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By Loretta Hopkins

Posted on September 24th, 2006

Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country Club, a semi-private club located just off Highway 27 fifteen minutes south of Disney World, has come out of last years hurricanes better than ever, in a story that would probably make pretty good reality TV itself. The "Real World" of Charley taking out 143 trees and closing the course for 10 days became the "Surreal Life" when after being open only a week after the cleanup of Charley, Frances blew in and hung around for 3 days, closing the course for 2-1/2 weeks. Then in a "Hit Me Baby One More Time" moment just 3 days after reopening the course, Jeanne came in with the knockdown blow that kept the golf course staff staff working for 2-1/2 months straight (sound a little like "Extreme Makeover: Golf Edition?") until re-opening for good Thanksgiving Day. "If you played Ridgewood Lakes before mid-2004, you’re playing a different course now."

Different, and General Manager Brian Boeling thinks even better. That’s pretty high praise for a course recognized by Golf Digest as one of the country’s "best new courses" when it first opened, and has been among Florida Golf News’ Top-50 courses in the Sunshine State.

The Charley/Frances/Jeanne redesign of the Ted McAnlis links-style original still provides the "great golfing experience" Ridgewood Lakes has promised since its 1994 opening. Among McAnlis’ projects since Ridgewood Lakes was his assistance of golf legend Raymond Floyd’s dynamic restoration of Doral’s Blue Monster.

With many of the old trees replaced by canary palms, and with even more crushed coquina and cord grass in the many waste areas that shape the layout, the course has even more of a tropical flair usually found in South Florida and Caribbean resorts. And challenging? For a course that looks fairly docile driving to the clubhouse, the tight approaches, small greens and water on 16 of the 18 holes give Ridgewood Lakes some serious bite. How about a 140 slope from the back tees of a 7,016-yard par-72 test?

If that’s creates too much "Fear Factor" for you, another of Ridgewood Lakes’ amenities is the simple posted suggestion at the first tee recommending which markers offer the fairest and most enjoyable test depending on your handicap. The tips are suggested only for those with handicaps of five or less. The Blue tees offer a 6,547-yard test best played by those with handicaps between 6 and 15. The White tees are 6,031 yards and recommended for handicaps between 16 and 36 with the Red tees measuring 5,217 yards. That little head start, and your first visit to the rough, whose first-class condition rivals many Florida courses’ fairways, should ease your anxieties and set you up for a memorable round.

Though Ridgewood Lakes is long enough for you to use your driver often, "smart" is better than "strong" here. Taking advantage of generous landing areas is the first wise move. Also, many of the holes offer opportunities to run the ball up through openings on the fronts of greens.

The very first hole is a prime example, a mid-range par-4 that doesn’t demand a big drive, but does ask you to keep it between the lake on the inside of the sharp dogleg left and 4 bunkers on the outside. Forced carries are at a minimum, though you’ll quickly have to deal with one on the par-5 second hole, with a unique island tee box jutting into the lake that keeps your interest all the way down the right side of the hole, offering you the reward of a shot at the green with your second, and the risk of an all-water carry to get there.

Another forced-carry from the tee comes up at the tough par-4 fourth hole, which stretches to 444 yards from the tips. A second hazard on the right side from 150-yards in to the green of the #2 handicapped hole. A lake also runs the length of the right side at the par-4 fifth, but shying away from that challenge leaves you vulnerable to two other lakes on the left side, though a good drive should avoid the first hazard and set up a solid second that will clear the greenside pond.

In an improvement brought on by the hurricane rains, the fairways at the seventh and the eighth (two par-4s) and the par-5 ninth (a true 3-shotter) all have been raised a foot-and-a-half, giving them more definition from the surrounding wetlands.
The back-9 is a true mystery of deception. The landing area is larger than it appears between wetland areas at par-4 10th, and also at the #1 handicapped par-4 11th, where a solid, but not overly-long drive sets you up to thread your second shot between water guarding the right side of the approach from 160 yards in and the left side from 100 yards.

The right-side fairway bunkers on the par-4 12th are more of a concern than clearing the lake off the tee. The par-5 13th has water left and right, but is avoidable with consistent first and second shots. The par-4 14th is fairly open until reaching the 130-yard mark coming in, when you’re faced with a shot over wetlands and crushed coquina and between oaks that frame the elevated and steeply sloped green.

The tantalizing par-3 15th has a new tie-wall bulkhead thanks to Hurricane Charley. The 16th is a great par-5, as long as you carry the marsh off the tee and keep the ball between the out-of-bounds on the right side and the water to the left. The pre-hurricane bailout area on the par-3 17th is now part of the marsh, improving the hole with a new, raised landing area in front of the green.

The par-4 finishing hole is a classic with marshland and a strategically placed bunker on the left off the tee and a lateral creek on the right that is now more in play after rising 14-feet during last summer’s storms.

The 5,000-square-foot clubhouse at Ridgewood Lakes stresses the "Simple Life", with catering available for receptions, outings and tournaments up to 150 and breakfast and lunch menus available every day for visiting players. The friendly staff in the full-service pro shop has the latest golf equipment and specials galore on golf essentials and accessories.

Ridgewood Lakes Golf and Country Club might be more than just a "Survivor", it might be on the road to becoming an "American Idol", or at least the winner of your next personal golf reality-show.
Copyright © 2006-2021 by Loretta Hopkins.
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