On Saturday we made our second visit to the sprawling golf resort complex of Orange Lake in Kissimmee. After last month’s successful outing on The Legends Course this time around we were heading to take on The Reserve Course.
First thing to mention here is course condition. Both get full marks in this respect as they are well maintained and greens, while not overly quick run true and fair with nothing too quirky or overly punishing about them. The Reserve runs alongside many of the accommodation areas of the resort where The Legends seems more open and natural, both however have their challenges and in the case of The Reserve what our players found on Saturday is it is VERY narrow in places so any misplaced tee ball can really punish you.
We had some interesting conversations with players, who have played both courses with us, afterwards with opinions split on which of the two they prefer. From our point of view we think that’s a good thing and we will certainly intend on returning again this season to play if our schedule goes to plan!
We start our results round up and report with a new player welcome! We really enjoy welcoming new players and on Saturday it was Reagan Chastain (Orlando) who made her HJT debut with us at Orange Lake. Reagan is returning to competition after an injury layoff and we hope this one helped get her back in the swing of things (bad pun, sorry!) Reagan is clearly a very accomplished and experienced junior competitor and we hope you felt welcome by everyone and that you can join us again soon at another HJT Event.
The Claret Jug Flight:
A shorter field than usual overall meant a number of our Claret Jug players were missing from the line-up on Saturday. It was left to Nick Zarillo(Mike Bender Golf Academy) and Braden Hawkins(Clermont) to decide who’d take the medal in this one.
We’ve written recently about what a good season it’s been so far for Braden Hawkins and in this one he once again started off strong. A front 9 of 37 with birdies at 1 and 7 with some really strong play in those early stages and at the turn it looked like he was heading for another good day. If only golf was THAT predictable! Braden found it tough to recapture that early form over the closing 9 and although he kept battling throughout, and did make par at 12,15 and 18, unfortunately a couple of holes that finished badly meant it was not going to be his day. Braden finished with a 37-47-84.
It was definitely a case of two contrasting 9 holes for Braden at The Reserve however when I spoke with him after I was not in any way surprised to see his reaction. Of course he was disappointed BUT the typical Braden, that we’ve come to know pretty well, remains humble, calm and very understanding that regardless of how well you’ve been playing you’re not always going to get it your own way out there! This was a case of the golf course winning over the player on a couple of those holes and we have absolutely no doubts Braden will quickly put that behind him.
Braden is one of the most gifted young players we have playing regularly with us and his steady temperament is every bit as important as his ability on the golf course. It’s going to be a very good and important season for Braden in our view and I think he will have probably learned something that will help see his improvement continue after this one.
Nick Zarillo gets mentioned a LOT in our round up reports. He wins his player flight a LOT is the predominant reason why and right now he’s in a very good place where his overall game is concerned. On Saturday we got to watch some of his play and what we observed was something of a trademark day for Nick.
Most of this one was exceptional with great moments including steady and controlled par makes at 1,2 and 3 followed by back to back (to back?) birdies at 4,5 and 6! Unfortunately a couple of bogeys immediately followed and this must be THE most frustrating of all things to any player and a real test of your mental strength! This is just one important area where we have watched Nick excel over the last year or so….temperament, self control, there’s lots of ways to describe the emotional ups and downs of golf and to be a top performer it’s imperative that you have that self belief that can allow you to remain calm and controlled through the highs of making a stretch of birdies AND be just as able to put the bogey holes behind you and remain focused only on what’s ahead of you!
The good far outweighed any negatives Nick faced in that front 9 and it resulted in a -1 (34)
The back 9 was controlled and he made most of it look effortless (it’s NOT!) when watch from a neutral point of view. Par was safely secured on 6 of the closing 9 holes and he even added two more birdies to make it 5 for the day! Players like Nick set their own performance targets for competitions and I feel certain on 18 he would have known what was required to break the magical 70 and keep all his figures in under par red for the day….he needed a birdie!
It was another controlled short iron approach shot hit perfectly that gave him the opportunity he needed and who’d bet against him right now…he rolled it in with just enough pace to celebrate a fine day’s golf and a very impressive -2 scorecard that reads 34-35-(69)
Another Claret Jug Medal and, by our reckoning, his 11th medal win of 2021!
Congratulations Nick from everyone at HJT, this one was pretty special !
The Old Tom Morris Flight:
Our 16-18 year old “Senior” players in this one and despite the slightly shorter field this week there was still a very strong gathering of quality experienced players, especially in this age flight group!
One player really shone right from the beginning of the day. Tiana Eldem (Ocala) made her HJT debut recently and over the last few weeks we’ve really enjoyed watching her play some excellent golf. Tiana is clearly a very experienced competition player and another great example, especially for those younger players with a little less experience, of how your game benefits from strong belief in your ability and a level headed temperament to help you navigate forward at all times and focus only on what’s ahead and NOT dwell too much on errors or bad luck behind you!
There’s nothing better for building good confidence than a birdie start and that’s exactly how this one went for Tiana. Par at 2 was followed by a dropped shot on 3. At 4 and 5 she secured par. Another minor setback followed at 6 but here’s the thing we always talk about that sets strong and experienced players apart from others, its that earlier mentioned ability to steady things after a setback and confidently get back to scoring positively(par or better) immediately!
Tiana did exactly that making par on 7,8 and 9 to close off the front 9 in a very impressive +1(36) on a tough day to score low and on a day where only one other player in the field (Nick Zarillo) did better over those holes!
Hunter Lewis (Belleview HS) is another player whose game we know very well. Hunter works as hard as anyone at practice in order to bring his very best to every competition he plays in. He’s already picked up an HJT flight win already this year and he’s keen to add to that. Hunter’s start was not what he wanted with 5 shots dropped over the first 5 holes of play however he bounced back in impressive fashion to close out the opening 9 holes with 4 pars back to back to card a +5(40) to place him 4 back of Tiana at the turn.
Hunter’s closing 9 holes had a bit of everything in it and it would leave him thinking of what could have been! A perfect start with birdie at 10 showed his early intent! There were to be further birdies at 12 and 18 too and steady par makes at 13,15 and 16 BUT just in case we needed reminding of the ups and downs of the game we all love the setbacks at 11 and 14 were to prove pivotal moments which would most likely end his medal hunt on this occasion!
To his great credit Hunter won’t ever give up on working hard to achieve his best and a birdie finish on 18 was a satisfying way to finish his day. Hunter’s card reads 40-40-(80) and it would make him our clubhouse Old Tom Morris flight leader as Tiana was still navigating her way through the closing holes of play.
Tiana is experienced enough to know you work hard to secure par or better but invariably sometimes the golf course has other plans for you! A tough start and setback at 10 was quickly dismissed as she went on to her most consistent period of play with the next 4 holes played in -1. This included a nice birdie dropped at 13. The drama wasn’t quite over for Tiana just yet as she was challenged once again to find a strong finish to secure her medal win after dropping shots on 15 and on 16. We are pleased to say she did exactly that with a controlled and steady par-par finish to record a 36-41-(77) to take the flight win by 4 strokes!
Congratulations Tiana from everyone at HJT on your medal win. We very much enjoyed watching much of your play at The Reserve and it looks like there are strong signs your game is very much heading in the right direction. We hope this may be the first of many wins on Highlander Tour in 2021.
The Young Tommy Morris Flight:
Our 15’s and under in this one and, once again, from very early on in the day finding our lowest scorer was clearly looked as if it was going to be either Jonathan McElroy (Henry Brunton Golf Academy) or Tripp Watkins (Harbor Hills CC). This did prove to be the case but what an incredibly exciting finish and eventual outcome as both of these talented young men gave it absolutely everything they had!
Jonathan McElroy played with us recently at The Legends. I recall watching a lot of his play that day and being super impressed by not only how he plays the game but by his attitude, his respect for others and his focus and desire to be the best player he can be. On Saturday at The Reserve he took all of that to another level, Jonathan is an exceptional talent who hit some shots out there that really made us smile either due to their accuracy or just the fact he is confident enough to take them on! I predict this season is going to be a very good one for Jonathan McElroy!
Not everything went his way but what Jonathan did well far outweighed his errors all day long. 3 pars and a birdie through the first 4 holes was followed by 3 shots dropped. Coming back from that setback didn’t phase him as he put together a very impressive run of 7 pars and a birdie at 14. His closing 4 holes were tougher to navigate though with 3 single shots dropped. Jonathan’s card after 18 read 37-38-(75)
Tripp Watkins has won twice with us already this year. We know this young man and his game very well having watched him grow (in most ways!) over the last 18 months or so. Tripp is always going to be competitive and work hard in every competition he plays to improve and develop and this one was no exception. Playing alongside Jonathan they are very well matched competitors who share many of the same traits, neither of them looks to have a particular weakness and it was going to prove difficult to find an overall medal winner as they were always within 1 or 2 strokes played of each other all day long!
Tripp is working harder than ever on his game in 2021 with a new coach and already he’s looking more confident and really committed to making this year his best yet. He’s played junior competition golf for many years with a lot of success and that’s given him a really good understanding of just how much it’s going to take to keep on being successful as within this age group right now competition is fierce with so many fine young players around.
Tripp started this one in control. 7 pars over the first 9 holes and errors kept to a reasonable level meant at the turn he was +3 (38) and in a strong position only one back on our halfway leader Jonathan. Holes 10 through 13 were played in -1 with his first birdie of the day at 12. A dropped shot at 14 was erased by another impressive birdie at 15 and just as Tripp was looking to close the gap a little more on the leader he hit a setback at 16 with a couple shots given back.
Up to this point it was Jonathan who held the lead by two strokes with two to play however a dropped stroke by him on each meant that a par-par finish would take this one to an extra hole play off between the pair. Right on cue Tripp did just that keeping a really cool head and finishing 38-37-(75) to tie Jonathan and take us into the excitement of extra holes beginning on number 1.
We’ve said this many times before. Play offs like this work! They do the job they are meant to do when required to separate tied players. A play-off is fair and it’s honest, but for players, it’s undoubtedly nerve wracking and always somehow feels just a little tougher to lose if you are the unfortunate one to do so!
It took two play off holes. An unbelievable 3-iron tee shot onto the green on 1 gave Jonathan the advantage but he couldn’t capitalize on that and both players moved on having made par. On number two it was a wayward shot into a hazard that Jonathan played that was enough to separate two exceptionally talented young players and give the medal win to Tripp.
In the end it was a fair and deserved result and what was really pleasing to see was the sportsmanship and respect shown by both players, and supporting families. THAT is every bit as important and pleasing to see as anyone winning a golf tournament ! And after all that we may have also seen a couple of extremely talented, and in many ways, similar young players become golfing buddies too!
Congratulations Tripp from everyone at HJT on another medal win. As this is number 3 you are now promoted to play for the remainder of the 2021 HJT season as a Claret Jug Flight player. Well done Tripp, on your next outing with us we will present you with your HJT branded Claret Jug Player hat !
Tripp was also succesful and picked up another prize on Saturday at The Reserve when he collected Our Nearest the pin prize of a $25 Golf Store Voucher for hitting it closest at 11ft. Congratulations on that one too Tripp!
Before finishing we want to take this opportunity to recognize another of our young players who was with us at The Reserve. Ryan Oats aged 11 (Lake Mary) was our youngest competitor on Saturday and shot an impressive 82. While it may not have been lowest score of the day we did have cause to present an award to this fine young man as he won last week’s Nearest the Pin Competition at Eagle Ridge GC. Enjoy your gift voucher Ryan …good job on your win last week in a field of 27 players that was quite a feat! Congratulations from everyone at HJT.
So that closes off another great week. Would you believe The Reserve was our tournament number 18 of the 2021 season so far ? We’ve welcomed close to 400 player entries so far and we are REALLY,REALLY proud of that fact! By the end of 2021 we are aiming to bring you 40 tournaments and we hope to break that 1000+ player entry bracket, with YOUR help and support of course! Thank you to every one of you, players, families, spectators and supporters, we love what we do and we never take your support for granted.
Please don’t ever forget if you want to provide input we really do welcome you to do so. If you want to talk about any aspect of what we do that could be made even better please come talk to us or email. We’re in this TOGETHER!
As always we send a final thank you to our Sponsors (Todd and Melissa Coon) of TCL for your support of what we do. More info on TCL by clicking HERE
Next up for us its another VERY impressive venue as we return to an original favorite of ours (and of the PGA of America) as we head back to the ever impressive Harbor Hills Country Club in Lady Lake on Saturday May 15th with tee times from 12.30pm. More info on this venue by clicking HERE
Registration is open now and filling up fast as Harbor Hills is always popular. Click HERE to Register.