ORLANDO, Fla. -- I had played Shingle Creek Golf Club twice before on trips to Orlando around the time of the PGA Merchandise Show. But this round felt a lot different.
Rosen Shingle Creek closed its onsite golf course for the majority of 2016 for a renovation, and it's quite remarkable to see just how much the layout has changed. What was once a pretty traditional Florida resort course is now a lot of fun to play, particularly in and around the greens.
Rosen Shingle Creek is a 1,501-room hotel on 255 acres near the Orange County Convention Center that opened in 2006. The course opened prior to the resort in 2003 and was originally designed by David Harman. Based in Orlando, Harman, who passed away in 2005 from cancer, also designed Orange County National, as well as New Zealand's Kauri Cliffs.
In order to make room for potential expansion to the resort, the decision was made by ownership to build three new holes on 25 acres on the north side of the property and free up room closer to the hotel.
But the project developed into a full redesign. Rosen called on the design firm closest to their resort, Arnold Palmer Design, and Senior Architect Thad Layton. The course closed down completely in the spring of 2016 and reopened in December.
I used to describe Shingle Creek as having excellent amenities, but a layout that didn't standout. The property is pretty ordinary for Orlando, but fortunately there wasn't a residential component compromising the routing.
Now, after the work from Palmer's team, I've got to change my tune a bit.
When you consider the course was only closed for about half of 2016, it's pretty remarkable to see how much the property has been transformed. Not only were three new holes (Nos. 12-14) added to the new acreage, much of the layout is new, including the routing. The green complexes were totally rebuilt and in many cases, on entirely different sites.
Originally more of a traditional resort course, greens have more of a Donald Ross-style philosophy, surrounded by fairway-length grass with slopes and humps. The greens themselves have much more variety in their sizes and shape, ranging from 9,500 square feet (on the long, par-3 7th) to smaller greens as small as 3,500. Bunkers were reduced from 90 to 65, though some coquina waste areas were added. The fairways are also more rippling now, and as a result, your lie will more likely than not have a little slope in it.
When you see the shaping of the fairways as well as the movement on and around the greens, you start to understand why the firm was awarded the coveted second design job in Scotland at Castle Stuart in 2015 to complement Gil Hanse's initial effort there.
Shingle Creek's new layout: The Verdict
Shingle Creek's bread-and-butter will always be catering to business travel; such is life in the orbit of the O.C.C.C. But better golfers are now certainly going to enjoy the chance to be creative around the greens. There are also more decisions to make off the tee. The par-4 14th hole is a drivable par 4 with two bunkers and water down the left side, and the 11th hole, a long par 4, has a bunker in the middle of the fairway. Challenging bunkers off the tee can often lead to easier approach shots - which certainly fits Arnold Palmer's legendary aggressive playing philosophy.
In total, about 76 of the 110 acres were re-turfed. The health of the turf in early March is certainly acceptable but is a little firm under the feet, and a summer of grow-in and maintenance will serve the course well.
Stay and play at Rosen Shingle Creek
A stay-and-play at Rosen Shingle Creek is a great option for those attending not only OCCC events like the PGA Merchandise Show, but leisure and family vacations at nearby Universal Studios. If you are staying at nearby Bay Hill Club & Lodge or anywhere on International Drive, adding a round here is a no-brainer.
The service and amenities are on par with all of Orlando's top resorts; valet parking, excellent practice facilities, clubhouse dining, pro shop and locker rooms. Golf carts have GPS (and the beverage cart was making the rounds late on a weekday twilight).
Shingle Creek golf packages are available from $399 for double occupancy and a round of golf per guest, plus additional amenities and discounted rates to the Brad Brewer Golf Academy.