I’m a huge fan of Donald Ross-designed golf courses. Many people associate Donald Ross with ultra-challenging courses that feature small domed greens a la Pinehurst #2, but if you study Donald Ross, you’ll find that nothing could be further from the truth. His greens typically have a lot of undulation, but domed greens were definitely not his calling card.
Pinecrest Golf Club in Avon Park, FL is a course that was originally designed by Ross and conveys what I’m talking about. The history of Pinecrest Golf Club is a story all its own. As the story goes, Ross visited Avon Park in 1926 and oversaw the design of Pinecrest Lakes Golf Club, taking full advantage of the topography in the area. As a result, not much earth had to be moved, which in those days was a slow, arduous process done with horses. Once completed, Pinecrest was the perfect amenity for the Pinecrest Hotel and Resort on Lake Lotela.
The clientele of both the golf course and hotel were not exactly strapped for cash; the resort was a desirable destination for the rich and famous of the Chicagoland elite. Among those to grace the grounds of Pinecrest were Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Burns & Allen, Grover Cleveland and FDR. In fact, rumor has it that Al Capone frequented the resort to work on both his tan and his golf game. I wonder if he was a gracious loser?
Professional golfers discovered Pinecrest In the late 1950s, and Pinecrest hosted the first televised PGA TOUR event: The World Championship of Golf, which was won Dr. Cary Middlecoff. Over the years, a number of A-list touring professionals have tried their luck here as well; names like Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Julius Boros and Kathy Whitworth.
These days, the hotel is nothing but a distant memory and the course was recently sold in July 2018. Pinecrest still remains a semi-private club and is open to guest play year-round. The course has been around for over 90 years and during that time has seen its fair share of renovations. Many of the bunkers have been restored and the greens are overseeded with bent grass. They are the fastest and truest rolling greens in the area.
The wide fairways and straight holes that lead to eighteen, elevated greens give away the fact that this is a Donald Ross design. Many holes feature false fronts and fall off on all sides. In true Ross fashion, a couple of the tee boxes don’t point towards where you need to hit the ball off the tee.
Pinecrest offers golfers 5 sets of tees, making it enjoyable for any level of golfer. From the back tees, Pinecrest plays 6,770 yards with a rating of 71.4 and a slope of 120. Most golfers will find that the Green Tees (6,360/69.4/116) offer an enjoyable distance that will still allow them to leave with some dignity. Seniors have a couple of options: the White Tees (5,830/66.1/111) or the Gold Tees (5,316/64.9/109). Ladies will be challenged from the Reds (4,930/67.2/112). Select the right set of tees and a good time is guaranteed for all!
The course may not be pristine by today’s standards, but it is after all, a Donald Ross course, and that carries a lot of weight. The course is located amidst beautiful orange groves; in fact, the 6th hole is a short, tight par 5 that maxes out at 478 yards and plays between two orange groves. By the way, golf balls are fairly easy to find in the orange grove, trust me!
Pinecrest has an impressive practice facility, featuring a full-length driving range and a short game area complete with sand trap. There is also a large practice putting green to get the speed down before you head out on the course.
After your round, stop by the Pinecrest Restaurant and Pub for what are surely the best hamburgers in Highlands County. The restaurant also features made-to-order sandwiches, wraps and salads; the homemade soups and chili are also very popular menu items, but the restaurant’s best seller of all time is the ¼ lb. all beef hot dog, served with your choice of toppings. Be sure to check out the daily specials while you’re there too, you never know what you’ll find. The Pub serves up all of your favorite adult beverages and libations.
Pinecrest Golf Club is located about an hour south of the Disney theme parks; The course is easy to get to but difficult to leave. They have a fully stocked pro shop and a friendly staff that is there to help. In addition to a great golf value, Pinecrest offers affordable memberships and is a great place for outings. They offer a 10-play pass which is very popular among locals and snowbirds visiting for the winter.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a subzero handicap or just learning the game, Pinecrest Golf Club offers players a fun, fair course that is, after all, a Donald Ross design. Big drives can pay big dividends on the par 5s on the front, giving you an opportunity to get on in two. It’s not your typical Florida course either, it’s a traditional course bordered by huge orange groves and naturally wooded area. No fairways lined with homes; just you, Donald Ross and that little white ball!
Whether you’re a scratch golfer or a 36-handicapper, you’ll enjoy Pinecrest Golf Club. The five sets of tees allow you to select a course length that can either challenge you or just be friendly and fun. For more information or to schedule your next round or group outing, give them a call at (863) 453-7555. They can be reached online at www.golfpinecrest.com.