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A hidden, hidden gem

07 MAR 2017

By Peter Mumford

Most travellers to Florida have their favourite spots and often opt for well known destinations such as Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. Whether it’s the lure of a coastal accommodation or a major theme park, the big time vacation spots offer a sameness that includes miles of shopping, chain restaurants and high rise hotels. Everything is fast paced and crowded. It’s not even remotely close to relaxing.

For the more adventuresome, there are charming small towns off the beaten path, where everything is a bit more laid back and people are actually friendly, not because they’re trying to sell you a timeshare or up-sell your food order but just because they’re friendly.

I discovered such a place on my recent jaunt to Florida for the PGA Merchandise Show. After a week in Orlando, I was ready for a little R&R, so I headed west to Ruskin.

Now Ruskin is not a place even regular visitors to the Sunshine State would likely know. If they recognize the name at all it might be because they saw a sign on Interstate 75, somewhere between Tampa and Sarasota. The town itself is close to the water and part of a stretch of coastal towns like Sun City, Gulf City and Apollo Beach. They’re all old towns and villages about 40 minutes south of Tampa that were discovered by real estate developers during some previous boom and now feature retirement communities and lots of golf courses.

 

Club Renaissance opened in 2002, the course was designed by Chip Powell, who is well known in Florida golf for crafting “playable” courses – that is, while they feature the requisite amounts of sand, water and wetlands, they’re not going to beat you up. Club Renaissance is exactly that too. It’s challenging enough, especially if you venture to the back tees at 6,700 yards and there is water on 17 holes but six sets of tee decks and generous fairways will let most golfers find a safe route to the greens. (I played the Burgundy tees at 6,380).

Club Renaissance is built on relatively flat land but Powell and his team moved enough dirt around to make it interesting. Greens are often raised, flanked by deep bunkers and most of the fairways cant left or right, sometimes rolling off towards the sand or water. The greens have a lot of movement in them too and often feature humps and mounds that deflect shots towards deep flanking bunkers. When we played they were in great shape and rolling about 9 on the Stimpmeter, which is just about right for all the contours.

The front nine at Club renaissance is quite open and has sort of a linksy feel to it. Bunkers pinch the fairways in the landing areas but driver is still the best option to set up short irons into most of the medium length par 4’s. Both par 3’s have some bite at 179 yards (4th) and 208 yards (7th) respectively, especially the 4th which plays into the prevailing wind to a very large green with a ton of slope.

 

The back nine is considerably shorter than the front, almost 300 yards, but the fairways are lined by oaks and tall pines and often framed by wetlands too. Fairway metals and hybrids seemed the best option off the tee on the back, which only left wedges into several greens. Both par 5’s are reachable in two shots and offer the best birdie chances.

Several holes stand out in my mind:

  • #3 is a 510 yard par 5 with a hard turn to the right. The fairway wraps around a pond and big hitters can likely carry enough water to put themselves in position for a mid-length approach. For the rest of us, it’s a 3-shotter but the green is raised and wickedly contoured so a well struck wedge can also set up a birdie.
  • #10 is also a par 5 but in this case quite reachable for most golfers. The problem lies in advancing the tee shot far enough to set up a reasonable second but not so far that you reach either of the ponds flanking the fairway. The green is small and not entirely receptive to a hybrid approach but the front bunker is, as I found out to my dismay.
  • #12 features a peninsula green with water on three sides. Its 167 yards with no bailout so only hero shots will do.

Unlike some courses that beat you up over the closing holes, Club Renaissance finishes up with four relative short holes that give you a chance to make up some strokes. They’re tight and will really test your putting but if you can avoid the water, you can close with a string of pars or even a birdie.

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No description of Club Renaissance would be complete without mention of the stunning Mediterranean style clubhouse. It serves as the focal point for the community as well as for golfers and visitors. Numerous patios and balconies provide ample views of the golf course and the brilliant waters around the clubhouse. Great place to wind up the day with a beverage (or two) and a sumptuous dinner.

For more information on Club Renaissance, please visit http://clubrenaissance.clublink.com/

In my next article about golf on the west coast of Florida, I’ll tell you about the exquisite resort where we stayed right on the water, with spectacular views of the St. Pete’s skyline and some of the delightful little restaurants that dot the waterfront in this often overlooked region.

Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag