REUNION RESORT AND CLUB OF ORLANDO, INDEPENDENCE
7599 Gathering Drive, Reunion; 877-738-6466, reunionresort.com. YARDAGE: 7,175. PAR: 72. SLOPE: N/A. ARCHITECT: Tom Watson, 2004. GREENS FEES: $150-$200. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Part of a "new breed of family resort towns," the 2,300-acre complex here also includes the Legacy course, by Arnold Palmer, and will eventually include another eighteen-hole layout, the Tradition, a Jack Nicklaus project currently under construction. But Watson's course is the best to date. Situated south of Orlando and nearby architectural soul mate Celebration, Reunion is blessed with rolling terrain and changes in elevation of up to forty-five feet. Independence, Watson's first work in Florida, makes especially good use of the topography—including as a buffer against the condominiums and other housing without which there would be no golf—and the oak and palm trees add a sense of maturity that transcends the property's actual age.
SOUTHERN DUNES GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB
2888 Southern Dunes Boulevard, Haines City; 800-632-6400, southerndunes.com. YARDAGE: 7,227. PAR: 72. SLOPE: 135. ARCHITECT: Steve Smyers, 1993. GREENS FEES: $51-$104. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Those familiar with the work of Smyers—another golf-course architect with a considerable body of work but not a household name— know that the man likes sand (see page 60). The official bunker count at Southern Dunes is 183, though it is sometimes difficult to ascertain where one ends and the next begins. They are not superfluously used, however, either as hazards or as primarily visual points of interest. Steeply undulating greens, another Smyers trademark, are tempered by apparent moderation in mowing and rolling. One cautionary note: As good as the course is, if you find the presence of residential real estate distracting, you may feel claustrophobic here, since a couple green-to-tee commutes traverse subdivision streets, while several tee boxes are within gimme distance of someone's sundeck.
WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT, EAGLE PINES
3451 Golf View Drive, Lake Buena Vista; 407-824-2616, disney.go.com/disneyworld. YARDAGE: 6,772. PAR: 72. SLOPE: 135. ARCHITECT: Pete Dye, 1992. GREENS FEES: $100-$155. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
Let's get it over with: The only thing Mickey Mouse about the resort's golf alternatives is the outline of the Disney rodent in the shape of a bunker on the Magnolia course. In fact, part of the fun of playing any of the half-dozen layouts here—all eighteen-holers except for a ninehole walking special designed by Ron Garl and Larry Kanphaus—is the ensuing debate about which layout is the best, and why. Eagle Pines is notable both as one of the resort's new-generation layouts— the other is the Fazio contribution described below—and as one of Dye's less-punishing designs. The staff runs the bustling golf operation like clockwork; and of course, if the kids are along, the convenience is tough to match elsewhere.
WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT, MAGNOLIA
1950 W. Magnolia Palm Drive, Lake Buena Vista; 407-824-3386, disney.go.com/disneyworld. YARDAGE: 7,200. PAR: 72. SLOPE: 136. ARCHITECT: Joe Lee, 1971. GREENS FEES: $90-$124. T+L GOLF Rating: ****
You could hardly find a better object lesson on the principles of Florida resort golf and its maestro, Joe Lee, than at Disney's Magnolia course—although Lee's other two Disney tracks, Lake Buena Vista and the Palm, would do fine, too. As the longest of the resort's courses, there is plenty of water, sand and yardage to be covered on the Magnolia. It remains, however, an understated and downright pretty layout, aided by the presence of the more than 150 eponymous magnolia trees.
SHINGLE CREEK GOLF CLUB
9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando; 866-996-9933, shinglecreekgolf.com. YARDAGE: 7,228. PAR: 72. SLOPE: 139. ARCHITECT: David Harman, 2003. GREENS FEES: $69-$124. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
The ease of getting to most of Orlando's courses notwithstanding, Shingle Creek's location, which is practically in walking distance from the Orange County Convention Center, virtually assures heavy traffic. Harman, who spent a couple of decades constructing layouts by the likes of Dye and Nicklaus, has designed a course that is meant to play fast and firm, especially the greens. Water, though not always a serious threat, appears on all but two holes. Commissioned by Harris Rosen of nearby Rosen Centre and Rosen Plaza hotels fame, Shingle Creek—the name derives from the headwaters of the Everglades—will eventually be part of a 1,500-room resort currently under construction.
The Country Club of Orlando, Orlando (1911). What's a golf trip
without a round on a Donald Ross course?This one underwent an update by RTJ Sr. in 1959, one by Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva in 1990, and another ongoing Silva renovation. Throughout, it has maintained the genteel atmosphere of old Orlando.
The Golden Bear Club at Keene's Pointe, Windermere (1999). At 7,173 yards and a slope of 138, this Jack Nicklaus design is a residential layout with enormous greens and a surfeit of sand.
Interlachen Country Club, Winter Park (1984). A private example of Florida legend Joe Lee's deft touch, Interlachen's 6,893 yards from the back tees slope out at 138, a reminder that challenging golf is possible without dizzying length or stupefying bells and whistles.
Isleworth Country Club, Windermere (1986). Widely known as the home course of Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara and other notables, the toughest part of this Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay design, which was renovated by Steve Smyers in 2003, is not the 142 slope from the back tees, it's trying to get your way inside those gates.
Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, Orlando (1986). Designed by Tom Fazio, this course, also within a gated community, hosted the first Solheim Cup and has since become a sort of sister course to Isleworth, with pros from each club staging an annual competition.
Mountain Lake, Lake Wales (1916). True, you have to travel a bit farther to get there, but this Seth Raynor design, restored by Brian Silva a couple years ago, is worth the effort. The stately elegance of the clubhouse and surrounding property convey a completely different notion of central Florida than Orlando, as does the 316-foot elevation—the highest in the state.
Orange Tree Golf Club, Orlando (1972). This Bill Lee design is, at 7,036 yards from the tips, not long by modern standards. Still, eight holes have water, landing areas are tight, and greens, though ample, are quick. Local lore has it that the late Payne Stewart played here in preparation for similarly constrained U.S. Open setups.
BEST OF THE REST
The thirty-six holes at ChampionsGate Golf Resort ($40-$150; 407- 787-4653) may all be designed by Greg Norman, but its two tracks constitute distinct golf experiences: The National is a parkland course with plenty of trees. The International incorporates dunes, pot bunkers and the firm, fast conditions of links courses. The New Course at Grand Cypress Golf Club ($115-$250; 407-239-1904) is Nicklaus's homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews; and while unlikely to induce flashbacks to the birthplace of golf—you are still playing on Bermuda grass, after all—it's fun nonetheless. Osprey Ridge Golf Club at Walt Disney World ($100-$179; 407-824-2616), Tom Fazio's 7,101-yard layout, boasts dramatic elevation changes and a slope of 131. The Marriott Grande Pines Golf Club ($57-$130; 407- 239-6108), formerly known as International Golf Club, is Grande Oaks' companion facility, though any similarity ends there. The name change coincides with a recent total renovation by Steve Smyers, whose imaginative bunkering is evident. Located at the Wyndham Palms Resort & Country Club in Celebration, Mystic Dunes Golf Club ($65-$125; 866-311-1234) is the work of Gary Koch and is noteworthy particularly for its strong finishing holes. Victoria Hills Golf Club ($35-$95; 866-295-4385) is another Ron Garl contribution, the closest thing to a hilly Carolina course you will find in Florida. Located in Kissimee, Falcon's Fire Golf Club ($75-$130; 407-239-5445) has a reputation for excellent conditioning and features characteristic Rees Jones mounding and waste bunkering.