Bella Collina Golf Club is the poster child for residential development gone bad that started the recent and ongoing recession. It was developed by Bobby Ginn as an upscale residential development on the shores of Lake Apopka, a dead and polluted lake just north of Orlando. The marketing plan that was conceived was brilliant, at least for the developer, broadcast to the world of the opportunity to participate in an on-line auction to purchase lots, but only twice four hundred at a time. The first auction sold nearly 400 homesites for $174 million in only four hours in April 2004, then, one year later, recorded another $320 million in single-day lot sales to close it out, $500 million in residential lot sales in a matter of two days!
The plan was to build homes that would range in size from 7,000 to 13,000 square-feet and be priced from $4 million-plus to just under $6 million. A $25 million championship golf course designed by Nick Faldo opened in 2007 along with a $25 million Italianate Clubhouse of 50,000 square feet, health and day spa. Fast forward to 2012, the golf course, clubhouse and infrastructure is in along with three houses that have been built along the golf course. Many of the initial investors “flipped” their lots immediately after their purchase, those left holding the bag so to speak after the music stopped have $500,000 or more in a lot that’s now selling for $30,000. Banks have foreclosed, but there’s no development, and in June DCS Capital Investments a partial owner of the Washington Redskins, purchased the golf course and club. The course had been mostly private, but you could get out on a member for a day scheme, so not many public golfers in the Orlando area have experienced the course.
With Snyder’s recent purchase, they’ve seemed to open up the club more to public play with tee times available through Forelinksters to GolfNow. The layout is full of a number of interesting holes over land with a good amount of elevation change, unusual in Central Florida. There’s more sand lining the fairways and greenside than is necessary, but the landing zones and greens and collars are large enough to avoid the bunkers if you’re reasonably accurate. There’s a couple of funky holes with blind tee shots, and fairways routed over slanted hills without enough room to keep a ball hit in the fairway in play. When the winds howl as they often do here the course provides more of a challenge than the 131 slope from the 6,500 middle tees.
Conditioning was excellent on a recent round, the level of guest service was more than you normally receive at a $55 greens fee course, but the pace of play was almost 5 hours-it’s a tough layout with a lot of sand and waste areas, which slow down play.
After the fourth hole, we turned around to see the clubhouse perched up on a hill overlooking the course and Lake Apopka, and in that moment, could have imagined ourselves in Tuscany, it was striking. Once in the clubhouse, only slightly smaller than PGA Sawgrass, you are blown away by the quality of the construction, maintenance, and attention to detail, and the locker room has to be seen to be believed.
You might consider adding Bella Collina to your golf trip in Orlando, or if you’re just passing through, it’s only about 15 minutes off the Florida Turnpike at the Clermont/US 50 exit. It’s one of the more varied layouts in town with the elevation, reasonable rates, and a clubhouse that’s has to be experienced.