-yard white tees.

Did we say challenge? For a layout that appears fairly tame while driving to the clubhouse, water on 16 of the 18 holes gives Ridgewood Lakes some teeth. How about a 74.1 rating/135 slope from the back tees? Yet one of the beauties of the course is that except for a tough pair of back-to-back par-4s on the front side, the mixture of tougher holes and scoring opportunities is such that you’ll always have something special to look forward to.

Smart is better than strong at Ridgewood Lakes, from the very first tee. A short dogleg left requires a drive that stays between bunkers and OB right, and water left and long. The monstrous par-5 second, which features an island tee, isn’t going to be reached in two, unless there’s a strong northerly wind blowing, but can be birdied with a good wedge third. The first of the four deceptively difficult par-3s (#3) rewards a tee shot over the water with a large, receptive green. Then come the dynamic duo, the par-4 fourth and fifth holes. At 444 yards from the tips, with water at the tee and also down the right hand side, complemented by a strategically-placed right side bunker, #4 keeps steering you left, into tree trouble the last 150 yards to a narrow, deep and steeply pitched green. Chant this rhyme to yourself—“4 on 4’s a good score”.

Five on #5 isn’t bad either, if you can’t thread your ball between two fairway bunkers or find the new waste area that swoops around the right side of the green or not clear the greenside mounds to the left. You’re advised to hit an extra half-club at the par-3 sixth to avoid the pair of deep greenside bunkers, and at the par-4 seventh, keep the ball below the hole. The par-4 eighth can be had, if you avoid the ball magnet in the large right side bunker and hit your second long enough to hunt the pin in the deeper-than-it-appears green. At the par-5 ninth, again the smart play is to lay up to a comfortable yardage for an approach to the two-tiered green, probably the toughest to read on the entire course.

Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country ClubThe back nine begins with three straight par-4s, all conquerable, but all with different dangers lurking. The tenth has one of the few greens that’s not elevated from the fairway, making distance tough to judge, so trust your yardage book. The 11th has had about a third of the ornamental paspalum taken out in the last year, giving the hole a wider look, but the fairway’s still frighteningly narrow between two ponds. The 12th features a false-front, with slopes both left and right and is sharply tilted from front to back.

The 13th is the shortest, yet toughest par-5, with bunkers left and water right off the tee and a creek in front of the green that discourages “going for it”. The 14th is a wonderful par-4 that used to require you to negotiate marshland cutting across the entire hole. Renovations filled in some of the marsh with grass and coquina to make the hole playable down the right hand side. And don’t forget to stay below the hole on this sharply tilted green. The 15th is the signature par-3 looking down from the tee across a bulkheaded pond to a steep, but receptive green. The last of the set of stout par-5s, the 16th, forces a carry off the tee over a pond and creek with OB right. Both the hazard and the out-of-bounds are in play on your second, third and (maybe) fourth shots as well! A short par-3 at 17 precedes a wonderful finishing hole that requires a straight drive down an elevated fairway with a series of bunkers down the right side that are a better result than the creek they protect. You’re much better off getting a stroke at the final hole than having to give one.

The 5,000 square-foot clubhouse at Ridgewood Lakes offers a friendly oasis to settle up your post-round scores. Breakfast and lunch menus are available every day for visiting players inside, or on a covered outdoor patio. And the friendly staff in the well-stocked pro shop always has the latest recommendations and specials on golf equipment and accessories.

Periodic visits to their Web site, www.golfridgewoodlakes.com, will advise you of occasional rate specials, or you’re invited to call them at 863-424-8688 or toll-free at 800-684-8800. Great conditions, excellent value and a loyalty that cuts both ways might make Ridgewood Lakes a place where you can reward yourself.



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