Within the gates of University Park Country Club in Sarasota FL sits 27 holes of championship golf that will test even the best of players. Each layout was designed by Ron Garl and can be played in 3 different combinations, offering members a wide variety of golf holes.
University Park opened in 1996 and has been rated 4-stars by Golf Digest in their Places to Play. This semi-private facility offers both memberships and daily fee rates, so it is accessible to anyone who wants to accept the challenge.
A community that was once referred to by the Association of Home Builders as the “Best Community Design in America” deserves a great golf course and Garl certainly delivers. Garl used whatever the topography of the land gave him and carved a beautiful golf course from the woodlands and natural habitat. Many of the holes feature fairways lined with trees and natural Florida vegetation and only a couple do not offer wide, ample landing areas off the tee. Although water is visible on a number of holes, it really only comes into play on 12 or so. Some holes require an easy forced carry over water or wetlands that shouldn’t pose a problem to any golfer – provided you’re playing the right set of tees.
Rather than having catchy or symbolic names, the holes are simply numbered 1–9, 10-18 and 19-27. Each nine presents its own unique set of challenges.
From the back (Diamond) tees, Holes 1-9 play 3,548 yards. Most golfers will be amply challenged from the Platinum tees (3,023 yards), while the ladies’ yardage is 2,394 yards. Number 2 is a par 5 that will be reachable in two for many players and can help get a good round off to a quick start. It requires a precise approach shot to a narrow green protected on the left by water, and with the green set on an angle, you may need one extra club to reach a back pin placement.
It’s not often that bogey can be considered a good score, but it is on Number 3, the layout’s #1 handicapped hole. It’s a dogleg right that slopes to the right, so unless you know you have the length, cutting the dogleg is not a good idea; that is unless you enjoy hunting for golf balls. A good line off the tee is the fairway bunker on the left with a little bit of a fade. Almost 93% of the players out here do not hit number 2 green on their second shot, so be prepared to go for an up and down to save par.
The par 3, number 5 is University Park’s signature hole and at only 140 yards from the Platinum tees, it provides many with a fitting challenge. You may want to consider hitting one extra club off the tee in an effort to clear the front bunker that sees a lot of play. Long is better than short!
Holes 10-18 are roughly the same length as 1-9 (3,456 from the Diamond, 3,072 from the Platinum and 2,481 for then ladies), with water factoring into the equation on all but two holes (13 and 14). This side starts out with a somewhat short par 4 – 342 yards from the Platinum tees – but don’t let that fool you. Although the fairway opens up to the right just past the trees, there’s a pond lurking over there. If you can favor the left side off the tee, you’ll be left with a medium to short iron into a wide green. With the green sloping form back to front, try to keep your approach shot below the pin to have the best shot at birdie.
The two finishing holes on this side really set this nine apart. Number 17 is the #1 handicapped hole and, at only 359 yards from the Platinum tees, requires an extremely accurate tee shot to a very narrow landing area with water on the right. An extra club might be the right call on your approach shot; it plays slightly uphill and is fronted by a beautiful – yet treacherous – bunker.
Number 18 (379 yards, Platinum Tees) has always been one of my favorites out here and I have yet to master it. There’s water on the right side off the tee and trust me, it is reachable. Shorter right off the tee and you’re in the fairway bunker. From here you’ll need to carry not only the water but also navigate around or over a couple of trees, all from the sand. Good luck! The left side is no bargain either as a cluster of bunkers await errantly hit shots. Find the fairway off the tee and your chances to score well here increase dramatically. There’s a large trap that guards the right side of the green, which is open in the front left. A word of warning on your approach shot: long and left Is death!
Holes 19-27 play slightly longer than the other two nines (3,151 yards from the Platinum Tees, 2,468 for the ladies). Number 21 (384 yards from the Platinum Tees) is yet another hole at University Park that requires accuracy off the tee. Even a good drive is going to leave a long second shot that needs to be struck crisply. When in doubt, aim for the left side of the green; if you come up short, you’ll still have a good chance at up and down to salvage par.
Hole Number 26 is a challenging par 5. Although water doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t -come into play, what it lacks in water, it makes up for in sand. You’ll need to avoid the fairway bunkers on the right off the tee; longball hitters may have an opportunity to go for the green in two. If you find yourself having to layup, there’s a series of three bunkers about 100 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway. The green is best approached from the left side. For those trying to reach in two, take dead aim straight over the fairway bunkers.
The final hole is the shortest par 4 on the course. Playing a mere 330 yards from the Platinum Tees, a well struck tee shot over the first fairway bunker on the left will leave a short iron or wedge into one of the course’s smallest greens. It’s a great opportunity to end your round on a positive note.
Last Word: University Park Country Club offer six sets of tees, so that anyone – regardless of their skill level – can enjoy the course. There’s a large, full-length driving range where players can hit every club in their bag, a great short game area and a large practice green where you can groove your putting stroke before heading out on the course. Inside the clubhouse, University Park’s pro shop is stocked with all of your favorite logoed golf apparel from designers such as Fairway & Green, Tehama, Cutter and Buck and Jamie Sadock, as well as equipment from some of the biggest brands in the game. You’ll find them competitively priced with the big box retailers.
Another thing that sets University Park apart is their culinary staff. Executive Chef Roger Turtch has plenty of experience at high end private country clubs and his highly trained team uses only the freshest ingredients, prime meats, fish and poultry to create dining experiences unlike anything you’ve had before. Club members and visitors to the facility are invited to enjoy lunch at The Park Grille & Café, Monday – Saturday between 11:30 am and 2:30 pm. Their vast menu includes mouthwatering burgers and sandwiches, homemade soups and gourmet salads that are anything but typical. Dinner is reserved for members and their guests.
It’s often been said that membership has its privileges and University Park Country Club is no exception. They offer 30, 60 and 90 Day Trial memberships for those who are interested in giving the country club lifestyle at University Park Country Club a try. These memberships are available for full memberships, Tennis & Fitness and dining. You are limited to one time, kind of a try before you buy.
Another popular membership is the Summer Golf Membership which starts at just $500 for the entire summer. Just pay cart fee and you’re on your way. It’s another great way to introduce yourself to the club and at the same time meet some new friends.
If everything goes as it should, either of these programs will lead to an Annual Membership, which gives unlimited access to all University Park has to offer. Annual memberships are available in seven classes, just call Ann Backus, Membership Director for more information at 941-355-3888 ext.234. You can also visit them online at www.universitypark-fl.com.
Golf Life Contributor