At Magnolia the next morning, I find myself partnered with Robin, a chef at the Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe, and his general manager, Clint. Hooking up with Disney-related employees is another intriguing aspect of the ninety-nine holes. It's not unusual to play a round with an animator or a show producer or the director of costuming or a crazed chef who has snuck away to satisfy his other passion. Clint assails a ball for a drive of 285 yards. With the chef and me zigzagging along behind, he punches his ball onto the green several feet above a sucker pin. "Did you know this is a championship course?" he asks, tapping in for birdie. "You're good, Clint," Robin says. "But I've seen Tiger Woods play this course, and you're no Tiger Woods."
At 7,190 yards, Magnolia is the longest and arguably the hardest Disney course. It's heavily trapped--with fourteen bunkers on the fourth hole alone--tree-lined and watery. Avoiding obstacles is an ongoing problem, as is being lulled into bad choices about the way to reach the small, elevated greens. Or, as Robin so articulately explains after hucking up a frying-pan-size divot on the fourth, a 552-yard par five, "That sucker is a lot farther away than it looks." He softens at the sight of the Mickey-shape bunker before the green on Magnolia's sixth, a downhill 195-yard par three. The hole is a soothing respite on a layout that, like the Palm's, grows progressively harder. Reminding us of Mickey on this happy hole is clever but unnecessary. The mouse is ubiquitous, and references to Disney infiltrate every conversation and attempt at humor. For forty-somethings like us, its lifelong influence is undeniable. I am sympathetic when the chef admits his moral code was developed in terror of becoming a braying lost boy. My greatest fear, I confess, is that I'll wind up like Dumbo's mother--in chains, falsely accused of madness.
Banging balls out of the loblolly trees on the tenth, Robin and I encourage a flagging Clint by reminding him of the "lowest-common-denominator syndrome"; he must not start playing like us. In our guidebook, Lanny Wadkins refers to the seventeenth hole--a 427-yard hook around water with a narrow, water-butted green--as "the most dangerous on the course." Clint pars it with four, the chef has lost track, and I have to cajole the ball diver to toss me one so that I can continue play.
Unimpressed with my performance, I decide it's high time for a golf lesson at the Disney Institute, a professional-development and personal-enrichment center with group programs devoted to human potential, where, among other life skills, you can learn to animate the shape of Mickey. You can also enjoy a massage in the plush hush of the Institute's spa. "Anything else we can help you with today, Ms. Ross?" they murmur. "A facial, an herbal steam, an exfoliation?" Denuded and palmed and swing-shaped to a high polish, I float back to my room and execute a remote-control-carrying perfect ten of a dive onto my bed. The phone rings. It's Rick, my friend from the Palm.
"You have to come to Pleasure Island with me tonight!"
"But . . ."
"You can't go home without experiencing it!"
"Yeah, but . . ."
"Get dressed! You're gonna love it!"
"I . . . I . . . I . . ."
Rick and I are an unlikely couple amid the throngs of cheery pleasure seekers. I'm chain-yawning, and he's in a rumpled suit and tie--an authentic Orlando resident with a real job. Pleasure Island is a carny for adults. There are games, bright lights, live music, comedy shows and dancers, but the big draw is a series of dance joints, each dedicated to the greatest hits from a specific decade. Energized by the crowd, we bop uncontrollably from "Devil with the Blue Dress On" to "Tainted Love." The third time I fall from the mechanical surfboard, Rick politely reminds me of my early-morning tee time.