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Golf in Orlando is more than just fun in the Florida sun

By S. Adam Cardais,
Bay Hill Club & Lodge - hole 3
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Calling Bay Hill Club & Lodge's tournament course difficult would be an understatement. (Courtesy of Bay Hill Club & Lodge)

In a town renowned for its resorts, where people from all over the world come to relax and be entertained, you might assume the golf scene's about as challenging as an evening stroll through the Magic Kingdom.

True, Orlando has its fair share of resort-style tracks built for golfers more interested in a nice walk than a tough test. But there are also some serious challenges among the area's 100-plus courses, with mean slope ratings that'll have you wondering if you shouldn't have just stayed at Sea World.

The flagship is still, and might always be, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, with its 139-slope rating and infuriating No. 6, but there are other ball-buster golf courses in Orlando worth checking out.

Bay Hill Club & Lodge: The host of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational is rated one of the best golf courses in Florida by Golf Digest. Palmer bought it after whipping Jack Nicklaus in a 1965 exhibition match there.

"Palmer scored 66 to Nicklaus' 72 and fell instantly in love with the course," Elaine Gallant wrote in an OrlandoGolf.com review. "Five years later, he and his partners succeeded in buying the club and have never looked back."

Calling the club's Dick Wilson-designed tournament course difficult would be an understatement. Just ask John Daly: He posted an 18 strokes on Challenger's water-lined, 558-yard sixth. Six of Daly's shots ended up in the drink.

Lake Nona Golf & Country Club: This 7,011-yard track has a slope rating of 133. Designed by Tom Fazio and Andy Banfield in 1986, it is consistently ranked among the top 100 courses in the world.

The course winds through natural pine forests and oak groves and runs along three lakes. It has hosted several international events, including the World Cup of Golf, the inaugural Solheim Cup and the inaugural USGA National Team Championships.

Eagle Pines Golf Course: For a Pete Dye course. Eagle Pines is surprisingly tame. There's little fairway undulation, and most of the water is here to please the eye rather than punish the score.

But this 6,772-yard, 135-slope-rated Walt Disney World track still packs some Pete Dye punch.

"There's plenty of challenge at Eagle Pines, which is why Golf Digest's Places to Play gave it 4.5 starts," Gallant noted. "The LPGA has been here; so too has the PGA Tour and the Senior PGA Tour qualifiers."

Hunter's Creek Golf Club: Designed by Lloyd Clifton, Hunter's Creek has a slope rating of 137, with mildly undulating, well-bunkered greens and plenty of water. The fairways are roomy, but also long, so you'll have to dust off the big dog to make a dent here.

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Hunter's Creek golf course in Orlando
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