Work Underway on Bridgewater

By: Mark Leslie

Core golf, a stiff test spanning 7,300 yards, and a meshing of golf and ecology 260 acres of lakes and wetlands will be the hallmarks of the Steve Smyers-designed Bridgewater Golf Club, which is under construction in Lakeland, Fla.

The 600-acre Bridgewater property, 1/2 mile south of Interstate 4 on SR 33, will contain 800 houses around five lakes, but they will not intrude on the golf course itself, according to Smyers. "The developers are giving us great latitude to create different environmental settings and 'landscape rooms," he said. "In the end, we will match the many edges of wetlands and forest with sandy waste areas like Pinehurst and produce a golf course with exceptional feel."

Crucial to the project, which is being built by Phillips Development of Raleigh, N.C., is the restoration of 32 acres of distressed wetlands on the property. Not only will this turn overgrown marsh into a water-cleansing and wildlife-enhancing habitat, it will make earth available to design movement on the course and build up areas of the flat property.

"We will be creating ridges and hillsides with that dirt and landscape them with native grasses to provide a different atmosphere," Smyers said. "The site is so sandy we will be able to produce enough movement for an exciting ground game. And it is so open that wind will be an integral part of the game. Wind is a marvelous hazard and can give a course endless variety, making the holes play differently every day."

John G. Walton Construction of Mobile, Ala., started rough-shaping the course on March 1, and Smyers expects it to be grassed in August and open next January. Smyers and Walton will create a 165-acre wildlife corridor, including 64 acres of upland native plantings in trees and grasses, such as slash pines, sabal palms, cord grass and paspalum. The remainder will be lowlands and wetlands.

With three designs that have been ranked in the Top 100 Modern American Golf Courses, Smyers has gained a reputation for creating "players' courses," tracks with stunning layouts that also challenge golfers to think their way around them and make their shots. Most recently, he received acclaim for completely redesigning Isleworth Golf Club in Windermere outside Orlando, Fla., the home of Tiger Woods and a dozen other PGA Tour players.

While most of his designs have been in other parts of the country, Bridgewater represents his fifth in Florida in the past 15 years. Among them are Old Memorial in Tampa and Southern Dunes Golf & Country Club in Haines City. Also recently, he completely reconstructed the former International Golf Club in Orlando and reopened it for The Marriott Group's Grande Pines resort.