It was at Heron Creek Golf and Country Club that I lost my last shred of dignity.
This was not the fault of Heron Creek, which is a top-notch course located in North Port. My abasement could have happened anywhere; the only mystery is why it didn’t happen sooner.
My whining began on the first tee, the spot where golfers traditionally try to gain an edge by lying about their hangovers, their trick knee and the unfavorable direction of the wind.
“I want to play from the forward tees,” I announced boldly. “I can’t reach the par fours anymore from the blue tees.”
“Hit it farther!” came one retort, which should give you an idea of the sensitivity of the people I play golf with.
Hitting two balls off the first tee is one thing. Asking permission to play from the forward tees is something else entirely. It was as if I had suggested the earth would be better off rotating in the opposite direction.
Perhaps my quivering lip and shiny eyes won my case for me. Or maybe it was that other foursomes were stacking up behind us. Either way, I got to play from the forward tees. One time. I unwisely chose that day to have one of my best rounds of the year. A trio of birdies and some uncharacteristically straight iron shots yielded me a fistful of cash at the end of the day. And an all-expenses-paid trip back to the blue tees, for all eternity.
Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.
If you play with people whose hearts are bigger than the Grinch’s, you will find Heron Creek to be an eminently fair test of golf. Choose a set of tees that allows you to hit irons into the greens of the par fours. With numerous water hazards, trees and pot bunkers, Heron Creek will present you with more than enough challenges.
Heron Creek is, and has been, a bright star in the greater Sarasota/Manatee golfing constellation since opening in 1999. Conditioning is almost always top-notch, the practice facilities are second to none, and the 27-hole layout (not to mention the omnipresent rangers) keeps play moving at a brisk pace.
There is much to like about Heron Creek. The pro shop staff, led by director of golf Duncan Clark, is helpful and courteous.
Warning: Do not ask Clark, a former PGA Tour player, how to play the par-five sixth hole on the Creek. A North Carolina native with forearms the size of tree trunks, Clark drawls: “Well, I like to hit a driver, then a little four-iron, then a sand-wedge so I have a nice uphill birdie putt.”
Here is the way most normal golfers (meaning me) play the hole: Pump drive into the lake on the right. Re-tee. Quick-hook third shot into copse of trees on the left. Re-tee. Steer fairway wood onto short grass. Flare fifth shot into lake on right. Take drop. Maneuver seventh shot into “lay-up” zone about 140 yards from green. Chunk eighth shot into water. Drop. Clang 10th shot over green, leaving treacherous downhill chip toward water. Mindful of golfing etiquette, lift ball and place in pocket. Record score of bogey six.
I blame most of my problems at Heron Creek on architect Arthur Hills. Hills, who apparently was denied TV as a child, thinks it’s clever to place sand bunkers in the middle of the fairway where a perfectly struck drive would land. I realize that I am old school when it comes to golf, but I like to think that the middle of the fairway is a good place to aim. On the off chance that my ball should go in that direction, I expect to be rewarded with a nice fluffy lie in the fairway, not a buried lie in a pot-bunker from which I have no chance of extricating myself.
This is a quibble that should not overshadow Heron Creek’s many charms. Few homes and many wading birds are visible during your round, which is a good thing. The beverage cart shows up just when things are getting dire, and the sumptuous if somewhat over-opulent clubhouse is a nice air-conditioned place to spread lies about your recent round.
Heron Creek consists of three nines: The Marsh, The Oaks and The Creek. The Creek, the newest of the three, might be the toughest. Excluding the sixth hole, which polite people do not talk about, the Creek is a stout test and features one of the toughest finishes in the area. The two par-threes are do-or-die (a characteristic shared by the par threes on the other two nines), and the putting greens can be infuriatingly hard to read.
The closely mown grass around the greens gives the golfer several options, none of them particularly good. You can putt, chip or lob your ball depending on the state of your nerves and how many bets you have on the line. Read your favorite golf magazine for tips; I haven’t a clue.
You get the works at Heron Creek: lakes, trees, rough, uneven lies, putts that break off the map. In other words, it’s everything you could want in a golf course and a great way to take your mind off the uncharitable nature of your playing companions.
A former reporter for the Sarasota
Herald-Tribune, David Grimes has won a number of awards for his columns and is the author of several books. An avid golfer, he’s now writing this new monthly column for us and a humorous blog, “Father Grimes,” at sarasotamagazine.com.
The No. 1 tee on The Oaks is one of the highest points in Sarasota County.
Heron Creek golf and country club Grimes calls the shots.
What: Heron Creek Golf and Country Club Where: 5303 Heron Creek Blvd. (Take the Sumter Boulevard exit—number 182—off I-75.) Rates: (starting Feb. 1) $90 in the morning, $70 after noon Why come early to practice? Three words: free range balls! Most notable course feature: The No. 1 tee on The Oaks (above) is one of the highest points in Sarasota County, giving you a long last look at your ball as it disappears into the palmettos. Snack bar: The grilled brats remind you of Milwaukee, even if you’ve never been there. Greatest North Port mystery: Why are there so many sirens at 8 a.m.? For more information or to make a tee time: Call (941) 423-6955.