It has that quiet, professional feel. Relaxful, peaceful — Southern Hills Plantation Club offers some of the best links in the North Suncoast. The fairways and greens look like what you'll see on NBC or CBS on a Sunday afternoon. Designed by the world famous Pete Dye, who's best know for designing TPC Sawgrass and the island green, No. 17 hole, its easy to see why this course hosted a PGA Qualifying School event in November. But there's plenty more than just well cut and tended links. How about the rolling hills? How about landscape that looks nothing like Brooksville? There's all of that and more, especially on the No. 7 hole — which is aptly named A Fair Test — with its peak in the middle of the fairway and its 60-foot gradual decline down to the green. It draws comparison to Lake Jovita's South Course's No. 11 hole, yet with one difference: you have to go up at Southern Hills before you can get down to the promised land. There's no doubt about it as course manager and director of golf Jim Knierim says its a visual intimidating hole. Keep in mind, Southern Hills is a private course open only to members and their guests or golfers who purchase a membership through ExecGolf, which lets golfers play on courses throughout the bay area. For information, log onto www.execgolf.com . Here's the scouting report:
On top of a mountain
The hole dog legs to the right at an obtuse angle and the top of the turn is about another 50-feet up. Imagine playing from the back tees. You have to be Zach Johnson to reach the turn, but since you're not and probably playing from the blue tees (520 yards), it'll still take one heck of a drive to get the ball up there. "The drive is straight up the hill and requires an accurate tee shot straight up the hill," Knierim said. "Definitely have to stay left because if you get into that bunker on the right side, your second shot is basically impossible."
An eagle isn't really an option, Knierim says, but staying on the right side of the fairway is. "The second shot its a placement shot and you're hitting blind, downhill and its going to leave you about 100-150 yards on third shot," he adds. Take out a nice hybrid or high iron or even a 3 or 5 wood to get within a 100 yards of the green. Chip on for the birdie attempt, but keep in mind, that's a fast green where the ball can roll off the hill in the back. Down there, you're looking at a triple bogey.
The not-so-giving tree
There's a big, old oak tree that can block your third shot, that is if you're on the left side of the fairway. It sits there, ready to stop your ball and torment you. Just stay away from the left side and that should be pretty easy since the fairway slopes from left to right.
Beyond the tree, there are five sand traps to keep an eye on. The two on the right side of the green are fairly deep, so when taking that third shot approaching the green, aim a little left to be cautious. As for the bunkers in the fairway, a fade tee shot should keep you out of them.
Knierim calls this green an optical illusion. The green looks pretty flat, but it actually slopes from front to back, nearly running out the bottom of the hill on the fairway. The slope is almost nearly impossible to notice, it affects putts going from back to front. "You're basically putting back up the hill you just came down," Knierim said. "It's hard to judge it." The remedy: a little extra on putts going to the front and just a tap when the pin is in the back.
Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 544-1771.