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|The 11th at Waldorf Astoria Golf Club is a long par 3 with a green nearly surrounded by a snake-like bunker. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria)|
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The GPS system on the carts at Waldorf Astoria Golf Club is likely to distract you. One of the features on this high-tech golf toy will measure the length of your drive down to the very last yard. That could be a good thing or a bad thing.
"No, we don't add an extra 10 yards to the calculation of your shot just to make you feel good," Chip Davies, Waldorf Astoria's head golf professional, said laughing. "It's pretty darn accurate, though."
There's always a debate about GPS systems. Some golfers admit they spend far too much time fiddling around with all the gizmos and cool features, and others claim the gadgets speed play and help them manage their games.
The GPS system at this Rees Jones design, near Walt Disney World, is so technologically sophisticated that if your game is going south that day, this golf navigator -- complete with flyovers and directions to tee boxes -- will give you something to help forget about all the bunkers you've been in. And, if you really want to get geeky, you can download the interactive application for your mobile phone.
And about those aforementioned bunkers -- there are plenty. But that's part of the challenge you take playing this stud of a golf course.
The traditional thinking has always been that a resort course must be easy; let the guests play well and think they're better than they are. But Waldorf Astoria Golf Club is not your father's resort course.
Yes, it's linked to the grand Waldorf Astoria Orlando resort with its ties to the legendary and elegant hotel in New York City. In fact, it's almost physically linked to the resort, as the clubhouse is less than a soft wedge from the majestic front entrance.
But that's where tradition ends and a difficult golfer's test begins. It would be safe to say playing Waldorf Astoria Golf Club from the tips, all 7,108 yards, is the biggest golf test in and around Mickey land.
Play Waldorf Astoria Golf Club from the correct tees, please. If you do that, your experience through this sweeping layout nestled in and around a large wetland preserve will be worth the concentration needed to navigate the cavernous bunkers and slick, elevated greens.
The golf course begins with a straightforward par 4, measuring 342 yards form the middle tees, a perfect design that'll give you a chance to warm up your swing. But there's little rest. The second hole is your first of four par 3s, and it's a dangerous one with water on the right and bunkers protecting the back and short right.
For a course that's been open only since the fall of 2009, Waldorf Astoria G.C. has the conditions of a 10-year-old layout.
"We really did the right thing here," said Davies. "Management let the course mature for a year before opening. They were exceptionally patient, and it paid off. The greens are absolutely perfect."
It's tough to pick the most memorable hole at Waldorf Astoria. But the 11th, 15th and 18th have to be in contention. The 11th is a long par 3, 190 yards form the middle tees, with a green nearly surrounded by a snake-like bunker.
The 15th is a risk-reward, dogleg par 4, measuring at 350 yards. Water left has surely snatched a lot of drives. And the 500-yard, par-5 18th finishes with a stunning peninsula green.
One more thing: Pay attention to the names given each hole, an old Scottish design tradition. No. 5 is dubbed Heron for all the waterfowl you'll see there, and the 14th is named Park Avenue after the Waldorf Astoria's original New York City address.
While the adjacent hotel has an interior design reminiscent of the NYC location -- graceful and urbane -- the Waldorf clubhouse is sleek and modern.
But it still carries with it the historically impeccable service of the venerable New York establishment. When you find contact solution and Q-tips not only in the clubhouse locker room but also in the on-course restrooms, you know the level of detail is far above the norm.
There's also a generous practice area at the club with a sizeable driving range and large putting area. And not only are the range balls stacked in neat little pyramids at each driving stall, smaller golf-ball pyramids surround the practice putting green.
The Orlando region has golf running through its veins with plenty of layouts, price ranges and levels of challenge to choose from.
But it would be easy to argue that none has the blend of genuine high-level service, high-tech amenities and memorable golf. It's the mixture that gives Waldorf Astoria Golf Club its edge.
"We have a tradition to live up to here. The name -- Waldorf Astoria -- says it all," said Davies. "No one here forgets that."
July 5, 2011
Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed."
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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