- Add Cliff Stephens to your must-play list because it's a one of a kind! The challenges are incredibly daunting at times, but if you can navigate them this will be a course you won't forget. And the 2019-2020 addition of an extra-long Gold layout with new tees and baskets just upped the ante on an already very challenging course.
Since there hasn't been a detailed update since the Gold layout was installed, I've decided to give it a detailed hole-by-hole breakdown. But first, some of the (numerous) pros of Cliff Stephens:
- Long concrete tees and new-ish Discatcher baskets on nearly every hole (just a couple old-style Discatchers on the 19-24 loop).
- Most holes have 2 baskets and 2 tee options, and some even have 3 tee options. That equates to a lot of ways to play your round, and it nicely accommodates groups of varied experience levels.
- There's a practice basket by the first tee.
- For those who care about such things, Cliff Stephens is the home course of Ken Climo, the all-time winningest champion of the PDGA World Championships (there's a sign commemorating him at the 16th tee).
Ok, now for hole by hole:
#1 - a long straight hole with 3 tees and 2 baskets, with the Gold layout (to the yellow basket) being a whopping 1,012ft par 5! Water to the right of the short basket and along most of the hole if you go to the yellow basket.
#2 - straight slight downhill into trees near the parking lot, with 2 tees and 2 baskets. Yellow basket is right next to the cars, so please don't go long.
#3 - a tough valley cross with 2 baskets that are both positioned at the top of a hill that steeply descends to the left down into a murky channel. You've got 3 tee options, with two wide trees directly in your way from the short tee, the channel to your left from the long tee, and a low ceiling of tree branches to add extra difficulty from the Gold tee. A signature hole guaranteed to strike fear, eat discs, and be fun.
#4 - 1 tee and 2 baskets. Playing to the short one is a straight layout with a steep dropoff into the water along the left side the entire way. The yellow basket is significantly further along the sidewalk to the right, still with water to the left the whole way. So, don't go left!
#5 - an open beginning from either of 2 tees, with 3 potential basket positions. Water to the left and long of the usual basket positions straight ahead of you, and position C places the basket in a wreath of low-hanging oak branches with water behind it. No matter the basket position, a controlled approach shot is essential.
#6 - 2 tees each play straight ahead to 2 potential basket positions, both down in the winding gully behind a row of palm trees. A lucky tee shot through the palms could present you with a birdie opportunity.
#7 - straight hole from the 1 tee to 2 potential basket positions, with a line of trees defining the right edge of the fairway. The slope drops immediately down to the pond behind the long basket position, so be careful to not go long.
#8 - from either of the 2 tees it's a a long water carry or left dogleg to the 1 basket with water all along the left. Potentially reachable basket from either tee for a birdie look if you dare to throw hard off the tee. A fun test of your nerve.
#9 - easiest hole on the course: a valley cross to 1 basket positioned just above a short wood wall. There's 3 tees, with the hole being reachable from the shorter two. The new Gold tee crosses over a pedestrian bridge and through a narrow woods tunnel into the valley to start. Beware that the valley can flood after heavy rains.
#10 - from all 3 tees you face a daunting, ~300ft water cross to 2 potential basket positions on the other side. From the shorter tees you could bail out right, but from the Gold tee your only option is a bomb over the pond. I still remember the first time I decided to go for it and successfully crossed the pond... the kind of moment you celebrate as you feel you've finally "made it" as a skilled disc golfer! In short, it's a test of your distance.
#11 - a slight right-turning hole with water at your far left, with the 1 basket positioned just on the far side of a narrow gully that's usually dry. 2 tee options.
#12 - the 2 tees and 2 baskets on this monster play very differently: from the short tee to the short basket would be a plain par 3 light woods hole with water behind the basket, but playing the Gold tee to the yellow basket par 4 makes for a nearly 700ft monster requiring a moderate water cross off the tee and then carrying over or skirting along the left side of another pond with your next couple throws. A low ceiling of trees in the fairway limits your height and distance to boot. Tough but fun.
#13 - again you have 2 tees and 2 baskets. The short basket is reachable either through a narrow tunnel under a large oak tree or by skying a high left-turning shot over the road to your right. The yellow basket is twice as far away, making for a modest length par 5 that crosses the road, with the terrain sloping down to the pond at the right and back sides of the basket. Control your approach landing well to keep it from rolling into the water.
#14 - long and straight with a deep channel all along the right from either of the 2 tees. There's 2 baskets, with the yellow one about 40ft past the foot bridge. The channel is a dangerous disc-eater in windy conditions.
#15 - basket used to be by the water (still an alternative placement there?), but now it's just a straight shot into the woods from the 1 tee to either of the 2 baskets.
#16 - one of the most intimidating signature holes anywhere! From the long tee you've got a double water carry to either of the 2 basket positions, and from the short tee you're faced with a steep slope down to the water all along the left side of the hole. Shortcut is to place your tee shot on the 'island' and then throw over the second channel from there. It's almost unplayable in the wind, and new players will likely skip it all together.
#17 - a straight hole paralleling the paved trail through the woods from either of the 2 tees to the 1 basket.
#18 - long and mostly open from any of the 3 tees, with water at your right as you approach the basket and dense brush on the left side of the railroad where discs often carry in the wind. Requires multiple bomb shots in a row.
#19 - a 15ft-wide flat tunnel with thick tall grass and a disc-eating stream along the entire left side of the hole. Worst hole of the entire course by far. 2 tees and 1 basket.
#20 - 1 tee and 1 basket, with dense undergrowth along the left of the fairway. Slightly right-turning dogleg.
#21 - a great short wooded hole from 1 tee to 1 basket with the basket just on the far side of a narrow creek. Best hole of the #19-24 loop.
#22 - a short wooded hole from 1 tee to 1 basket. A ridge and downed tree in the fairway provide subtle obstacles.
#23 - a right dogleg from the 1 tee to the 1 basket that parallels the highway next to it. A very standard par 3.
#24 - another straight wooded hole paralleling the paved trail. The 1 tee is still dirt, and it has an old-style basket.
#25 - hole A, supposedly with 2 tees. The long tee is a rubber mat in the woods just behind the 16th basket and the short is supposedly in the grass by the pond (it's unlabeled). Either way you play to the 1 basket on the "island" peninsula with water on all sides. Like #16, almost unplayable in the wind. A fun challenge that seriously tests your control.
It's not a perfect 5 start course for four reasons:
1 - Parking. Nowhere near enough of it in the little lot, and the yellow basket for #2 is way too close to the lot (like 15ft from parking spaces). Don't park near that basket unless you like dented door panels. Many people now pull over the curb to park in the grass flat between the paved lot and Fairwood Ave. and no one seems to care, but not all cars can handle the curb.
2 - Always busy. Cliff Stephens is deservedly popular, but that means no matter what day of the week or time you go you're bound to find at least half a dozen groups playing here. And it's a very long course (nearly 2 miles just for the hole lengths if you play the Gold layout!) which has many holes paralleling and crossing sidewalks and the Bay To Shore Trail, so if you're looking for a quick play or a fast solo round this course will not suit you. Even if there are no other disc golfers on the course, you will still end up waiting for pedestrians and bicyclists a couple times.
3 - Tee signs. A lot of the sign panels on the back 9 have decayed away, and even where they're present they're all years out of date. For example, none of the new Gold hole layouts are shown on the tee signs. New tee signs are desperately needed, even if just one set is installed at the normal 'long' (non-Gold) tees. In this same vein, there's no up-to-date course map out there anywhere that I can find. It would be awesome if a new map could be installed on the covered sign by the practice basket.
4 - Disc risk. How many 25-hole courses only have 6 holes WITHOUT water hazards?!?! Cliff Stephens will teach you to not rely on a single disc, force you to learn how to break in new discs, and you'll learn how to 'know' your discs' flight paths so you know how to throw them to avoid hazards. So, maybe this "con" is actually a "pro", depending on your perspective. At any rate, so many discs go in the water here that I consistently see people swimming in the ponds for discs every Monday morning...
- Also, hole #19 is the only truly bad hole of the whole course. It's clearly a filler that was needed to connect the main 18 to the rest of the woods loop holes 20-24.
- My opinions might be a bit biased as this is my home course where I learned the game, but believe me when I say from more than 20 years playing here that Cliff Stephens just keeps getting better and better over time.
- Most holes in the #19-24 and hole A loop don't really add much to your round, so most players just skip them. Hole A is an awesome, and daunting, island hole worth the extra walking though!
- Even after playing dozens of other courses across the nation it remains obvious how uniquely fun, beautiful, and challenging this course is. It's THE quintessential, classic Florida course that really brings the 'golf' aspect to disc golf. PLAY IT!!