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Golf in Orlando: The Links-Style International Course at ChampionsGate

By Susanne Pacher

Several days after attending the Father-Son-Challenge at ChampionsGate we actually got out and played the International Course ourselves. It was an exciting experience to play a championship golf course just shortly after a major tournament, when it was still in tournament condition with just a few extra degrees of difficulty. The open wind-swept design features a multitude of bunkers and a variety of water hazards, and with a difficulty rating of 76.3, one of the highest ratings in the state, we were duly humbled by the challenges that this course threw at us.

ChampionsGate is an impressive facility with 36 holes designed by famous golf legend Greg Norman. What sets ChampionsGate apart is that its International layout and the National course have totally different designs. The hard, fast fairways of the International course are reminiscent of the great old Scottish and Irish links, while the more modern American-style National course winds through citrus groves and stands of pines, emphasizing challenging shot-making choices and a range of memorable par-3s.

Golfers who want to improve their game can do so at the world-famous David Leadbetter Golf Academy which offers two or three-day mini-schools or retreats, private sessions or David's "Beginner to Winner" program. David Leadbetter even offers video lessons via the Internet, providing access to his teaching expertise to golf students all over the world. The Callaway practice facility consists of an expansive practice area, putting green and short game area and is always complimentary with a round of golf.

As you come off exit 58 on the I-4, ChampionsGate greets you right away with imposing gates. The road takes you past the luxurious Omni Orlando Resort and Spa which has been welcoming resort golfers since 2004 in 730 premier rooms, including 25 guest suites. In conjunction with the Omni Resort, ChampionsGate now offers an upscale resort golf experience, complete with a European-style spa, state-of-the-art conference facilities and a 15-acre tropically landscaped recreational area featuring an 850 ft "lazy river". The Champions 9 Golf Experience, the resort's lighted 9-hole, par 3 golf course, adds to the recreational opportunities.

The resort will be complemented by a master-planned community including villas and condominiums. The 59-unit phase 1 of the Villas is set to open in the summer of 2006, which will be followed by groundbreaking for the 110 units of Phase 2.

The 30,000 square foot clubhouse at ChampionsGate with its enormous wrap-around veranda features a panoramic view of both golf courses and a unique menu that is split right down the middle, featuring international cuisine on the left, and American fare on the right. ChampionsGate specializes in hospitality and customer service, and last year the club hosted more than 340 business or charity outings. After our challenging round we enjoyed a tasty lunch and were joined by Alan Findley, the General Manager of ChampionsGate, who gave us a better overview of this facility.

Alan is particularly proud of hosting the Father-Son-Challenge, a nationally televised golf event that features many present and past legends of golf, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Vijay Singh, to mention just a few. The Father-Son-Challenge is a veritable "Walking Hall of Fame". What makes this tournament really special is its relaxed family atmosphere and the opportunity to see different generations of golf icons playing with their sons, daughters and even grandchildren. It's an opportunity to see these famous golf legends from a human side and we indeed enjoyed watching Vijay Singh relax with a cup of coffee on the 18th hole, awaiting the arrival of his son Qass, hoping for a great final score.

In our conversation Alan also indicated that at the David Leadbetter Academy you never know what golf celebrity you are going to run into. Michelle Wie is a famous Leadbetter student, Charles Howell III was practicing while we were there, and Greg Norman helicoptered in for a lesson last week. Alan also pointed out Michelle Wie's favourite spot in the clubhouse: the table right in front of the big screen TV.

Alan also made us aware of the unique wildlife inhabiting this golf course: two American bald eagles have made the course their permanent home, and on any given day you could see whooping cranes, gannets, alligators or armadillos. For a special glimpse of ChampionsGate's atmosphere come here at the end of the day, when you could see bald eagles perched on a tree in the sunset right in front of the clubhouse, while listening to a Scottish bagpiper, a feature Allen himself has introduced to the club.

Driving Directions:

ChampionsGate is located 10 Minutes from Disney World at Exit 58 on Interstate 4, just minutes away from International Drive and area attractions.

Statistics for ChampionsGate International

Par 72 Yards Rating Slope

Black 7363 76.8 143

Blue 6792 74.1 137

White (M) 6239 71.5 132

White (L) 6239 75.7 134

Statistics for ChampionsGate National

Par 72 Yards Rating Slope

Black 7128 75.2 138

Blue 6427 71.9 133

White (M) 5937 69.1 124

White (L) 5937 74.7 125

For more information please visit the ChampionsGate website or call them at (407) 787-GOLF (4653) or toll free at 1-888-558-9301

About The Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions ( 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.

Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest ( and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.

"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".

The story with photos is published at Stories and Photos (

Susanne Pacher

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