Tom Irwin has his mind blown and his vocabulary exhausted by Gil Hanse’s new Black course at the Streamsong Resort in Florida
We are on the 1st tee of the Black course at Streamsong in Florida and talking to the shortest head pro in America. Or it could just be perspective.
We are learning that Streamsong Black is the third course at, well, Streamsong, a 16,000-acre – yes, 16,000-acre – resort two hours south of Orlando.
It is already home to a Red course (Coore-Crenshaw) and a Blue course (Doak) and now it has the a Black course, courtesy of Gil Hanse – he of Castle Stuart, the Olympics course in Rio, and President Trump’s Blue Monster at Doral fame.
Streamsong has an incredible hotel, an incredible spa, and loads of other outdoor activities. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, but once you are there you realise it is the middle of everywhere. I am the fat kid and this is my sweet shop.
A deer runs across the 1st fairway. It looks tiny. The Black is enormous. It takes up more space than the other two courses on the site combined, and they alone are bigger than Kent. It takes ages to get round.
The walks are enormous – it is not easy walking either, often through the sandy wastelands. You will not whip round in under three hours and still have time to do a tweet about how quick you are. But then you won’t want to. You will want to wallow in it, take it all in, play shots twice, three times, try different ways of pulling off the same shot, hit putts up and down hills, run chips off banks, and do it all again and again.
Streamsong Black is a modern classic, it is all the principles of age-old golf design, pumped up, expanded and made modern-sized. It is a work of art in graffiti. You can hit it anywhere. Anywhere. And you will not lose your ball. There is no rough. The penalty for missing fairways that are 500 yards wide is often, superficially, zero. Essentially an unraked bunker.
You will find it, but you won’t like your angle, you might not like your lie, and you won’t like the doubt it creates. It is plenty enough penalty. The ground is firm, the ball runs out and, whisper it quietly, like it does on a proper heath or, even quieter now, a links.
Gaping the fairways might be, but there is always a point of strategy. Such as the split fairway on the 4th, where the risky line off the tee takes out the need for a daunting, forced carry, and the funny angle for the second shot.
Or the field of a fairway on the short 6th where you can take your pick what you want for your second shot: wedge, pitch, putt, bunker shot. You choose. You hate choice. Choice makes you unsure.
There’s another fast and slow lane on the 10th, a will-he-won’t-he cross bunker on the 13te, and then the 14th. Oh me oh my, the 14th.
The par-4 14th on Streamsong Black is the new centre of the golfing universe.
It has had it away with Foxy at Dornoch, it has picked the petals from Flowering Peach, the 3rd at Augusta, it has had the shirt off the Cardinals Back at Prestwick, it is infected with the 9th at Cypress Point. A head-spinning kaleidoscope of feels, reminisces, inspiration and awe-inspiring newness.
The Black is all the things, all at once, again and again. And the second shot on the 14th is when it all makes it sense, a stop-the-clocks moment. Time and space, and the mess that is your lifetime of opinion on golf courses, start and end at this moment.
It’s all of the places you have ever visited, or never visited, and the architect’s intentions no longer apply, or never applied, because the hole is now too short, or the course is too soft, or the hazards never were or are no longer extreme enough. The second shot on the 14th at Streamsong Black is out the other side of all that and running away from you down a false front faster than you can yell ‘Rein the ball in!’
All the injected cores in the world aren’t going to make a blind bit of difference here.
Take golf off life support: it lives here, at the bottom of this slope, 10 yards off this green.
Now where was I? That’s right, Streamsong Black.
Yes, the fairways are enormous, but you still have choices, bad spots, good spots. But always a chance. Always a decision and you will never have a clue if you did the right thing. Choice kills you.
The greens though. That is where it comes to life. Where to start? Maybe at a skate park. You will read all manner of reviews bemoaning the greens, criticising the size, grumbling about three putts and extreme slopes. That is to miss the point.
The Old Course was once the standard in big, sloping greens. Now when the course has any give in it at all it is too easy.
Yes when it is baked and the wind blows it still has plenty of bite, but what it really needs is more tilt, more slope, more scale. The Black’s greens have it. It is not tricky to stay fast and running in the middle of Florida. So firmness is a given. To have the bravery to build greens big and bendy enough to make that count is to take advantage of your conditions in a way I have never seen before. The spades have worked in spades.
The 9th is probably the one people will remember, it is an almost perfect bowl the size of half a football pitch, where if you can hit it hard enough you can get your ball whipping round velodrome style. The greens are not one green – they are often five greens in one (stats need reassessing) – and three putts is often more than acceptable.
Think of the biggest green you have ever putted on, then double it and then think of 18 different things you could do with that surface area. You can’t. Hanse has. And all have slopes. Stand-out hills are the par-3 7th, where one member of our group had a 20-footer for his second and a full sand wedge for his third, the back to the front of the 9th, and the mountainous shelves and peaks of the 14th. Oh the 14th.
To an almost linear extent the holes at Streamsong Black get better and better, beginning to end, and from 1 to 18. It starts strong and finishes with its shirt ripped off. Every hole is a wow, and a woo and a wahey, but every hole is also a puzzle. It is as subtle as it is super-sized. You can play it and have fun there, so can I, so can he, so can she.
They should take the US Open there tomorrow.
- You can read Dan Murphy’s proper review of Streamsong here
- You can get some actual facts about Streamsong here
- You can read about Sam Horsfield’s 59 at Streamsong here
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