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Birdies, Eagles and the Mouse

INSIDE: Play + Stay OrientationThe Best Golf; Dining; Accommodations; Mousing Around

A Jamaican doorman in a crisp blue admiral's uniform nods and salutes my entry into the lobby of Walt Disney World's Yacht Club Resort: "Welcome! Welcome! Have a Disney day. Have a Disney day!"

Okay. But what does that mean, exactly: Have a Disney day?

"That," he says, flashing perfect teeth, "is a perfect day. Now, just what makes a perfect day is entirely up to you."

Walt Disney was a smoker and a dreamer, not a golfer. But in the early sixties, when he was secretly buying up a 30,000-acre-plus chunk of central Florida near Orlando, he did not argue with his minions, who suggested that golf should be part of the perfect world he was planning. (In truth, his minions were avid golfers about to be relocated there from Anaheim, California.) Walt insisted only that the golf must be abundant and good--perfect, like everything else. The minions promptly hired Joe Lee to design three courses: Lake Buena Vista and the side-by-side Palm and Magnolia courses. Ron Garl, an accomplished Southern architect, added nine-hole Oak Trail, a gentle, walkable course especially suited for children and families.

More recently, Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner followed Walt's lead by digging a humongous hole in undeveloped Disney-owned land and handing the resulting dirt pile over to Tom Fazio. Fazio turned the pile into the hummocked and spiny Osprey Ridge (one of Florida's more elevated courses). Pete Dye then sculpted the hole left behind into a rolling gully of a track called Eagle Pines.

The whole package adds up to Disney's "99 holes of golf," all of which personify the company's hypergestalt: Maintenance is flawless, the landscaping persnickety and the staff a hybrid of golf-obsessed and pixie-dusted.

In the euphemism-rich world of Disney, what goes on behind the scenes is magic. All that you do and see is part of the show. You don't just stay in a hotel room at Walt Disney World Resort; you stay in New Orleans or at a New England yacht club or in exotic Africa. Employees don't wear uniforms; they wear costumes, and they aren't employees, either. They are cast members.

Theatrics in abundance are on display at Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines, which compose the Bonnet Creek Golf Club courses, one of Disney's three golf areas. Osprey is an exacting test from Fazio's diabolical mind. Although it's wider, longer and more open than Eagle Pines, most shots fall on awkward up-, down- or side-hill lies. The greens are gigantic landing pads, but their warps and riffles funnel balls in weird, unanticipated directions. Eagle Pines is pure Dye, a snakeskin-booted, bushwhacking devotee of waste-bunkered target golf who clearly cut loose on the Disney notion of fantastic. Some of his massive bunkers are landscaped with cacti and pampas grass to portray scenes from the desert. For kicks, Dye imported long, extra-gnarly North Carolina pine needles to pad their boundaries.


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