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 »  Home  »  Magazine Departments  »  Featured Courses  »  Golfing in Orlando
Golfing in Orlando
By Mike Jamison | Published  12/4/2006 | Featured Courses | Unrated
Let Your Imagination Be The Guide
Here’s a little test for your imagination. Close yours eyes, clear your mind then think of the city of Orlando, Florida.

Each of you may have your own version of what locals there call “The City Beautiful.” It’s a pretty good bet, though, that in each of your visions there is at least a glance at some famous vacation icon. Might have been a mouse, a whale, a rollercoaster, a space shuttle, a white sandy beach or one of a dozen others. But when it comes to Orlando, the world’s leading vacation destination, the first thought is nearly always of theme parks, sunny days and good times.

Now close your eyes and clear your mind again, and think of a beautiful golf hole, bordered by century-old oaks on one side and a shimmering lake on the other. The tri-level green is guarded by deep-faced bunkers and framed by oaks and pines and palm trees. The hole looks as if it has been there for a hundred years, and it feels as if it is calling your name, beckoning you to tee it high and give it a try.

Believe it or not, that golf picture you just created in your mind can also be found in Orlando, close by to the theme park icons you were imagining before. Yes, golf is another great reason to make Orlando your choice for a future getaway.

“I think much of the country has this misperception of golf in Orlando,” said Melissa Suttles, General Manager of Mystic Dunes Golf Club. “Golf isn’t just an afterthought to the attractions here. There are some incredible golf courses, and a large variety of golf experiences. Golfers who look for great golf destinations are missing out if they don’t consider Orlando.”

Nearly every major golf course architect has left his mark there. And there are over 100 golf courses within a 50-mile radius to choose from – golf courses of all price levels.

But maybe most telling is this fact: Orlando is host to more professional tour events than any city in the country. And there is a reason why dozens of tour players – Woods, Els, Sorenstam, Garcia to name a few, hang their hats in this relatively young Central Florida city. It has a lot going for it when it comes to golf.
Let’s start with ease of travel. One of the nation’s leading airports, Orlando International, is located near the heart of all the action, and has easy connections to nearly every major city in the country, and certain international destinations. Interstate 4, which dissects the state in the center and connects to major north/south highways I-75 and I-95, makes arriving by car a breeze. And accommodations are as varied and numerous as anywhere in the world.

How about entertainment? No other destination offers the number of theme parks found in Orlando, but there is plenty of activity for adults as well – a variety of clubs to quench your thirst and a full range of restaurants to quiet your appetite.

Weather. Enough said. Golf is played 365 days a year in Orlando, and the best weather of the year is when some of the best values exist – spring and fall.

Instruction. Many of the world’s leading instructors – David Leadbetter, Brad Brewer, Mike Bender and Bill Madonna to name a few, work their magic in the Orlando area.

But in the end, the golf courses speak for themselves. Here’s a look at a few of the most popular.


The renowned father-son team of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Jr. sculpted a park-like atmosphere within a natural wetland environment, creating a truly serene golf experience at Celebration Golf Club. The course’s rolling terrain weaves through a series of pristine lakes and periodic clusters of native oak, pine and magnolia. The greens complexes are the key element at Celebration, demanding accurate approach shots and consistent putting. Celebration is listed as one of PGA Magazine’s Junior Friendly courses. It is located at the town of Celebration, near Disney.


Eagle Creek’s close proximity to Orlando International Airport makes the Ron Garl design convenient for golfers to clean up in the full-service locker room facility and make an easy dash to the airport. Well-conditioned putting surfaces with the new Mini Verde grass, a fun layout with generous landing areas and challenging greens complexes, and private-club-type service at the daily fee course make for a great day of golf. Eagle Creek is one of only 52 courses throughout Florida to earn 4 and 1/2 stars in Golf Digest’s Places To Play program, and has hosted tournaments such as the Florida Open and the Hooters Collegiate Match Play Championship.


This Rees Jones design in the heart of the tourism area has promoted “a private club experience at a daily fee course” since its opening, and according to player response, Falcon’s Fire delivers. The course provides links style golf with extensive perimeter mounding and water, which comes into play on half of the holes. The course features wall-to-wall overseeding, which provides plush playing conditions for winter golfers. Falcon’s Fire also is one of the favored courses among tournament planners, winning the 1999 Apex Award as one of North America’s Top 10 Golf Tournament Facilities, and its pro shop has been named among America’s best by GSO five of the past 10 years.


Golf course architect Steve Smyers and player consultant Nick Faldo created a thinking person’s golf course right in the heart of the tourism area on International Drive. Nearly every hole provides options. Conservative players can always take the obvious safer route. The bolder player can challenge the hazards and obstacles and be greatly rewarded. The contoured, rolling fairways will accept most tee shots, and the well-bunkered, multi-tiered greens will reward accuracy on approach shots. The course was recently renovated, but the beautiful oak trees were left to border many of the holes.


If you haven’t played Hawk’s Landing in a few years, you’ll want to put this one on your play list. After undergoing a redesign by the firm of Cupp Design, the Hawk’s Landing layout differs dramatically from its predecessor designed by Joe Lee and opened in 1986. Water is in play on 15 of its 18 holes and the entire back nine.  The course plays 6,800 yards and carries a slope rating of 134. And the majestic Orlando World Center Marriott is bordered on three sides by the course, and guests, as well as the general public, are invited to play.


If you like wide, inviting fairways, challenging, undulating greens complexes, and elevation change, MetroWest is for you. Open since 1987, this Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design is fun to play but requires your attention throughout. It features elevation change rare for this area – up to 100 feet – and some beautiful bordering oak trees. One of the most exciting holes at MetroWest is the 400-yard ninth, with watering bordering the entire left side and the front of the green from some angles. John Daly once drove this green. Course location is a huge plus - three miles from International Drive, near Universal Studios.


Two miles from the Magic Kingdom is a magical golf experience: Mystic Dunes Golf Club. Carved from rolling orange groves and native, protected wetlands, Mystic Dunes Golf Club offers a feeling of escape from the hustle and bustle of the vacation crowd. Champions Tour Player and NBC Lead Golf Analyst Gary Koch has created one Florida’s most unique tracks. The front nine will remind you of the Carolinas, with large oaks and marshlands dominating. The back nine is more open, with waste bunkers and mounding guiding you along. Large, undulating greens dominate throughout.


Orange County National features two championship golf courses: Panther Lake and Crooked Cat. Panther Lake is sprawled out over rolling meadows, through native pines, wetlands and lakes and elevation changes of up to 60 feet. Each hole is framed with fairway bunkers, trees and water hazards. The Crooked Cat is a links style course with native heather and mounds framing wide terraced fairways. This layout can be a challenge on windy days. Orange County National, a 4 1/2 star “Best Places to Play Facility by Golf Digest” is also the site of the 2007 PGA TOUR Qualifying School Finals and features the area’s best practice facility.


The entire golf vacation experience awaits guests at Orange Lake Resort And Country Club. A variety of roomy accommodations are there for the choosing, and many of them overlook one of four golf courses at this beautiful resort just a few miles south of Disney. The Arnold Palmer-designed Legends features nine holes reminiscent of old Scottish-style courses, and a serene nine that features towering pines, majestic oaks, winding fairways and flowing water. A water park, great restaurants and more make this a terrific family resort.


Ridgewood Lakes is located in Haines City just southwest of Orlando. You know you are in for something special the moment you drive through the gracious signature entry. The 7.000-yard golf course is a nice centerpiece for a golf course community. The Ridgewood Lakes golf course is an 11-year-old Ted McAnglis design with a reputation of being a tough test of golf due to the small greens and many water hazards.  The hurricanes of 2004 led to some re-conditioning of the course, including the raising and recontouring of several fairways. Coquina shell was added on some holes to aid playability and drainage.


If a highly decorated golf course convenient to the attractions including a brand new 1,500-room resort on property sounds attractive to you, then Shingle Creek Golf Club is a terrific choice. Opened in 2003, Shingle Creek was recently named one of “America’s Top 40 Best New Golf Courses” by Golfweek Magazine and ranked one of the toughest courses in Central Florida by the Orlando Business Journal. It also has received the prestigious “Greens of Distinction” award from Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine. The course features wide, undulating fairways and firm, fast greens. Rosen Shingle Creek Resort provides an appealing stay-and play option.


Southern Dunes is located just southwest of Orlando in Haines City. It is ranked No. 6 in Florida in Golfweek’s “America’s Best Courses You Can Play,” and was included in the magazine’s “Top 100 Modern Day Courses in America.” Opened in 1993, and designed by Steve Smyers, Southern Dunes is an upscale daily fee facility that stretches to 7,200 yards. With 100 feet of elevation change and over 100 bunkers, Southern Dunes will challenge the best golfers.