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John_Conley

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newspaper report of WALKABOUT GC
« on: June 18, 2003, 07:39:10 AM »
A few of you have asked me about this.  I've played it three times and throughly enjoy the course.  Not mentioned in the writeup is that Perry Dye's group did some design work for Jan.
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GOLF CONFIDENTIAL

Stephenson triumphs as a 1st-time architect
By Steve Elling
Sentinel Staff Writer

June 18, 2003

MIMS -- Jan Stephenson climbed aboard the tractor at 5 a.m. and tried to communicate to the driver in Spanish precisely what she wanted done as they carved a golf course out of the flat Florida wilds near Interstate 95.

For longtime fans of the LPGA, Stephenson was all but unrecognizable. The tour's original sexpot and fashion plate was bathed in grime, from her plastic hardhat to her hard-rubber heels.

"You should have seen me," Stephenson said of the building process. "I was absolutely covered in dirt. They did tease me about the powder-blue designer work boots I wore sometimes."

How appropriate. Walkabout Golf and Country Club, a course she designed in rural Brevard County, has plenty of style and substance, too.

After two years of dealing with delays and governmental red tape, Walkabout opened three months ago, though the course has been primed and playable since early 2002. The project began in 2000 but has been bogged down by environmental issues and problems with road access.

"I was starting to think that they were never going to get it open," said Stephenson, 51, who won 16 tour titles and three major championships. "The golf course has been pure for a long time. I was hitting balls in the fairways and thinking, 'Somebody needs to be out here playing.'|"

Finally, they are, and enjoying themselves in the process. Located 50 miles east of downtown Orlando, the Aussie-themed Walkabout was worth the wait and is worth the trek.

Flying almost solo as an architect for the first time, Stephenson should have no trouble finding future work, based on these results.

The success isn't surprising because she has been preparing for this role since she was a child. Growing up in Australia, Stephenson learned the game on a course built by her father, Frank, called Tuggerah Lakes. "Tuggerah" is an Aboriginal word for cold water, which is what she had tossed in her face whenever she inquired about a design job.

It didn't stop her from doing her homework as she awaited a chance. Early in her playing career, she learned from Pete Dye, one of golf's top designers. She studied books on agronomy during LPGA rain delays and visited the University of Georgia to study turf management.

When the Walkabout project came up, she made a sales pitch to the development company, which hadn't financed a golf-course community before, she said. Judging by her handiwork, she should have been cranking out tracks all along.

"I had bid on a lot of jobs, and developers kept saying 'no,'{" she said. "I'm not someone who pushed the women's movement, but I was getting very frustrated because I felt like I had seen the Jack Nicklauses build golf courses. Even though they know a lot, what does somebody know who can stand back there and hit a high, left-to-right 2-iron that carries 220 yards? That's not real golf for most people."

Stephenson has played on the LPGA Tour since 1974, usually on courses at which they used the men's regular tees. In short, she has hit the same drives, approaches and pitches as millions of average Joes.

"I would think that a woman professional, if she knows what she is doing, would really know more about what the average guy can do," she said.

So says the evidence. The most recognizable nuance of Walkabout, other than its native look and feel, are the outstanding green complexes, which happened via an odd confluence of design and demand. When she seeded the greens, Stephenson used the same grass, Tifdwarf Bermuda, on the collar areas so it would have visual impact.

She wanted players to have a bailout area so she shaved down the collection areas around a couple of putting surfaces, which allowed golfers to use their putters from well off the green.

"I get so tired of holes that are no problem for the good players, but amateurs are scared to death ...," she said. "I did it mainly so it would look good. But it cuts down on time you spend on the golf course. Chipping is hard to do."

Eventually, it became the signature part of the design, albeit through evolution. One of the developers who played the course during its county permitting problems had a poor short game.

"I only had a couple of those [shaved-collar] greens, and every time I would come back from a tournament, they'd be mown down closer and closer," Stephenson said, laughing. "I'd say, 'Hey, I didn't ask you to do this.' And the superintendent would say, 'Yeah, but the developer did. And it's his course.'{"

Plenty of the course still belongs to the wildlife. Discovered on the property was a bald eagle, some wild boar, wild turkey, endangered turtles, falcons, ospreys and deer, plus the usual assortment of snakes, armadillos and sand cranes. There are plenty of waste bunkers and native vegetation, which helped keep its natural appeal and saved money.

Based almost solely on word of mouth, the somewhat remote course has drawn a steady flow of players since it opened, including many from Orlando. General Manager Franco Ippolito commutes to work from Oviedo.

"We want to draw a lot more traffic from Orlando," he said. "This costs a fraction of what golf courses of this sort in Orlando charge."

You get more for your money, too, because Walkabout has a just-for-fun extra hole, a short par-3 with an island green shaped like Australia. At most courses, the 19th is the nickname for the clubhouse watering hole.

"It's a non-alcoholic 19th hole," Ippolito cracked.

Actually, it's a non-alcoholic course -- the county hasn't yet licensed Walkabout to sell beer. Stephenson could have used a few cold ones when she was moving those mountains of dirt, something most designers delegate.

"Most of them, they don't have the time," said Stephenson, who has two courses in the works in Kentucky. In order to match her fancy work boots, this effort gets a blue ribbon all the way.

Steve Elling can be reached at selling@orlandosentinel.com.
Copyright 2003, Orlando Sentinel
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Scott_Burroughs

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Re: newspaper report of WALKABOUT GC
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2003, 08:16:59 AM »
Interesting.  She actually did some of the dirty work.  I commend her.

Here's the club's web site:

http://www.walkaboutgolf.com/index.htm



John,

Care to elaborate further on your thoughts on the course?  The club web site doesn't mention the green fees, what are they?
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

John_Conley

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Re: newspaper report of WALKABOUT GC
« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2003, 09:26:42 AM »
Scott:

I believe the rates for summer are $35 weekend and $30 weekday.  Downright cheap.

I like the course.  Not very scenic, but challenges golfers with an array of tricks.  Back side has a lot of water, front side invokes barren wasteland reminscent of the Outback, and both sides have greens that defend the hole no matter where the pin.  

Recovery is easy around the green because of the mowed collection areas.  Assuming you don't lose balls, Walkabout is a "hard par, easy bogie" course.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

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