By Mike Jamison You are in Orlando, Florida.
Your palms are starting to sweat. You can feel the hair on the back of your neck standing up. Your insides are dancing, your heart is pounding and your muscles are wound tight as you wait for that one dramatic moment when ….
…You could finish that sentence by describing the key moment on one of the dozens of thrill rides in the theme parks that make Orlando the world’s No. 1 vacation destination.
But this moment did not occur on a roller coaster, or in a spaceship, or at the side of a whale’s tank.
Nope, this moment finishes like this:
…”that one dramatic moment when you draw the club back and try to hit your approach shot over a wicked water hazard and a vicious bunker to a tucked pin on an elevated, sloping green. … Just like you have seen the pros do on TV on this very hole.”
Those types of scenes are repeated in Orlando during every minute of every day on a variety of golf courses whose diversity rival that of any destination in the USA.
Embracing the “Golf’s Ultimate Theme Park” image makes sense for GolfOrlando, a 5-year-old co-operative marketing organization of 25 courses whose mission is to promote Orlando as a premier golf destination. The theme park reference reflects not only the personality of the entire region, but also the impressive diversity of the Central Florida golf landscape. Golf in Orlando provides its own type of outdoor adventure.
From Scottish-flavored layouts, to courses with dramatic elevation change, to traditional designs with tree-lined fairways, nearly every type of golf experience can be found in Orlando. And that includes price range. Visiting golfers can pay high-end resort-type pricing and receive that level of service and experience. But they also can find bargains among the quality courses, hotels and restaurants that make a golf getaway to Orlando affordable.
Several key ingredients are fueling Orlando’s climb up the list of desirable golf destinations, a climb that is accelerating year by year.
An obvious one is the weather. Golf can be played and practiced nearly 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 is one of the world’s very best. Every major airline offers plenty of choices to all key markets large and small. Major highways leading into Florida make it simple to arrive to centrally located Orlando by car.
A vital asset is the variety of nightlife and restaurants. If you want it, Orlando offers it. The City Beautiful might not have always invented it, but it has a wonderful knack of re-creating and localizing what has proven successful elsewhere.
GolfOrlando’s 25 layouts boast the names of a majority of the world’s leading architects – Fazio, Jones, Palmer, Nicklaus, Norman, Garl, Smyers. The region hosts it share of major competitions – two PGA Tour stops annually, 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.
Orlando has truly become Golftown USA in recent years. Just look at the number of golf professionals that call Orlando home. Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam, Sergio Garcia, Arnold Palmer, Chris DiMarco, Mark O’Meara, Stuart Appleby and dozens of others have planted roots in Central Florida.
The one and only television network devoted 100 percent 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 golf’s leading golf travel company, Golfpac. The industry’s only media/business networking organization, the International Network Of Golf, is based in Orlando, and the golf industry’s largest trade show – The PGA Merchandise Show – is held here every January.
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. And the list goes on and on.
But the crowning jewels for golf in Orlando are the courses. From top to bottom Orlando offers quality golf courses difficult to match. Nearly every exit off of I-4 leads directly to a memorable golf experience, regardless of which side of Orlando you are on.
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 Top 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.
And there are lots of other outstanding options with a full range of prices.
These are just some of the reasons why Orlando is the “city of choice” of the golf business, and “Golf’s Ultimate Theme Park” for the vacationing golfer. For more information, visit www.golforlando.com. Call 866-349-8522 to receive a beautiful, complimentary vacation guide.