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Birdies, Eagles and the Mouse

My partner for the first three rounds is Gayle, an engineer visiting from Allentown, Pennsylvania. (You can usually count on meeting lone players on the Disney courses, often spouses taking a day off from the Magic Kingdom.) Gayle has little success convincing me that Osprey's scary-looking swales and humps and Eagle Pines's lunging bunkers are in reality Disney-style contrivances. She insists the courses aren't nearly as hard to play as they appear and are thus masterful examples of resort golf--fun and not so challenging as to wreck the vacation. "Don't look, just play," she advises me on Osprey's fourth, a narrow 439-yard par four with sand along the entire left side. "You're looking," she admonishes me later, after my tee shot flops pathetically onto Eagle Pines's eighth fairway, just clearing a very crossable lagoon. Mostly, Gayle is right: As one would expect of a place like this, illusion is rampant, the exception being both courses' final three holes, strenuous sequences no matter what you choose to believe.

Our rounds leave us simultaneously drained and overstimulated, reminding us of the parks we'd so completely forgotten. Gayle heads off to the Magic Kingdom for the dose of goose bumps she gets from seeing Cinderella Castle. I opt to feed myself on the tapas, sushi and crepes served from the pavilion throughout Epcot's World Showcase.

The awesome breadth of Walt's empire is most apparent while navigating its forty-five miles of roadways. It's easy to get lost with so many distractions--the flashing Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the summit of Blizzard Beach (a water park meant to resemble a melting ski resort) and the Epcot Spaceship Earth, a huge dimpled sphere that, no matter where your sympathies lie, resembles a giant golf ball. I join the wriggling conga line of humanity entering Epcot's gates. Disney has made high Pavlovian art of crowd control. Because the landscaping is stunning and the sidewalks are lickably clean, no one would dare litter or cut through a flower bed. Because the park employees are Snow White polite and Annette Funicello enthusiastic, there's little justification for rudeness. A herd of Chips 'n' Dales, we guests defer to each another: "Please, after you. I insist." Passing under the giant golf ball, we pour into one of the world's lowest-risk, highest-grossing fantasies.

ONLY A MAN CAPABLE OF TURNING A MOUSE into a global icon could get away with using "wow and weenie" to run his corporation. A revered Waltism, it means that every park, every ride, every hotel must have the wow--the rush, the g-force, the awe, the magnitude--and the weenie, which is the underlying thematic detail that supports the wow--the little touches that make you shake your head and say, "Only at Disney." It seems a travesty to apply those words to the Palm, a rigorous course that, along with its counterpart, Magnolia, has been a stop on the PGA Tour for thirty years and is an entrenched favorite among lower-handicappped locals like my partner, Rick, an Orlando PR man.

"That's the weenie!" the course ranger roars after Rick's promising tee shot on the first hole, a 495-yard par five, burrows into the thick foliage of a palm tree and remains twenty feet off the ground. I can only presume that the dogleg left, which killed me, is the wow.

"Guess I know why they call it the Palm," Rick mutters.

The Palm is a favorite among the pros because it forces them to summon all their resources to work around the dense thickets of slash pine and cedar and the generous slathering of bunkers and ponds. The first five holes abut the Magic Kingdom's main thoroughfare, lending a kooky audio to the play--the hoot-hoot of the train whistle, the ba-ba-da-bum of the daily character parade and the high-torque whine of the Walt Disney World Speedway, host to the Richard Petty Driving Experience. From there the course widens and becomes progressively harder through the eighteenth, a 454-yard monster with a tiny, water-banked green that was ranked the seventh-toughest hole on the PGA Tour in 1998.

Along the way we encounter a giant blue heron. "Disney does that so well," Rick says. "Doesn't it look real?" The majestic bird takes flight, and I realize that once again I've been duped in a world where being delusional is, strangely, the point.

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