Buffalo Creek and The Preserve are the subjects of this installment of More 18s of the USA.

We imagined that golf season was winding down in Buffalo-Niagara, so our attention momentarily turned to domes, trips and television. However, Mother Nature in the guise of El Ninyo disagreed, so we golfed through December 23rd, took a break, and returned to the course in January. To keep the appetite whetted, I’m going to offer up a new series on eclectic eighteens across the USA. The only thread tying them together is my having played them. That, and the fact that all of the courses are worthwhile. You’ll never play them all in one sweep, as I once did, but when you find yourself in these regions, know that these courses are worth your money and your best game.

Buffalo Creek

You can’t hide a solid routing. Ron Garl, who did much of his work in Florida, knows how to route a golf course. This is in great evidence at Buffalo Creek golf course in Palmetto, Florida, near Bradenton. The front nine utilizes the southwestern piece of property, with the exception of two rogue holes (five and six) that move to the north. The second nine holes occupy the northeastern half of the grounds, each coiling around the perimeter, then back to center. It’s an intriguing routing, as one rarely encounters the same wind on two consecutive holes.

The day that I played, I was a single  between two foursomes. No, that’s not a typo; another writer bailed and I decided to play as a twosome. I played two balls on each hole, one from the tips and one from the middies. My scores were nearly identical, but I don’t know what that means. What I learned was this: Buffalo Creek can get really windy; wind dries out greens; dried-out putting surfaces are quick; quick surfaces demand that you baby your putts, which makes you feel like you’re at Augusta. In other words, you best have a solid short game at Buffalo Creek. Being able to hit the low ball also helps.

There’s a little trick that superintendents use from time to time: they water the 30 yards of fairway leading up to a green, so that run-up shots can’t reach the putting surface. When this is combined with firm greens, it makes accessing the flag (heck, even the felt!!) supremely difficult. When I asked the locals about this, they shrugged and added “that’s what makes our course tough.” After dealing with the wind and the firm greens, not to mention the potential length from the back tees, I’m of the mind that it doesn’t need to be any tougher! Put it on your list the next time you’re in the Bradenton area.

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The Preserve

There are two courses named “The Preserve” in Bradenton and they are adjacent to each other. One is the private domain of a residential community and is in fine shape. The other is a public-access course and could use a little TLC. This review is about the latter, and I’ll expand on that need for attention in the third paragraph. I enjoyed all of the shapes of the holes at this golf course. The architect (Ted McAnlis) was able to bend holes in both directions and toss in the occasional straight one for variety. There is no elevation change, but there are a fair number of negotiations with marshlands and ponds, that up the any for the golfer.

Both nines at The Preserve work in a counter-clockwise fashion. Despite the omnipresent housing, one doesn’t feel suffocated by the domiciles. There is a bucolic sense to the course, even when I-75 sits a few yards away, over a border fence. The greens putted very smoothly, with surprising speed. The undulations are understated, but every once in a while a healthy sidehill slider appears. His 18th green is mammoth, so be sure to get to the proper section of the surface. Oh, and pay attention to the course guide; there are a few holes with hidden hazards, where your lay-up (cough, cough) or poorly-struck tee shot (cough, cough) might find trouble.

I’ve yet to write a negative review about a golf course. There’s always something that catches my eye, that demands a strategic approach. However, this poor course is in unadulterated need of unconditional love. Conditioning doesn’t take away from the experience for me, but it might for you. If that’s the case, heed my words. Understand that tee decks, fairways and greens won’t be perfect at The Preserve. If you do your part to sand divots and fix ball marks, you will make a difference for all involved.

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