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Orlando golf courses: The design stars come out in Central Florida

By S. Adam Cardais,
Contributor
Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge
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Two of the tracks at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge were designed by Dick Wilson. (Courtesy of Bay Hill)

For all its allure as an American entertainment mecca, Orlando often gets little respect as a top-rate golf vacation destination.

Overshadowed as it may be by Disney World and Sea World, Orlando has a serious golf scene featuring more than 100 courses, many of them designed by the most revered golf architects.

"World-class architects such as Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones, Dick Wilson and Joe Lee validate Orlando as a golf destination with the quality to match its eye-popping quantity," according to FloridaGolf.com.

Indeed, Orlando is a great place to play courses by famous designers. Here are some of the best.

Grand Cypress Resort, New Course: With its 12-foot pot bunkers, stone walls and few water hazards, this Nicklaus course is reminiscent of the Old Course at St. Andrews.

"Believe it or not, this Jack Nicklaus design in the land of Mickey Mouse has more characteristics of the birthplace of golf than many courses in Scotland," Jason Scott wrote in a TravelGolf.com feature. "The only un-Scotland-like feature is the GPS computers in the carts."

Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge: This legendary club is steeped in famous names. The story goes that Palmer fell in love with the course during an exhibition match against Nicklaus and decided he had to buy it. Five years later the course was his.

The club, home to the Bay Hill Invitational, has three tracks: Challenger, Champion and Charger. Dick Wilson designed the first two, and Palmer did renovations to all three in 1989 and 1997.

The combined Challenger and Champion courses are 7,204 yards from the Palmer tees. The latter is considered the less daunting course, though it has plenty of bunkering and water hazards and some of the most recognizable PGA Tour finishing holes.

Diamondback Golf Club: This under-appreciated Orlando-area course was designed by Joe Lee. Though Lee's name might not carry the same cache as Robert Trent Jones', his portfolio is just as hefty.

Routed through virgin forest, the course is often referred to as Central Florida's most preserved 18 holes. The 6,805-yard track is challenging without being overly difficult, making it accessible to a range of skill levels.

"As with most of Lee's courses ... there is no intention of pure punishment," Derek Duncan wrote in a review for FloridaGolf.com. "Solid shots are asked for but spectacular play is not required for decent scoring."

Disney's Osprey Ridge golf course: This course at the Walt Disney World Resort was designed by one of the sultans of course architecture, Tom Fazio. Golf Digest has given it four and a half stars and recognized it as one of the best golf courses in Florida. Osprey Ridge lives up to the accolades, with its impeccably maintained holes and large-scale bunkering.

"It all seems the perfect complement to the Disney World entertainment machine," Duncan wrote in ranking Osprey Ridge one of Orlando's most underrated courses.

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