Plantation Oaks: A Pleasurable Option near Gainesville

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

Alachua, FL - This quiet, rather mature golf community currently known as Plantation Oaks has been many things in its lifetime. The development surrounding the course, assembled beginning in the mid 1970’s, is still referred to simply as Turkey Creek by most Gainesville and Alachua residents, but the golf club has been called Heritage Links at Turkey Creek, Gainesville National, and now Plantation Oaks in its many monikered 24 years.

Though the name keeps changing, the design of the course hasn’t. Plantation Oaks’ eighteen holes remain a complete reminder of how the world of golf design has changed in the last quarter century.

Ward Northrup routed Plantation Oaks in 1977, working the holes through both the wide expanses of oak and the housing development as well.

Beyond removing trees, very little land was disturbed in its construction, especially compared to the massive quantities of cubic yards of earth moved regularly in the shaping of most modern courses. It rolls lazily over the mild slopes of this parcel ten miles north of Gainesville, reflecting the laid back Southern atmosphere of this part of the state in its gently flowing sight lines, mild push-ups greens, and understated mounds.

A short, parkland-style layout of par 72, Plantation Oaks’ tournament tees measure only 6,570 yards, with three alternate sets placed at 6,200, 5,930, and 5,580 yards. Trees closely border each fairway, the greens are open and sloped back to front, and sand is employed minimally, bracketing greens and as fairway targets.

Though not a dynamic course or spectacular in any way, Plantation Oaks does offer a compelling collection of well-kept, very traditional golf holes. Compared to the competing fare available in the Gainesville area, and really north-central Florida, it may be the most appealing choice.

For a city of its size and prominence (population over 100,000 and home to the University of Florida, the state’s largest campus), Gainesville’s collection of golf courses is surprisingly weak. Visitors to the area will find that the area cannot offer the diversity or quality of golf that Florida’s reputation is staked upon. Nearly every other destination city in the state (and Gainesville is really only a destination for those involved with the university) can boast of courses that are generally more compelling than the area’s six eighteen-hole options. Two of those options are now private (Haile Plantation, a 1993 Gary Player design, joined Gainesville Country Club as a private club in 2000), and a third (the University of Florida’s course, an old Donald Ross design currently being renovated by Bobby Weed) is open only to those affiliated with the school and guests.

That leaves three public venues to absorb the play of the cities remaining players. Two municipal courses, the uninspired Ironwood and the crafty Steve Smyers designed (but under-maintained) Meadowbrook, rack the most rounds along with Plantation Oaks.

So among the viable golf alternatives in Gainesville, Plantation Oaks is particularly attractive, visually as well, as it practically acquired a becoming air of maturity over the years. The course seems lush and completely grown in, a deep visage of old green enhanced by the crowding trees and gradual slopes.

Though set amongst the homes of Turkey Creek, the course and foliage manage to camouflage the residences. The interaction between the layout and the homes is indicative of the relation that golf communities of this era used to have with the surrounding home sites, one that normally showcased the course rather than rows of giant, monolithic, high six-figure houses.

The homes are set back off the course and secluded by the trees posing little threat to interference with sight lines or play. While it’s rarely ideal that houses and golf courses co-exist, this is a symbiotic relationship, particular to the time they each were developed, a harmony difficult to duplicate in this age of construction excess.

In early 2000, two local investors purchased the course with the intention of restoring it and the club to the peak form it was known for in its prime. Considerable money has been spent on conditioning and bunker restoration, and there are plans to both build and rebuild tee boxes adding length to the course, a necessity if Plantation Oaks hopes to attract minor tour tournaments in the future.

The two nines on the course were also inverted, a sound idea due to their different characters. Numbers one through seven are straightforward, narrow holes that call for prescriptive accuracy into large greens. They are rather obvious, linear holes where solid shots and steady putting should result in par or bogey with little danger to them other than trees.

Beginning with the eighth (formerly the seventeenth), a 110 to 140 yard par three, the course livens. The egg-shaped green is surrounded on four corners by bunkers, the great rear left trap being of the deepest depth on the course some seven feet below the putting surface.

The significant back-to-front tilt makes the front of the green the safest place from which to putt.

When the new back nine is gained, the game seems to begin, due in large part to the less restrictive design. Beginning right away at the 10th, an eminently reachable double-dogleg 500-yard (back tees) par five, the fairways widen, bringing more strategy and gamble into the equation.

The hole is yawning off the tee, with the ideal driver placement either on the far left or far right side of the fairway. These areas provide clear paths to the green that avoid the trees standing at the inside corner of the second bend. Good drives here will leave manageable shots over a portion of water to the right, with vast fairway available to the left for safe play.

From the tenth, the course meanders out through the neighborhood with some enormous stretches between green and tee, treks that literally have one traveling over named residential streets and sidewalks, turning corners and stopping at signs.

Even for golf communities, this is total incorporation, a precursor to the bike paths that weave through today’s suburban developments. Still, the holes sit nicely within the trees and homes (as much as that’s possible). The slightly downhill 370 yard 12th is plainly pretty, its large, dominating bunker on the left side is a perfect target against the fairway that slopes down to the dense trees on the right and ripples jauntily on its way to a deep green nestled in a grove at the hole’s conclusion.

Most of the holes on this side are quite photogenic, particularly the par three fourteenth that plays 125-150 yards over a pond amid a cozy ringlet of homes. A second, smaller body of water guards the green’s left and a towering old oak blocks the front right.

The 15th is another opportunistic par five of 520 yards. Tee shots are driven out to the bunker straight off the tee 250-yards ahead, and long plays aimed just to the left of it will find a speed slot where they will roll down a slope another 15 yards. From there the hole levels and doglegs left toward a well-bunkered, nicely contoured green.

Granted, Plantation Oaks is not what most golfers expect from a Florida course. Stylistically the course is an intimate throwback to a time in golf course architecture when there wasn’t the competition or financial need for designs to amaze at every opportunity. It’s also an example of conventional designs popular during the 1960’s and ‘70’s that put priority on high, straight golf shots and steady play. Thus, without many legitimate rivals in the area, Plantation Oaks finds a niche as a reliable, and pleasurable, golf course.

To get to Plantation Oaks, travel five miles north of Gainesville on Highway 441 and turn left at the Turkey Creek entrance. From I-75, travel seven miles through the town of Alachua and turn 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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