ORLANDO, Fla. — After a lifetime in sales, Darryl Gall knows how to make a pitch.
Standing on the first tee at Dubsdread Golf Course, Gall eagerly looked eastward down the first fairway. The sun was just starting to peek above the horizon behind the fog-shrouded first green. The beauty and serenity spoke to the souls of the dozen or so early birds milling around on the first tee, waiting for the starter’s OK.
“I play early,” Gall said, “and then I’ve got my whole day in front of me.”
That sounds like a win-win deal.
On this crisp winter Monday, Gall welcomed a visitor to the front of the line for a two-ball game at Dubsdread, a city-owned muni about 4 miles north of downtown. He shoved off behind his push cart, carving a trail on the dew-soaked Bermudagrass. True to his word, we finished early: two walkers, 18 holes in two hours flat. The three-ball behind us logged a 2½-hour round.
“I play with a lot of people out here who say, ‘I’m not very good,’ ” Gall said. “Look, we don’t care how good you are. Just don’t hold anybody up.”
That’s not to say that Dubsdread cranks out sub-three-hour rounds with regularity later in the day. I also played in a three-ball at midday on a recent Friday, and the round took four hours after waiting on every shot. The weekday morning crew certainly does its part to set the pace, though.
Generations of tourists have come to know Orlando as a year-round destination. This week, the TV cameras will focus on Bay Hill Club and Lodge, site of the PGA Tour’s annual Arnold Palmer Invitational. Orlando offers plenty of world-class golf options in addition to the late Arnie’s winter getaway, all near the city’s famous theme parks: multi-course resorts at Walt Disney World, Grand Cypress, Orange County National, ChampionsGate and Reunion among them.
For visitors willing to slow-roll through the Interstate 4 construction gantlet from the tourism district northeast through downtown, Dubsdread offers a simpler, affordable golf alternative.
Three years ago, Gall, 65, retired after selling a variety of consumer and business products and moved south from Connecticut with his wife, Mary. They renovated a bungalow in nearby Winter Park, bought Disney annual passes – “We like to people watch,” he conceded – and exhaled for the back nine of life. Gall, a bogey golfer, plays Dubsdread four to five mornings per week, courtesy of a $1,500 annual weekday membership. (That’s about $7 a round, if you’re keeping score.)
Dubsdread sits on a tight, 110-acre site in the rapidly gentrifying College Park neighborhood. (There is no college nearby, but many of the streets are named after famous educational institutions.) Low-slung mid-century homes, interspersed among an increasing number of teardown-turned-mini-mansions that define a hot real estate market, line the perimeter of the course.
Any golfer who keeps his ball out of a yard has done well, indeed, regardless of score. At only 6,153 yards and a par 70, Dubsdread might underwhelm upon first glance, but the course demands accuracy and places a premium on approach shots with every club in the bag.
“It’s tight, for today’s standards,” said Rodney Reifsnider, 42, a lifelong Orlando resident and Dubsdread’s general manager since 2007. Sitting in his office on a Monday morning, surrounded by the detritus of another busy weekend, he simplifies the strategy for his hometown muni: “If you can get it around here with driver, you can play anywhere.”
That game certainly would travel to those brawnier, costlier resort courses south of town. Then again, why would you, with Dubsdread as an option?
A 2008 renovation by Orlando architect Mike Dasher transformed Tom Bendelow’s 1924 design. Old-timers won’t recognize holes 4-9, but the improvements in drainage, sight lines and conditioning – 419 Bermudagrass fairways and tees, plus TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens – give Dubsdread an updated feel while maintaining much of the original architecture. A practice-range renovation tops Reifsnider’s wish list.
Dubsdread logs about 60,000 annual rounds, of which about 30 percent are walkers. With the year-round season in central Florida, the course easily could do a few thousand more, Reifsnider said.
“Any more than that and the course shows it,” he said.
Unlike so many of the destination courses in the tourist district, Dubsdread attracts most of its play from metro Orlando residents. League, high school and tournament play dot the tee sheet, plus rounds from 125 members such as Gall. The course offers a tier of rates ranging from $14 to $51. The pricing flexibility includes nine-hole rates and discounts for juniors, seniors (55-plus), walkers, Florida residents and afternoon play.
Golfers must cross busy Par Avenue to play holes 14-16, perhaps the most difficult stretch on the course. Yes, the holes literally are “over Par.”
“They’re tough,” Gall said while crossing back over Par – and a few shorts more over par – “but I love them.”
Stepping onto the 18th green to attempt a birdie putt (he would settle for par), Gall turns to a maintenance staffer blowing leaves out of a greenside bunker. “Hi, Joe.”
Gall explained: “I was in sales all my life. These guys appreciate the fact that you know their name and acknowledge them,” then added: “Everybody has a story. You just need to listen.”
At Dubsdread, that story has been nearly a century in the making.
Steve Harmon is the editor of Morning Read. He lives in Longwood, Fla.