SouthWood starts to put Tallahassee golf on the map

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There's no secret that Tallahassee lags behind most Florida recreational epicenters when it comes to outstanding golf. Given its sizeable population, the repertoire of courses in and around the city always has been disappointing, despite the fact that Tallahassee is surrounded by a rambling wooded terrain seemingly ideal for Southern golf.

The debut of SouthWood Golf Club, which held its grand opening in November 2002, changes that. SouthWood gives Tallahassee a course it can call excellent -- in fact it's a course that would enhance the reputation of any city.

The SouthWood Golf Club is the keystone to a 3,200-acre St. Joe/Arvida development located on the eastern edge of Tallahassee. Designed by the team of Fred Couples and Gene Bates it's the latest of four Florida golf clubs owned by St. Joe/Arvida St. Johns Country Club in St. Augustine, Victoria Hills in Deland, and Camp Creek in Seagrove.

The property is an uncommon parcel of land, a picnic setting of trees broken by soft slopes and cozy coves. In routing SouthWood widely over 175 acres, Bates and senior designer Matt Swanson -- along with Couples who made three site visits before the opening -- were able to create a design that gracefully captures the genteel feel of the land. The holes play before the various scenes of the former plantation, moving from an opening jaunt around a wetland area to runs through thickets of pine and oak and stretches of open meadow.

If there's a trademark feature at SouthWood it will be the magnificent oaks that stud the roaming landscape. The ancient trees serve as towering landmarks around which the routing turns and nearly every hole includes at least one of the looming specimen into its pattern, either as a point of reference or as a startling playing feature. At the 14th and 15th, two back-to-back par 4s that bend right and uphill, monolithic oaks stand directly in the line of charm forcing the player to choose a side.

"I've never seen a golf course with oak trees like this," said Couples at the grand opening. "I think it's just beautiful."

Architect Gene Bates was equally impressed with the site.

"When we first walked this property I had goosebumps. Where in America do you still find land like this?" he asked.

While the dominant oaks shade the property in a halcyon tone, it's the billowing terrain that makes possible an exceptional golf course. The topography, rather unique to Florida with so many hardwoods and undulation under foot, speaks loudly to the untapped potential of golf in Leon County.

Bates and his team deserve credit for applying to the land, despite its inherent advantages, an appropriate, tastefully modeled course. They wisely realized that there were already delightful characteristics to it; revved up design features would clash with the pastoral nature of the property.

The architecture in turn is soft and restrained. The majority of the putting surfaces are modestly contoured and spacious, while the bunkering, if sprawling in places, is respectful of the course's large scale without competing with it. The more the site imbues a particular hole, the more delicate the corresponding architecture becomes.

Still, as engaging as the site is, what's most intriguing about SouthWood is the variety found of the golf holes. It's not exaggeration to say that no two holes are alike -- no two holes even come close. There are three or four distinct "pockets" of landscape on the site and SouthWood progresses through each in distinct movements, through low countries, high countries, secluded woods, and open fields, unified by a leitmotif of oaks.

Within this progression is the charm, the variety of looks and lengths, of the individual holes. The short par 4s are especially spirited: the 375-yard second, riddled with bunkers, bends quickly down and around a shallow wetland area, whereas the 393-yard fifth (from the "Boom Boom" tees) rises amid the oaks to a dominant bunker complex splitting the fairway, the bunkerless green here running away from the approach. The 11th, the beginning of a run of tremendous two shotters on four of the next five holes, is truly drivable for the long player if the solitary fairway bunker is carried up the right.

The long par 4s are equally memorable with a mix of uphill beasts like 14 and 15 and downhill monsters such as 12th, where the 455 yards are emasculated just enough by the fall from the tee, so long as the cross bunkers are carried with the drive.

While SouthWood is deserving of recognition statewide -- it must be considered among the best new courses of 2002 -- its greatest importance is to the city of Tallahassee itself. The club vaults Tallahassee cleanly into the modern golf age and is likely to become the focus of all things golf for the city. It's already the new home for the Florida State University golf teams.

"As an individual I feel like this is one of the best spots [for golf] that I've ever been on," said Couples. Then he repeated, almost as if he still couldn't believe it, "I've never seen oaks like this."

Where To Stay

Tallahassee has long been somewhat notorious for lacking high quality hotels, but there is no shortage of cost effective mid-level accommodations. There are numerous dozen standard overnight hotels along Apalachee Parkway, as well as the standard collection of roadside rooms along the I-10 exits.


Opened: November 2002
Architect: Gene Bates and Fred Couples
Par: 36-36-72
Yardage: 7,172 ("Boom Boom" tees); 6,628; 6,022; 4,978; and 2,696 ("Wee" tees)


From I-10 exit 199 (Monroe) south. Drive toward capital building and turn left on Highway 27 (Apalachee Parkway). Go approximately five miles to Capital Circle (Highway 319) and turn right. SouthWood will be 1.5 miles on the left at Merchants Row Blvd.


Green fees are $45 Monday through Thursday, $50 weekends.


There are several long treks between holes at SouthWood, and some elevation as well, but SouthWood is a course that can be comfortable to walk for those who prefer to carry the bag. Only members, however, have walking privileges.

SouthWood Golf Club
3750 Grove Park Dr.
Tallahassee, FL 32311
(850) 942-4653

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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