Orlando, Florida - Golf's Ultimate Theme Park
By Susanne Pacher
My husband loves playing golf and I am myself am pretty decent at the sport. So it was a given that we would be playing a few rounds in Orlando. We had a chance to sample a number of golf courses first-hand and got a personal appreciation of the great number and variety of golf courses in the Orlando area.
I had a chance to talk with Mike Jamison from Golf Orlando to get a better overview of the extensive golf facilities that the Orlando area has to offer.
1. Orlando is not only the world's No. 1 vacation destination, but it is also called "Golf's Ultimate Theme Park". Please tell us more about that.
Isn't it interesting how sometimes the most obvious answer to a tough question is sitting right before your eyes, yet it takes you days, months, even years to see it?
Officials of the marketing co-op GolfOrlando realized that recently when they finally nailed the perfect marketing tag line for their 25-course organization.
For years the group had wrestled with various themes that might set Orlando apart from its competition in the golf destination wars. Then one day a member asked a question - "What is Orlando known for?"
The obvious answer? Theme parks. Orlando is the world's No. 1 vacation destination, and the incredible collection of theme parks plays the leading role.
It was at that moment that the perfect theme line crystallized - "GolfOrlando - Golf's Ultimate Theme Park."
It is a nice fit not only because of the foundation of Orlando's vacation pitch - theme parks - but also because it reflects the incredible diversity of the Central Florida golf landscape. Golf in Orlando provides its own type of outdoor adventure.
2. Please tell us about the types of golf courses that are available in the Orlando area.
Looking for a taste of the U.K.? How about Royal St. Cloud, where every hole transfers you to the fabled courses of the British Isles, and where the 2004 and 2005 British Junior Amateur was conducted? Try a couple of very popular Ron Garl designs for a Scottish touch. Eagle Creek, located near the Orlando International Airport, offers open, rolling fairways, large, undulating greens and those dangerous revetted bunkers that dot the landscape in Scotland. Eagle Creek was recently ranked among the top 10 new courses of the decade in Florida by Golf Travel & Leisure, and is the first par 73 course in Orlando and the first to use Mini Verde greens.
On the north side of Orlando is Timacuan Golf & Country Club, ranked as high as No. 14 in Florida by one statewide publication. Its front side offers up a true taste of Scotland, while the back 9 takes on a more Carolinas low Country feel. Hole 2, a long water-dominated par 4, was recently named the 2nd most difficult hole in Central Florida by an area publication. Timacuan is a locals favorite.
A very similar routing by Arnold Palmer awaits you on the south side of town. The Legends at Orange Lake opened in 1998 and features a Scottish style front nine (The Links) and a tree-lined back nine (The Pines). The feature holes are the 610-yard 4th on the Links nine and the 432-yard 13th, called the Island Oak.
In need of drama? How about Diamond Players Club in Clermont, where the elevation changes are so spectacular that the track is often referred to as "Florida's mountain course." You'll need to buckle up when tackling Mystic Dunes green complexes. They offer up slopes that drop as much as 10 feet, and you might find an elephant's trunk poking out of a few serious mounds. Also, several of the fairways feature whiskey barrel bunkers as guideposts. This Gary Koch-designed course personifies the word "adventure, as does Highlands Reserve, a roller coaster-like golf experience with elevation changes of 120 feet and dramatic scenery. Further south on Highway 27 is Steve Smyers Southern Dunes, another course that features elevation change uncommon in Central Florida. Combined with the abundance and creativity of the bunkering, it is easy to understand while Southern Dunes is ranked among the To 100 Modern Day Courses by Golfweek.
Excitement? Falcon's Fire by Rees Jones has a couple of thrillers, especially its cape hole, the par 4 13th. This one dares you to bite off more than you can chew, and while it is tempting to rip a big tee shot toward the green, the money play is to safely land your ball into the slender fairway utilizing a more forgiving angle and a fairway wood.
If you are a traditionalist, the options are boundless. Shingle Creek is the newest of the traditional Florida layouts, bordered by dense oaks and pines in a backdrop along historic Shingle Creek. Location is another benefit as it rests near the major tourist areas. Harmony is a Johnny Miller design that falls into this category. Its strength lies in the greens complexes that feature angular bunkering creating a variety of challenging pin placements. Ridgewood Lakes provides a beautiful cruise through the hardwoods off Highway 27, and tops off the journey with an awesome finishing hole.
How about a stroll though nature? Stonegate Golf Club, designed by Ron Garl, rests upon 3,300 acres of pristine wetlands, woodlands and 100-year-old oak hammocks, and places the emphasis on the short game. Mike Dasher's North Shore looks as if it should be located deep in the country as it sits comfortably amidst lush surroundings, yet it is conveniently located seven miles from Orlando International Airport. Diamondback, a Joe Lee design located in Haines City, was carved from 240 acres of virgin forest and offers dramatically rolling fairways bordered by dense trees, pristine natural wetlands, and well-positioned water hazards.
If convenience is important, MetroWest could be the perfect choice, as it is located near Universal Studios and the International Drive tourist section. It is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. masterpiece that features wide fairways and challenging approach shots. Nearby just off International Drive next to Sea World is Grande Pines, a recently renovated Smyers design that features a number of outstanding risk/reward holes. Celebration Golf Club, located near Walt Disney World, was designed by father Robert Trent Jones Sr. and son Robert Trent Jones Jr. and places emphasis on approach shots.
Is notoriety important to you? ChampionGate's two courses play host annually to the Office Depot Father/Son Classic, a favorite among dozens of PGA and Senior PGA Tour players. Orange County National has twice hosted the PGA Tour Qualifying School Finals on its two tracks, Panther Lake and Crooked Cat, They offer diverse tests that are good enough to challenge and determine tomorrow's professional stars.
Some folks enjoy walking out their hotel door straight to the first tee. Orlando offers several choices for stay-and-play buffs, including Hawk's Landing. Attached to the spectacular Marriott World Center, Hawk's Landing recently underwent a complete renovation by Robert Cupp. It has water on 15 of the 18 holes and it features its own version of "Amen Corner - holes 12, 13 and 14.
That small taste gives you an idea of the diversity available through GolfOrlando, truly "Golf's Ultimate Theme Park."
3. Please inform us about the golf practice facilities and the teaching professionals that are available in the Orlando area.
Some of the game's most respected teachers - David Leadbetter, Mike Bender, Rina Ritson, Bill Madonna, Brad Brewer and Fred Griffin to name a few - do their magic in Central Florida.
Orlando is home to some of the nation's finest practice facilities. The Faldo Institute and Orange County National offer more than just practice tees and greens. The landing areas on their driving ranges resemble true targets and hazards that are found on courses. Tremendous short-game practice areas help better players fine-tune that key part of their games. But the crowning jewel in Orlando are the courses. From top to bottom, Orlando offers the best quality golf of any destination in the world. Nearly every exit off I-4 leads directly to a memorable golf experience, regardless of which side of Orlando you are on.
4. Some of the Orlando area golf courses have achieved top ratings from various golf publications. Please tell us more about that.
Orange County National, host of the 2003 & 2005 PGA TOUR Q-School Finals, was the recipient of Golf Digest's 4 1/2 Stars for 2000 to 2005. Southern Dunes is rated among the top 100 contemporary courses in America by Golfweek. Orange County National's Panther Lake is rated 4 1/2 stars by Golf Digest. Award-winning Southern Dunes was voted "Top 100 courses in America" by Golfweek 1997 - 2001. Celebration Golf Club was rated 4 1/2 stars and in the top three in Central Florida for service and in the top two for course conditioning by Golf Digest's "Best Places to Play" 2004 - 2005.
Diamondback Golf Club was recently awarded four stars by Golf Digest's "Places To Play". Victoria Hills Golf Cub open end in 2002, and was recently named by Golf Magazine as a "Top 10 You Can Play." Royal St. Cloud Golf Links was rated in the Top 5 Most Underrated Golf Courses in the Orlando area and hosted the 2004 and 2005 British Junior Amateur. Eagle Creek Golf Club was recently named among the Top 10 New Courses since 2000 by Travel & Leisure Magazine.
5. What major golfing events are held in the Orlando area?
The region hosts its share of major competitions - two PGA Tour stops annually (the Bay Hill Invitational in March, hosted by Arnold Palmer; and the Disney Classic at Walt Disney World in October), one LPGA Tour tournament, the PGA Tour Qualifying School Finals, the Buick Scramble National Finals, The Office Depot Father/Son, and a variety of mini tours. A
6. Please tell us about some of the famous golf architects that have put their mark on Orlando golf courses.
The group's 25 layouts boast the names of a majority of the world's leading architects - Tom Fazio, Rees and Robert Trent Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Ron Garl, Steve Smyers.
7. What about affordable golf in Orlando?
8. Who are some of the famous golf professionals who have made the Orlando area their home?
Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam, Sergio Garcia, Se Ri Pak, Arnold Palmer, Jim Thorpe, Chris Di Marco, Mark O'Meara, Scott Hoch, Nick Faldo, John Cook, Stuart Appleby, Charles Howell III and dozens of others have planted their roots in Central Florida. There is a reason for that, beyond tax implications.
9. In addition to golf, what else does the Orlando area have to offer?
Let's face it - no region in the country does adventure as well and with as much diversity as Orlando, the world's No. 1 vacation destination. Theme parks, theme parks and more theme parks. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, Kennedy Space Center and others have created the face that smiles upon the vacationing world from Central Florida.
The nightlife and restaurants rival those of any other region in the country. Tourists gather at various pockets around Orlando - Universal City Walk, Pleasure Island and International Drive among them. But if you want a feel for how the locals entertain themselves, take a trip to Winter Park Village on the north side of town, where terrific restaurants and clubs will fill your tummy and your night.
10. What about the weather year-round? What about getting to Orlando?
The weather is conducive to golf year-round. Average high daytime temperatures range from 72 in January to 89 in July. Golf can be played and practiced 365 days a year, many of those days featuring clear blue skies, lazy breezes and cool, comfortable nights.
Another significant reason is the ease of travel. Orlando International Airport welcomes direct flights from most major airports around this country and the world. And it is quite simple to drive to Orlando from in or out of state, thanks to a well-planned series of major highways.
11. What accommodation options do golfers have in Orlando?
12. Please tell us a bit more about the golf vacation packages that are offered in Orlando.
13. Some key golf organizations make Orlando their home, please tell us more about that.
The one and only television network devoted 100% to the sport - The Golf Channel - is based in Orlando. Golfweek, a leading trade publication, moved to Orlando about 11 years ago. Meadowbrook Golf, one of the largest golf course management companies, is located here, as is the industry's leading golf travel company, Golfpac. The industry's only media/ business networking organization, the International Network of Golf, is also based in Orlando.
Thank you, Mike, for providing a great practical overview of Orlando as a first-rate golf destination.
About The Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
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