A Ghost Course in Central Florida, and a Golf Trip to the Twilight Zone

The former Winter Springs Golf Course, Winter Springs, Florida.

Part of the former Winter Springs Golf Club, Winter Springs, Florida. The cart barn, clubhouse, and parking lot are near the bottom of the image, just right of center.

A common experience for Florida golfers in recent years: trying to make a tee time at a golf course they’ve heard good things about, and discovering that the phone has been disconnected and the Web domain is for sale. An example is Winter Springs Golf Club, which went belly-up in 2006. I was in the Orlando area last weekend, on a Golf Digest assignment, and decided to have a look. Here’s the clubhouse, as it appears from the main parking lot:

IMG_0810Apparently, someone bought the course with the idea of building houses on it, and only then discovered that a deed restriction made that impossible. (Due diligence!) Now it sits.

IMG_0817The old club had a lighted driving range. Here’s what it looks like now:

IMG_0837While I was snooping around, a policeman noticed my car and drove in to see what I was doing. He called in my driver’s license number, to make sure I wasn’t wanted for something. Then we chatted about golf for a while, and he asked me whether another ten or fifteen minutes of trespassing would be enough. I thanked him, and he suggested that I stay out of the clubhouse.

Here's the back of the clubhouse. Those particle-board sheets cover the windows of what used to be the grill room and the golf shop.

Here’s the back of the clubhouse. Those particle-board sheets cover the windows of what used to be the restaurant and the golf shop.

It doesn’t take long for a golf hole to turn into something that isn’t recognizable as a golf hole. Here’s the first tee, the first fairway, and what’s left of the first-hole cart path:IMG_0822 That hole was a straightaway par 5. According to the sign, there were four tee positions:IMG_0827

Florida probably still has too many golf courses. Even so, it’s sad to see the ruins of a place where you know at least a few of the regulars felt more at home than they did at home.

IMG_0843Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, the golf courses might as well be in receivership. This is what my back yard looked like on Thursday afternoon, when the storm was still only getting started:

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And here’s how things looked on Friday morning. (The doghouse on the right, which is on top of a wall, belonged to one of the three cats that lived in our yard for many years.)

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My wife and I have been throwing birdseed into the snow, and attracting mainly juncos and cardinals. When the seed runs low, the birds send an emissary to the back door to complain. When I got up this morning, there were junco footprints on the doormat:

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I tossed out a double load, and a few minutes later the birds were back:

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Birds really do this, incidentally. During the summer, when our hummingbird feeder runs out, a hummingbird will fly up to the window closest to the computer in my wife’s office, on the second floor, and hover there until she notices.

Same back yard, with hummingbird, in better times.

Same back yard, with hummingbird, in better times.

The wife of one of my golf buddies told me that when the feeder runs out at her house a hummingbird will fly, in sequence, to windows in the rooms where she can usually be found during the day: kitchen, bedroom, laundry room. After I’d fed the birds, I re-shoveled the path to the back door:

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Last week, my friends and I had no choice but to return to the simulators at Maggie McFly’s—which, I’m sorry to report, are showing their age. Our round lasted at least a half-hour longer than it should have, because the sensors had trouble picking up the balls. Still, it was golf. And, because Ferris had never played on a simulator before, we picked Pebble Beach. Here’s Rick, lining up a putt on the twelfth:

20140207_165317-001Spookily, the golf tournament on TV, which we watched between shots, was also at Pebble Beach, and there were quite a few occasions when the hole we were playing was exactly the same hole they were showing on TV—in this case, the thirteenth:

20140207_165321-001It was pretty darned eerie.

12 thoughts on “A Ghost Course in Central Florida, and a Golf Trip to the Twilight Zone

  1. David, thank you for the WSCG info…..as a newly minted college grad (over 40 yrs ago), I enjoyed playing the courses in northern Seminole County….DisneyWorld was new then….lot’s of growth occurred during the ’70’s (in spite of the oil “shortage”).

    • Thinning the herd has been good for the survivors, which are doing better than they were when they had more competition. But it’s awful creepy.

  2. I had a similar experience last year in Titusville Florida. I was hoping to play a round at Royal Oak, a Dick Wilson design that was popular with the late, golf great Moe Norman. I was told that the course went out of business in 2012. I work at a golf course in Canada and I was nearly brought to tears after looking at the run down conditions. Very sad indeed.

    • I played Royal Oak with Moe Norman, Todd Graves, and Gus Maue in 1995, when it was a cold-season hangout for members of the Canadian P.G.A. Very sad– and it’s one of many. Here’s a link to a Google Earth shot of the clubhouse and the former swimming pool, which is now an algae-breeding basin: bit.ly/NQL068

  3. Our group also played “Pebble” last week while the pros played the real thing. I shot “73.” you’re welcome to join us here in westborough, ma. They just opened a house indoor simulator place with a bar and food from the japanese place downstairs

  4. This is a very tough post for me to see and a bit strange. I lived right on that golf course in 1992-93 while I finished college in Winter Park. I must have played WSGC a hundred times and man, what a golf course it was. Cut out of what seemed to be a jungle it was designed by the team of Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin and had a series of holes I considered to be an amazing finish, maybe one of the best I have ever seen. I have played some pretty awesome golf courses, and the 15th 16th and 17th dubbed the “Devils Elbow” at WSGC was spectacular. It also had a double dog leg par 5, a true double dogleg, the 6th. Also the 4th and the 12th stood out as amazing holes. So sad this spectacular course has been abandoned. truly a great course that I cut my golf teeth on.

    I also grew up in Cheshire CT, so the posts of CT were nice.

    Mark Perullo.

    • I played on the Rollins golf team from fall of 1980 through spring 1982 and this was our home course – it was called Big Cypress back then, Mark. You know why, too…those enormous Cypress trees that defined the 10th & 18th holes. You mention the 12th – in the early ’80s it was about 215 yards right along the main road and played anywhere from 5 iron to 3 wood depending on the wind. And 13 was a funky par 5 – I think those holes were redesigned in the late 80s because the land that 12 was on was sold and developed. But the course just had interesting holes from 1 thru 18, really. That 1st tee shot was great because you wanted to rip it to have a go at the green but at the same time it was just nothing but trouble left and right. Coming out of 6 you had the the 7-8-9 stretch which was fun. I grew up in north NJ and when you hit it in the woods you went in, found it and figured out what to do next. Not at Big Cypress. Hit it in those woods and just get another ball and you’re hitting 3 from the tee. Lots of great memories for me so it’s sad to see those pics.

  5. Was looking at the status of Winter Springs GC and found your notes. I had played WS several times on trips to Orlando, and was looking today st other courses here that have gone away. Played Cypress Creek on the south side of Orlando yeard ago, and see it is also gone. Learned this week that the International GC, renamed Grande Pines, across from the Marriott Grande Vista, also cloded recently – drove around it yesterday and it lookek sad. One of my remaining goals is 1000 courses before I am gone – guess I better hurry. I did, at least, get in golf in all 50 states, completing that goal a few years ago. I enjoy your columns in G D. Charlie Simpson, Breckenridge CO

  6. I live just down the road from WSGC. Always seemed sad to drive by and see it slowly return to virgin land. I did not golf, but can appreciate the design and beauty of a course. I’ve always wanted to have a walk through that course just to see how long it really is. I keep hoping the county or city will buy it and build a park. I hate to see land just sit and do nothing. Happens way too often around here.

    • There are a bunch of courses in Florida in the same situation. Other places, too. People built too many during the nineties and early 2000s, but it’s still sad to see them go.

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