MetroWest Country Club: A Vision of the Present and the Future

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

ORLANDO, FL - MetroWest Country Club offers a type of charm largely forgotten in today's golf, a charm reminiscent of the old courses in large cities.

There is a serene and almost historic quality to it that calls forth the feeling of playing pre-1950 designed layouts with views of busy metropolitan skylines. Part of the feeling is certainly due to the crescendo holes 12,13,14, and 15 that explore a narrow corner of the property and rise high above the rest of the terrain, giving unrivaled spectacle to the steely, modern buildings of Orlando's downtown.

This part of MetroWest will give flashbacks to those who have played or grown up on those older city courses in places such as St. Louis, Chicago, or Denver, to name a few.

The rub is that MetroWest was built in 1986, not 1946 as the aura might indicate. This fact, in many ways, makes the course's impression even that more admirable.

The gentle touch of the late Robert Trent Jones, Sr. is certainly a reason for the mature flavor of the layout. The routing of the course and the manner in which it flows over the terrain and caters to the more distinctive features of the land, is simple and follows logic. Compared to most golf courses opened since 1986, the not-so-ancient MetroWest design seems fluid, graceful, and understated.

Those adjectives have been infrequently applied to Jones, Sr. courses over the last 50 years. As the pioneer of modern golf course design, not only in sheer number (over 500 designs and redesigns in 35 countries worldwide) but also in style and technological advances as well, Jones made a name for himself as somewhat of a renegade in the field. A master of marketing and promotion, he was known to attach his name to numerous, far-flung projects at once while designing in a way, that at the time, was bold and unique.

Jones, Sr.'s courses catered primarily to golfers of advanced ability and were often considered difficult for the average player. His heavy reliance on fairway bunkers and carry shots, features considered routine today, were widely adopted and helped usher in a new era of design philosophy that continues to evolve today. He was also the first to bulldoze earth on a massive scale to mold courses and land to his liking.

In these ways he initiated what could now be considered the American style of golf course design, a style that became the norm of course construction in the 1980's and 1990's.

Compared to the cutting edge designs of the Dye family, Arthur Hills and even his sons, Rees and Robert Jr., Jones, Sr.'s own courses seem tame and even gentle.

While he engineered the modern movement, others have expanded its hallmarks and taken it to new levels. That is why a design such as MetroWest, in many ways a culmination of all his learned tricks, can feel old, easy, and comfortable next to virtually every other course that has debuted in the last five years. In the fifteen years since the club opened, the industry has moved so far beyond the design style of MetroWest that the boldness Jones was once known for is virtually unrecognizable.

MetroWest, the "old" course that it is, is a breath of fresh air for Orlando golf. The course is a smooth blending of hills, mounds, and soft greenery that winds appropriately through homes and condominiums. The topography of the site is surprisingly interesting and the layout gracefully incorporates all of its rolling features and changes in elevation.

Most of the holes feature some degree of dogleg, traveling up and down through dips and rises toward the greens. If nothing else, MetroWest is a course of movement, harmony, and subtlety.

The bunkering at MetroWest, as one might expect from Jones,Sr., is pointed and strategic, though not overdone. Bunkers are featured in some manner on every hole, tucked at corners of doglegs or fronting or framing greens.

Still, compared to many competing courses, they seem tame.

MetroWest is the product of a group of investors, who in the early 1980s idealized a contemporary Orlando community for families and professionals.

It is situated not only within view of the heart of Orlando, but minutes from the airport and the tourist attractions to the south as well. The visionary master plan includes access to a business center that homes the corporate offices of certain national industries, the best elementary schools and daycare facilities, shopping, and of course the golf course and country club. It seems to have worked, as MetroWest is a thriving, active community and the golf is one of the most popular and praised rounds in Orlando.

Because it is linked so directly and so vitally to the surrounding community and greater Orlando as well, the prevalence of homes and living structures lining the course does not seem invasive.

Rather it seems natural, for there is no pretension that this is not a city course. There are no claims of exotic nature, wildlife preserves, or isolation here.

MetroWest was, and is, a vision of the present and the future, of neighbors and fellow citizens working and playing together.

The course measures 7,051 yards from the back tees, with three shorter sets working down to a ladies length of 5,325 yards. Off the tee, the course is open and forgiving.

"This is different from most of the courses around here," says Tom Christmann of Gainesville, FL. "I feel comfortable standing on the tee, like I'm going to hit a good tee shot.

I don't have to worry about all the problems that some of the other courses have." While Jones was probably not striving to create a stress free round, Christmann's sentiments are accurate. Golfers who play the new and resort courses in the area are more familiar with intimidating tee shots, encroaching hazards, and wickedly sloped and tiered greens. MetroWest, by contrast, is benign. The holes are natural, designed to accept a variety of shots rather than inflict punishment on those who do not conform to its shape. "I'd like to play here more often," Christmann adds.

There are opportunities for trouble, however. In addition to the numerous bunkers, water comes into play on nine holes. Of the two sides, the front nine is the more basic, though there are solid, challenging holes there.

The ninth, in particular, makes its presence felt in the golfer's mind from the moment it is seen on the drive toward the clubhouse.

It's a 405-yard (championship tees) par four that doglegs sharply left around a lake. The tee shot is slightly downhill and the extra yardage this provides is much needed for the heart pounding second shot.

This is a mid-to-short iron that must cut a corner of the lake to a green that extends slightly, precariously, into the water. There is absolutely no room to miss left and the bailout on the right is no picnic either, with course rough and a pot bunker. The ninth is a variation of the heroic type of hole that Jones made famous at courses such as The Dunes in Myrtle Beach in 1949.

The back nine is where most of the excitement is, each hole a trump of the previous for excitement and beauty. At the highest point, the 13th green, the beauty of the Orlando skyline is inspiring.

From there, it's back down the hill on the great, opportunistic 14th, a 562-yard par five. Drives will roll considerably as the fairway drops toward a green at the very bottom that is bracketed by water long and short, and bunkers. Going for it will be tempting for the longest hitters. Four more solid, striking holes take the round home, culminating with a carry shot over a leg of water to the 413-yard par four eighteenth green.

It's this Jonesian combination of heroism and beauty that keep golfers mentioning MetroWest in the same sentences as the newer, flashier courses of Orlando.

To be sure, there are many great alternatives for golf here, but for a feel of the tempered, for the more subtle, for the city, MetroWest has no competitors.

This is where you go to regain the old feel for golf that is often lost in the adventures of contemporary design, especially in Florida.

The base green fee is $70, but a twilight rate after 2 p.m. is a reasonable $35. Ask about a special Florida resident rate of $48, if applicable.

MetroWest is located in southwest Orlando off Hiawassee Road, approximately 2 1/2 miles south of Highway 50.

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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