There’s More to Life Than Golf ... No, Seriously
Golfers might think otherwise, but there are only so many hours in a day to be on the golf course. The Orlando area has a lot of options away from its golf courses, not the least of which are some of the best resort pools and water-related amenities in the Southeast. From refreshing options to cool off after your round to exceptional pool bars serving craft cocktails, here are some of Central Florida’s top choices of where to stay if you like to spend time pool side after a day on the links.
Global Resort Homes at ChampionsGate
If you’re looking for a good destination for golf buddy trips, Global Resort Homes at ChampionsGate Resort is an excellent choice. The company has a variety of vacation homes throughout the Orlando area, but the ChampionsGate property is its premier resort for golfers.
Global Resort Homes at ChampionsGate Resort, a 900-acre master planned community just a few miles west of the Orlando attractions area, offers vacation homes with between four and nine bedrooms. Each home is decked out with fully-equipped kitchen, more than enough living space, private screened swimming pool, and covered lanai. Many of the homes even have game rooms.
The resort’s Oasis Club has a beautiful 20,000-square-foot clubhouse, lazy river, hot tub, fitness center, tiki bar, and movie theater. The Grille offers outdoor and clubhouse dining, while poolside cabanas are essentially mini-apartments, each with a TV, couch, chairs, and private bathroom.
The ChampionsGate Country Club is a very good George Clifton-designed layout that shows off the natural beauty of Central Florida. The course — slightly more than 7,000 yards from the tips — is well protected by large bunkers and the winds. Next door to the ChampionsGate Resort, the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate has a pair of Greg Norman-designed courses (the National and International). Another worthy choice is the Gary Koch-designed Mystic Dunes course at Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club in nearby Celebration.
A good course to begin or end a stay at Global Resort Homes at ChampionsGate is at the Shingle Creek Golf Club. Located on the headwaters of Florida’s Everglades, Shingle Creek is a just a few minutes from Orlando International Airport. It’s an outstanding layout that also has one of the better practice facilities in Central Florida.
Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills has 36 holes with some surprising elevation changes at its location northwest of Orlando; while avoiding the huge bunkers is always a challenge at Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club in Haines City.
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria Orlando
Talk about doubling your pleasure and fun; sister properties Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria Orlando, which are connected by a walkway, do that. In addition to the Rees Jones-designed Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, each resort features its own set of amenities including incredible outdoor pool complexes.
The pools look out over the golf course and are accessible to the guests of each hotel. There are eight-person cabanas for rent at both and all come with a TV, WiFi service, complimentary soft drinks, water, chaise lounges and sofa, and a refrigerator. But if you’re looking for something of a more tranquil environment, go to the Waldorf side, where you will find the Aquamarine bar and grill (the Chicago-style hot dog is a great poolside lunch, as is the Maine lobster & shrimp wrap). Still hungry after your time at the pool? The fried chicken at the Waldorf’s famed Bull & Bear restaurant might be the best on the planet.
The resort pool area at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek features a three-acre lazy river and zero-entry lagoon-style pool. In addition, you can enjoy poolside service from Beech, a restaurant that also serves some of the best tropical drinks in Orlando. “The pool area is a like a different place — a tropical island resort, with whatever you might need and beyond that,” says Peter Curtis, recreation manager for the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.
The Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, which opened in 2009, plays 7,108 yards (par 72) from the tips, but it’s different from many resort courses in the area in that it has relatively narrow fairways and small greens.
Of the three courses within Walt Disney World — the Palm, Magnolia, and Lake Buena Vista — the Palm is the must-play. Renovated in 2013 by Arnold Palmer Course Design, it received new green complexes and new bunker designs. It’s not long — slightly more than 6,800 yards from the tips — but has a good assortment of water hazards and more than 90 bunkers. The Magnolia Course, which plays more than 7,500 yards from the tips, can be a brute for those who don’t choose the right tees, but it’s also a beauty, with wide fairways framed by large magnolia trees. The Lake Buena Vista course is a good warm-up for playing its sister courses and is best known for the island green on its seventh hole.
Holiday Inn Vacation Club at Orange Lake Resort
Separated into four villages, the 1,450-acre Orange Lake Resort is a particularly good destination for golfers traveling in a large group. In addition to four golf courses, Orange Lake Resort has seven swimming pools scattered throughout its villages, as well as an 80-acre lake with beach. It’s also just a short drive from Disney Springs — the revamped former Downtown Disney entertainment district — that offers a variety of night clubs and restaurants.
Orange Lake’s Splash Lagoon pool complex in the North Village features a zero-entry pool while massages are available at each of the five cabanas, which can accommodate up to six people and have TVs, a mini-fridge, and a personal concierge. The Terrace Cafe has a full-service bar and burgers and snacks that can be served poolside.
The 12-acre River Island pool complex is Orange Lake’s water activities showcase feature, with zero-entry pools, waterfalls, hot tubs, retail outlets, nine cabanas, and hammocks. The centerpiece is the resort’s 1,200-foot lazy river-style pool that winds through tropical scenery and a waterfall.
“Currents” café in River Island is a good spot for sandwiches, while the Tradewinds Bar & Grill — connected to River Island Grilling Company — has open patio seating overlooking the pool complex and is an ideal spot for cocktails and people watching. The Leeward and Windward pool bars also are popular gathering spots within the River Island pool complex, and Anchors is a favorite River Island eatery for burgers and snacks.
The East Village is home to an Arnold Palmer Signature course that’s more of a links-style course on the front nine and Carolina-style course — with large pine and oak trees — on its back nine. In the West Village, The Reserve winds through some wetlands and even has a lighted driving range and practice greens for night use.
The Legacy Sports & Grill, located in the Legends Clubhouse in the East Village, opens at 7 a.m. and is a good option for breakfast before golf. It’s an even better option after golf with plenty of TVs to catch the big game of the day and extensive lunch and dinner menus. If you’re really hungry — or are ordering for a large group — the Detroit “Red Wings” entrée features 50 wings. The pro shop in the Legends Clubhouse, by the way, is open until 9 p.m. and an ideal place to stock up on golf supplies. Guests can also order groceries delivered to their villas through an online service called GardenGrocer.com.
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
Set on 1,500-acres just one mile from Walt Disney World, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress has been a prime destination for golfers for more than 30 years.
Although the 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf (including the New Course that pays homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews) is a big reason for that popularity, so is the resort’s massive pool area. It features a free-flowing main pool, 12 waterfalls, two whirlpools, hidden caves, and wrap-around sundecks. “Every person who comes here tries to squeeze in some time at the pool,” says Laura Horwood, recreation manager at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. “They make a point of enjoying it regardless of why they are here.”
Basically, every outdoors activity (except the Nicklaus courses) in some way begins and ends near the main pool. That includes the resort’s hiking and biking trails, as well as a nine-hole, par-three course. Just a few steps from the pool area is 21-acre Lake Windsong, which offers sailing, canoeing, and kayaking. There’s also fishing on Lake Windsong, particularly for largemouth bass and bluegill. Fishing is available (for an added fee) via a Florida Keys-style flat boat, but only from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., leaving plenty of time for golf.
Hemingway’s is the resort’s signature restaurant, specializing in seafood and some of the best crab cakes outside of Maryland. The “On the Rocks” pool bar serves up some good fish tacos along with specialty cocktails and local craft beer.
Less than a 15-minute drive from the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando. Tranquilo was originally designed by Tom Fazio as Disney’s Osprey Ridge course in 1992. Fazio renovated the course in 2014 and it is a solid resort layout that plays around some protected wetlands.
About a 30-minute drive away are the Panther Lake and Crooked Cat courses at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge in Winter Garden. The courses make for a great double-header, and with the ever-changing Central Florida winds, the courses rarely play the same two consecutive days. The greens on each were recently re-grassed with Champion Bermuda Ultra Dwarf, a strain of Bermuda grass that’s close in performance to Bentgrass, meaning the greens roll fast and true.
For those who seek a bit of a different experience, CLC Regal Oaks in Kissimmee is a good option, especially for a trip with close friends. A 25,000 square-foot pool area is quite a popular amenity for guests of all ages.
Located in the heart of Kissimmee Regal Oaks is close to the Old Town entertainment area as well as several golf courses. Set in an area of natural lakes and forest just a few miles east of Interstate 4, Regal Oaks features two- and three- and four-bedroom townhomes. Each of the townhomes comes with a kitchen and a master bedroom suite. The resort has a two-story, 22,000 square-foot clubhouse with a restaurant that’s open for breakfast lunch and dinner, a bar, a mini-mart and fitness center.
There are plenty of golf options for Regal Oaks guests, beginning with Celebration Golf Club, just a few minutes away in the master-planned town of Celebration. The only golf course ever co-designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones and his son, Robert Trent Jones II, Celebration GC is an outstanding daily-fee layout that plays around Central Florida’s native trees and wetlands.
The other Jones boy — Rees — designed the Falcon’s Fire course in Kissimmee, a popular daily fee course that gets a lot of play. For a more resort-type feel, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Grande Lakes is a terrific Greg Norman design that plays around some natural preserve areas and offers the always superb level of service one expects at a Ritz-Carlton.
Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando is a stellar par 73 design by Ron Garl and Howard Swan, while Hawk’s Landing Golf Club is conveniently located at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort.