DADE CITY — The most common word used to describe last week's British Open course, Royal St. George's, was "quirky." Rolling hills in the fairway, bunkers that resembled craters, rough made from sea grasses. Quirky, quirky, quirky.
You want quirky? You want hills and critters in the fairway? You want wagon wheels and stagecoaches in the rough? You want no bunkers at all?
Try the Triple S Golf Ranch.
Now that's quirky.
Located right off U.S. 301, the Triple S Golf Ranch is no country club. It's just country. Take out the word golf, and it easily could be the Triple S Ranch. It has rolling hills, 100-year-old oak trees and one large lake in the middle.
In fact, on the western side of the course, cows graze on a neighboring farm. Only a wooden fence and a row of trees separate cow pasture from golf course.
"I've heard us called quirky,'' Triple S general manager Nancy Smith said. "That's fine with us. We like that.''
All in the family
The course used to be called Town-n-Country Golf Course. In April 2004, the Smith family took over and changed the name. Jim Smith bought the course. Nancy is his sister-in-law. Nancy's husband, Lon Smith, is the superintendent. Another brother, Richard, works on the grounds crew with nephew Matt Howe.
That's the entire Triple S staff.
"We're all family around here,'' Nancy Smith said. "We can all do everything. I can change the cups on the green if I have to or mow fairways. And they can work the register.''
The clubhouse is located at the end of the entrance and left of the dirt parking lot (of course) and cart/tractor barn. If it looks like a trailer, that's because it is.
You will find no fancy bar and grill. No fully stocked pro shop with the latest putters and drivers. But you can buy boiled peanuts or Slim Jims. Let's see Innisbrook or TPC Tampa Bay do that!
"We're pretty relaxed around here,'' Nancy Smith said.
The Ranch doesn't take itself too seriously. Want to play in jeans and a T-shirt? Fine. Want to play in tennis shoes and a cowboy hat? No problem. Dress like a country club golfer around here and they'll think you're putting on airs.
Each hole on the front nine is named after a famous character from the Wild West such as Butch Cassidy and Buffalo Bill. Each hole on the back nine is named after a famous Native American such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
The names are engraved in wood and hang from the hole markers.
"We had a member make those for us a few years ago,'' Nancy Smith said. "They asked if they could put them up on the course, and we said, 'Sure, why not?' ''
Another nod to the Wild West is stagecoaches and wagon wheels set up between fairways. There are also wagon wheels set up beside the road leading into the course. Jim Smith bought them one by one from a vendor in North Carolina.
The layout is simple. It is a full-length, par-71 course that has tree-lined fairways and elevation. Some of the fairways slope severely. But there are no sand traps and no rough. Because there is no irrigation in the fairways, it uses natural grasses and can get brown during the dry season. This time of year, it is green.
All the way around the course, it is easy to see how the Smiths keep it simple. The cart paths are made of dirt. The flags are just basic yellow. Signs about carts and ground under repair are handwritten. You want your ball washed? Put it in the lake, city boy.
Golf on a budget
It is hard to spend a lot of money at the Triple S Golf Ranch. The average greens fee is less than $20 during the summer. After noon, it's $12, and after 2, it's $10. Kids 12 and younger are free as are those older than 90. Active military with proper ID also can play for free.
Despite the cheap fees, Nancy Smith said things have been slow this summer.
"I've had people tell me it's either use the $10 for gas or use it to play golf,'' she said. "Times are tough right now.''
There are still all kinds of players with different skill levels on any given day.
"It's easy to come out here and play at your own pace,'' said Jim Renault of Dade City, who was playing with his 7-year-old grandson, Grant Pitchford. "You don't usually have anybody pushing you. It's a nice layout. There aren't a lot of places like this where you can take somebody like Grant who is just starting from scratch.''
At the other end of the spectrum is fivesome Juanita Kelly, Jan Balluff, Shirley McAndrew, Mickey Stinson and Pat Huntress. Balluff is the youngster at 76. The others are in their 80s.
Most courses wouldn't allow a fivesome in the middle of the day. The Ranch isn't most courses.
"We play out here two or three times a week,'' Stinson, 87, said. "It's a great place for us to play. We love it.''
For a video review of the Triple S Golf Ranch, go to golf.tampabay.com.