The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes: All the Makings for a Steady Ascent

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

LONGWOOD, FL - Stand in a clubhouse or any other room full of avid golfers and yell "Tom Fazio is the greatest golf course architect in the last 20 years," and you're statement will likely be met with silent acquiescence, nodding heads, and of course some strange looks (you shouldn't really do this). Say it in a room full of touring pros and it might even earn applause.

This is how highly regarded the Fazio name has become to golf design.

Fazio is as large a figure in the business as there is. No other architect living gets the kinds of commissions or the properties to work with that Fazio does, and therefore it's no small matter when one of his products opens for public play. Three of his Central Florida designs (the private Black Diamond Club in Lecanto, mapped out along, over, and through a cavernous old quarry; and the two courses at World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville - Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks) are the most highly regarded and talked about "modern" layouts south of the Stadium Course at Sawgrass.

In these designs he has single-handedly raised the bar for naturalistic design excellence in the state. The ownership group of The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes, Taylor Woodrow Communities, understood this when they hired Fazio to design a course for them in Longwood, an affluent suburb several miles north of Orlando.

If you purchase a premier piece of property in a setting already studded with wealth and natural richness, and build on it high-end homes and a Tom Fazio golf course, people will flock to it. As it turns out for those who can follow it, this is a reliable recipe for success.

What it produced in this case is a superb blending of nature and man, a stunning, brilliantly beautiful golf course that runs amongst an ecological cornucopia of wildlife and diversified flora. Equally attractive is the fact that the impressive homes of the Alaqua Lakes community blend into the native surroundings as inconspicuously as do the 18 championship holes, with dense corridors of the wildlife preserve buffering them from one another.

We now know that affixing Fazio's name to a project assures an almost pathological reaction in golfers and homeowners alike, as evidenced by the rumors of prospective buyers camping out overnight to put their name on lots adjoining the course.

"It starts with Fazio," says Gregg Pascale, Membership/Tournament Director for the club. "It's safe to say, that in this case with Tom Fazio, if he builds it, people will come."

So highly thought of was the site and the project as a whole, that The Audubon Society got involved. This resulted in The Legacy Club earning the rare certification as a member of The Audubon International Signature Cooperative Sanctuary program, an exclusive rating given to only 17 golf courses worldwide (and only two public courses) at the time of this printing. An on-course Audubon eye count over Christmas tallied 41 bird species, and it is said that deer, wild turkey, and black bears are occasionally spotted roaming the property.

Beneath all this well-deserved hype is the course of The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes, one of the strongest new layouts in the area and certainly deserving of consideration as its best daily fee option.

Opened in September of 1998, the course has received nothing but a crescendo of rave reviews and impassioned critiques.

One can nearly hear its reputation growing and rumbling halfway across the state. As is par for any his designs, golfers and travelers of all sorts stop in just to "check out" Fazio's latest, and here is no exception. Pros such as John Cook, Fulton Allem, and Nick Faldo have come to play and practice (Cook and Chris DiMarco share the course record of 64), and all have sung its praises. "We started off being the 'new Fazio course'," says Gautam Patankar, Marketing Director, "But we're finally starting to see that change and we're hearing more and more people refer to us as 'The Legacy Club'." Unanimously positive reviews have only helped.

At its best, The Legacy Club is inspired golf, offering beautiful holes in as picturesque a setting imaginable for this part of the country. There is a reason that the Fazio name creates the reaction it does: he is a master of natural design, the best in the business when it comes to blending a course into the environment.

This may seem paradoxical to some who know of his ability to fabricate courses, creating tracks seemingly out of thin air and sand (see Shadow Creek in Nevada), and let it not be said he is shy of bulldozers. But the fact remains that more so than any other architect, his courses appear beautiful and naturally harmonious. He is the closest thing the golf design world has to an artist.

The Legacy Club fits into this class of design and is a prototypical reflection of his art; the course is nothing if not lovely. His innate feel for the site and its contours is most evident on the signature holes, nine and eighteen.

These are two parallel par fours of 405 and 404 yards respectively (tournament tees), slightly uphill and separated by a shadowed forest of trees. The holes share a tee box and both drives must carry the same body of water. Like most of the holes here, the landing areas are generous and bracketed by large, omnipresent, though tame, fairway bunkers and waste bunkers. To stand on the tee and view these holes together, noticing their movement and pattern, one can begin to see with Fazio's eye and understand his ability to capture the beauty of the land and its natural flow.

The tenth is another stunning hole, worthy of a long look from the tee forward and then back again from the green. This is a 433-yard par four, slightly downhill to a serpentine fairway defined by a large bunker on the left.

The impression here is of autumnal golf in New England, a postcard look created by the soft contours of the hole, the variety of trees and their colors, even a white split rail fence on the left. The next hole, a 529-yard par five that doglegs right the entire way, conjures images of South Carolina - its creeping fairways, white bunkers, moss draped oaks and cypress. Who can tire of this beauty? Fazio, as usual, has taken the greatest advantage of what the land offers.

The Legacy Club is a lengthy course from the farthest sets of tees (7,160 yards Tournament and 6,763 yards Championship), but four more sets ranging from 6,392 yards to 5,055 yards offer choices for all handicaps.

The course is rated as difficult, maxing out at a whopping 74.5 with a 132 slope, but is really set up for the golfer to play well. The fairways are wide and supportive, there is extra room off the tee and around the greens where and when it is most needed, and there is no intention of punishing players who are having off rounds. There is a gentle handling in the design that encourages comfort and good play.

The real trick is on the greens. These are as devilish and deceptive as they come, especially slick on the variety of downhill putts invariably encountered, and many of the pin placements cannot help but be cut near subtle ridges.

Getting the ball near the hole takes every bit of skill and care the golfer has. That said, they are a pleasure to putt - it is a rare treat to play a course achieving this level of conditioning. "For some people it's is as close as they'll ever come to playing a Tour-caliber course," Patankar states. "Our members and guests respect the course and treat it well." Special kudos goes out to superintendent John Kopack and his crew, who are gaining a splendid reputation for their work here.

The course is open to the public "but has a private feel to it," says Pascale. "The majority of our rounds are locally driven. We don't do deals or packages to draw golfers. We want to let our reputation market for us."

"We're not going to give you a free hot dog or anything like that to get you to play here," Patankar adds. "The quality of the golf course speaks for itself." You've got to admire how serious golf is taken at The Legacy Club.

In a city where the real and the unreal are as closely related as they are in, say, Hollywood, and where everyone you meet might as likely be a tourist as a local, this earnestness and simple dedication is refreshing. To do any more would be to debase the pristine effectiveness of the course.

Green fees vary depending on the time of year, with a low Florida resident rate of $44 Monday through Thursday from May 21 to October 31, 2001 and a high weekend rate of $109 from January to April 15.

Generally expect fees to be in the $80-$100 range, call ahead for exact rates. Cost includes the handy computerized GPS Par-View system in the golf carts. Memberships are also available. For more information call Gregg Pascale at (407)444-9995.

Time will tell how far up the ranks of great golf courses The Legacy Club will climb. Certainly all the makings for a steady ascent are here - it could be just a matter of time before everyone knows of it.

There is no doubt the impression it leaves on those who've played it is memorable. "We are the best golf course in Central Florida," says Patankar matter of factly. "You've just got to play it. You'll understand."

The Legacy Club will host a U.S. Open local qualifier in May.

Directions: The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes is located just north of Orlando in Longwood. From I-4 take Lake Mary Blvd., exit 50, west 2 miles to the intersection of Markham Woods Road. Go through the intersection – the course is immediately on the right.

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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