The Lakes golf course at Firewheel in Garland, Texas: Tricky or tricked up?
GARLAND, Texas - It's always a challenge to play a golf course for the first time. Which club? Which line? Which way does this green break?
What makes the experience even more arduous is when the course architect has felt it necessary to hide fairways and hazards from view off the tee, and create landing areas that funnel inevitably toward water unless you hit precisely the right sort of shot - the sort of shot you could not have known you needed to hit unless you had played the hole before.
First-time visitors to the Garland area, just outside Dallas, will find a heapin' helpin' of challenge on their plates when they venture out to The Lakes Course at the expansive, 63-hole Firewheel at Garland golf facility.
And that challenge will likely be served up with a big ladle-full of frustration gravy.
Firewheel at Garland's Lakes Course: How it plays
The Lakes Course at Firewheel is one of those layouts that can trigger fierce debate among players. Some folks may truly enjoy the relentless guessing game that is a first round here. Tricky shots keep some golfers interested. Others, though, might tire very quickly of the tricked-up nature of the 7,134-yard Dick Phelps design.
Ten lakes and 52 bunkers demand quality shot-making, and the greens are lightning fast, especially above the hole. Although the course feels at times to have been wedged a bit too snugly into a residential community, there are plenty of holes meandering through woods and ponds, too.
Yet the main hazards here are not the lakes or the bunkers, or the numerous yards lying just past the OB line (though the 393-yard 16th is totally claustrophobic). Instead, the most damaging feature to your score (and ultimate enjoyment) will be the dozens of blind or semi-blind tee shots and approaches.
To be fair, all the carts at Firewheel at Garland are equipped with GPS, which is crucially important on the Lakes Course. Unfortunately, the GPS in two of the three carts in my group (fivesomes are a Texas tradition) did not work, and the one that did seemed to be consistently wrong.
Take, for example, the very first hole, a sharply doglegged 414-yard par 4, which we played from the blue tees (387 yards). From the tee, the hole climbs steeply uphill to a blind crest, and then tumbles back downhill to a bit of a mounded green complex. Not having any idea how far the fairway ran before turning right, I hit a soaring 285-yard drive dead straight … through the fairway into the rough and behind some completely pointless small trees. Upon finding my ball, and a tiny window from which to escape, I guestimated 150 yards to the green, hit a perfect 9-iron high and true directly over the flagstick and 15 yards long. The actual yardage was 135.
Sadly, these were some of my best shots all day. The holes after two through five also featured awkward sight lines and no clear aiming points, and more good shots were punished with blind hazards, questionable yardages from our one working GPS, and undeservedly high scores. Understandably, I sort of lost interest.
The frustrations kept mounting. On the 558-yard ninth hole, the fairway slides to the right over some sand traps, and water looms on the left, leaving precious little idea of where to aim. On the 426-yard 12th, a poorly placed pond pinches off the fairway to the right, and trees block any approach from the left The best angle into the gooseneck green is actually from the pond, where only Jesus would have a shot.
The 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th holes also boast either obscured tee shots or blind greens, or both. (Tip: the 13th green, lying across a steep, rocky gully, is much deeper than it looks.)
Firewheel at Garland's Lakes Course: The verdict
The Lakes Course at Firewheel may inspire debate among your foursome (or fivesome), but in my group it inspired rare unanimity: It just wasn't much fun to play. Now, in all honesty, none of us played very well. But neither did we play well the next day at Buffalo Creek Golf Club in nearby Heath (Rockwall), yet we all raved about that layout.
The sad part is that, aside from the simply awful 16th hole, where decks and porches lie just 10 yards off the left side of the fairway, a few simple renovations would make the course far more enjoyable. The biggest improvement would be building some slightly elevated tee boxes, so players could actually see some of the landing areas. The fairways are not all narrow - once you get out to some of them, you find plenty of space. But when you cannot see anything but water or sand from the tee (and your GPS is busted), it makes for a day-long guessing game.
Another welcome change would be more varied tee placement. At 6,680 from the blue tees, the course is a stretch for many average golfers. But at 6,141 from the whites, it's too short. A lot of the holes also seemed to play to similar yardages. Five and six, for example, are both 437 yards from the blues.
No place is this tedium more apparent than in the par 3s, which measure 184/166, 189/168, 183/167, and 165/145 from the gold/blue tees, respectively. Overall, it felt like we were hitting the same clubs over and over again.
Firewheel has two other courses - The Old Course (7,054, par 71), and the 27-hole Bridges - and perhaps they are more enjoyable and rewarding to play. The rates are reasonable (especially the winter rates of $21-$31, $33-43 w/cart), and the $120 special to play all three courses is certainly worth a try.
Just don't get too upset if your perfectly struck shot ends up rolling down an overly-canted fairway into a pond, or running through a blind fairway into a hidden hazard.
January 26, 2009