New tees, new greens, more golf holes to play

Silver Lake executive golf course reopened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

Something old is new again. “I am so excited, because I miss the action on the golf course,” said Elaine Mazoch, who welcomed the reopening of Silver Lake executive golf course — the oldest of its type in The Villages — after a summer of watching renovations from her home off the layout’s fifth hole. “We missed our golf course, but they did an awesome job. It’s beautiful.” And something newer is just around the corner: A Nov. 13 opening for Southern Oaks Golf Club, the first championship course to arise in The Villages’ burgeoning southern sector. Old and new. North and south. Championship and executive. Storms aside, Thursday had a little good news for golfers of varying types in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. “The day has come and we’ve got a lot of happy faces across The Villages,” said Tyler Krager, who took the keys this week as Southern Oaks’ first head PGA professional. Southern Oaks, The Villages’ first championship addition in nearly seven years, is one of three Sawgrass Grove amenities set for a Phase 1 opening. The Ezell Recreation Complex and Clifton Cove Putting Course — both named after the team that has drawn up blueprints for just about every hole in The Villages — also will open for residents Nov. 13. “We’ve had people living south of (State Road) 44 for a few years now without a championship course south of 44,” Krager said. “This is going to be that home course for a lot of people — at least until we build a couple more.” The most recent championship course to join the lineup was Belle Glade, which opened in 2014. Southern Oaks also will push The Villages past the 700-hole threshold — 711 to be exact. “Breaking that 700 barrier – that’s fun,” said Ken Roshaven, executive director of golf services at The Villages Golf & Tennis. Thursday, though, was a day for Silver Lake to shimmer a bit. First opened in 1987, the layout left no blade of grass untouched in this summer’s remake — new tees, new greens and everything in between. A total of 22 acres were sodded in the project, with other landscape enhancements to improve playability around the course. “I think there’s an initial pop,” said Mitch Leininger, The Villages’ director of executive golf maintenance. “(Golfers are) going to come out and see a landscape that’s fresh and new.” The $330,000 project also added Florida coquina shell to extend a handful of cart paths, and trees were carefully trimmed back to enhance sight lines and shaded areas. There’s even a butterfly garden near the fourth hole, part of an environmental certification program via Audubon International. “A big effort was made to turn this into something more than an executive golf course,” said Don Deacon, chairman of the Community Development District’s Amenity Authority Committee. Said Leininger: “I think it’s going to have a wow factor even though it’s the same golf course layout.” Knowing upgrades were needed, residents were surveyed last year whether to keep Silver Lake as an executive course or redesign it as a pitch-and-putt. Keeping the layout was the strong winner. “It’s their community,” Leininger said. “It’s their golf course, and we want it to be enjoyable for them. They gave us great input that they wanted it to remain the same layout it was — just enhance it and give it a bit of a facelift.” Said Mazoch: “We’re really excited that The Villages takes care of the historical side when they’ve got all that building going on over there (in the south). They still take care of us.” And now the wheels are in motion for Southern Oaks, set to become the 13th championship course in The Villages. The two nines mirror each other in an “L” shape as they approach Florida’s Turnpike and split in opposite directions before looping back. Once Sawgrass Grove is fully completed, the Southern Oaks golf shop and cart barn will be part of that complex. For the first several weeks, though, operations will take place at the starter shack on the opposite side of Meggison Road. “We’re not going to have everything available right off the bat,” Roshaven said, “but this golf course is too good to hold back. We need to get this thing up and running.” Tee-time requests for Southern Oaks will be taken starting Nov. 6. With limited golf carts available on site, golfers are encouraged to come in their personal cart. Residents also will have an opportunity to get a look at the course at the 14th edition of The Villages Pro Shootout, announced for Nov. 19. “None of us have had the opportunity to play it — myself and Ken included,” Krager said. “It’s going to be a real test of golf for us. Most of us will be going out there blind. But I’m excited to set up the golf course for it.” Krager’s move to Southern Oaks set off a bit of a chain reaction among The Villages’ golf pros. Chase Senn, previously at Mallory Hill, takes Krager’s position at Glenview Champions. Brady Godfrey in turn moves from Bonifay to Mallory Hill. Brett Sherman, Belle Glade’s head PGA professional, will add Bonifay to his plate, assisted by Brad Andrews.

Senior writer Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5283, or jeff.shain@thevillagesmedia.com.