Orlando-Area Courses Just Keep Getting Better and Better
Orlando and Central Florida have some of the Sunshine State’s top golf courses when it comes to world renowned course designs and championship layouts. Given all of the amenities that each has to offer — on and off the course — it’s no easy task to up their games, so to speak. But innovative properties just know how to do it right, keeping themselves fresh and on the cutting edge in order to attract new visitors and keep repeat guests coming back for more, whether it’s new bunker sand or expanded services. Here’s a look at a few select Golfpac partners, and what makes them stand out from the competition.
Celebration Golf Club
The final co-design by the late and legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and son Robert Trent Jones II, Celebration is one of the more popular daily fee courses in the Orlando area. Sited in the master-planned Celebration community, the layout is framed by native trees and natural wetlands. With five sets of tees, it stretches from 4,933 to a new total yardage of 7,028. Course workers have recently improved conditions by removing some Bahia grass in favor of Bermuda, which gives the course a greener look. The Celebration Golf Academy offer private lessons, group lessons, clinics, and golf schools, as well as a state-of-the-art PING nFlight Fitting & Teaching Studio. Overseeded wall-to-wall this year, Celebration should provide a fantastic day of golf in 2016.
Walt Disney World® Golf
Lake Buena Vista, FL
In addition to the four theme parks, Walt Disney World® Golf has three strong golf courses — Magnolia, Palm, and Lake Buena Vista. The Magnolia and Palm are the most popular. The Palm recently completed a renovation that included building entirely new green complexes, newly shaped tees and a completely new bunker design. This past summer the Magnolia executed renovations to its 97 bunkers. Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, designed by Joe Lee, is a lot of fun to play with elevated putting surfaces and an island green on the seventh hole. If you’re looking for a tune-up before taking on one of the above, Disney’s Oak Trail offers nine holes with distances from 132 yards to 517 yards.
Falcon’s Fire Golf Club
A Rees Jones design, Falcon’s Fire is particularly popular as the beginning or ending course for buddy trips because of its proximity to Orlando International Airport. Jones gives players a chance to score well early with a 359-yard (from the tips) par-four on the third hole and 480-yard (from the tips) par-five, fifth hole. Those holes are countered with a terrific 464-yard, dogleg left, par-four 18th that rivals any daily fee finishing hole in the area. Daily fee courses aren’t generally known for their cuisine, but Falcon’s Nest restaurant, which overlooks the 18th hole, is an exception. Try the wings — or better yet — the Sweet Heat BBQ Burger.
Grand Cypress Golf Club
With its 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf, Grand Cypress is the property that put Orlando on the map as a golf destination. The tall grassy mounds and elevated greens make the North/South layout a good example of Nicklaus’ design philosophies of the early 1980s. Each still stands up very well today. Many players use the East layout as a warm up nine before taking on the North/South or the links-style New Course, which pays homage to the famed Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland. It’s not an exact replica, but with its wide fairways, double greens and small starter’s shed on No. 1, the New Course is as close to Scotland as many golfers get.
Mission Inn Resort & Club
Less than an hour north of Orlando, this Spanish style resort has two courses, El Campeón and Las Colinas. It is an ideal destination for buddy trips with both golf and fishing. The greens on Las Colinas have recently been expanded to their original sizes; and the par-four 16th on El Campeón — one of the course’s signature holes — recently completed some bulkhead work along the fairway and green with great results. El Campeón is one of Florida’s oldest courses, designed by Chicago-based architect George O’Neil and built in 1917, with enhancements in 1926 by Charles E. Clarke of Troon, Scotland. Las Colinas, designed by Gary Koch, is an inland links style layout that features wider fairways than El Campeón. The two courses combine for a perfect 36-hole day. When you’re done, be sure to enjoy a cold beer in Nicker’s Clubhouse Restaurant.
Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge
Winter Garden, FL
A good place for those who don’t want the hustle and bustle of a large resort, Orange County National, with its comfortable Lodge rooms, is a great alternative. It’s not far from many Orlando attractions and nightlife, such as Disney’s new Disney Springs entertainment complex. OCN’s two courses — Panther Lake and Crooked Cat — each are good examples of the rugged Central Florida terrain and more-than-solid tests of golf. The greens on each course have been renovated with Bermuda Ultra-Dwarf grass, generally considered the closest thing to Bentgrass in Florida, meaning OCN’s greens run fast and true. Don’t forget about the nine-hole Tooth course that’s free to play for guests at the Lodge as well as an incredible 24-acre practice facility, which is home to the annual PGA Show Demo Day each January.
Reunion Resort & Club
Ten minutes west of Disney World, Reunion celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2015 and offers condo and home rentals, as well as suites at its 11-story Reunion Grande hotel. Reunion is the only resort in the U.S. that features courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tom Watson. The 17th and 18th holes of the Nicklaus course were redesigned this past summer to further incorporate the native wetland areas, creek line, and wooded areas indigenous to the property, as well as accommodate a new clubhouse and vacation homes. In addition to its three golf courses, Reunion is home to the Annika Academy golf school founded by LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam. It’s a perfect choice for a stay and play experience with your best golf buddies.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes
This Greg Norman-designed golf course — arguably his best Florida layout — serves two luxury hotels and is available for outside play. This past summer the club completed restoration on its 100 bunkers, adding new sand and installing the new Better Billy Bunker technology that allows water to drain directly downward and avoid sand erosion. A Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course blends into the natural Central Florida landscape, protecting natural resources and habitats while enhancing the overall golf experience. The resort’s Highball & Harvest restaurant has a “Pig-n-Potatoes” dish that’s great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Shingle Creek Golf Club
The centerpiece of the 1,500-room Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, the 18-hole course has large, undulating greens and is a good example of architect David Harman’s straightforward, no gimmicks approach to design. Its interconnecting waterways are resplendent with wildlife and its staff is among the friendliest in Central Florida. Shingle Creek is also home to the Brad Brewer Golf Academy, renowned among the best golf instruction facilities in the nation. Memorable dining is found at A Land Remembered signature restaurant where a Châteaubriand for Two at tableside that tough to beat. Looking for something a bit different? Try the Little Creek Frog Legs as an appetizer. Finally, the golf shop is one of the best stocked in town and is the perfect spot to find a souvenir.
Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club
Haines City, FL
Located 30 minutes west of Orlando, architect Steve Smyers designed more than 180 bunkers on this challenging layout. The course sits on a high (for Central Florida) piece of land that is cut out of a citrus grove. Recent improvements included cutting back some tree limbs and bushes to improve site lines and better frame the holes. In addition, each hole has been replanted with a specific-colored flower to give the entire layout a more aesthetically pleasing look. Golf design aficionados have compared Southern Dunes to Alister Mackenzie’s classic design at Royal Melbourne in Australia because of its strategically placed bunkers that challenge the stronger player and guide the weaker player. With a strong layout and great service, Southern Dunes is always a mustplay course.
Tranquilo Golf Club at The Four Seasons
A solid Tom Fazio design, Tranquilo was originally opened in 1992 as Osprey Ridge. Fazio returned to upgrade and enhance the course for its October 2014 launch as Tranquilo Golf Club. To accommodate the development of Four Seasons Resort Orlando, a new par-three 16th hole was built that is framed by Southern Live Oak trees and a natural sand area that runs from tee to green. No. 18 is considered the signature hole, a par-three of 217 yards fronted by a large bunker and a pond to the left, with Four Seasons Resort Orlando in the distance. For lunch, try Plancha’s flavorful Cuban-American cuisine in the clubhouse. All in all, Tranquilo is truly a course not to be missed.
Waldorf Astoria Golf Club
This Rees Jones design is the only course in the country to bear the fabled “Waldorf Astoria” name. The course, which opened in fall 2009, is among the newest golf course to be built in the Orlando/Central Florida area. It is a bit more difficult than the average resort design in that it has narrow fairways, small Bermuda greens, and is generously sprinkled with bunkers. Its five sets of tee boxes, however, help offset the narrow driving lanes and bunkers. Be sure to order the fried chicken at the Waldorf Astoria’s signature Bull & Bear restaurant. It probably will be the best yardbird you’ll ever eat. Best of all, the club is consistently rated first among all Orlando courses for service and customer satisfaction!