Sure, among the traveling set, Orlando will likely always be know first and foremost as the home of attractions such as Disney World and Sea World. But savvy golf travelers know Orlando's golf courses are an embarassment of riches.
Depending on whom you ask, there are between 100 and 150 golf courses in the greater Orlando area. The most accurate assessment is somewhere in between, but the fact remains that any town with this many golf tracks and 110,000 hotel rooms should be considered a major, national golf destination.
"Since 1998, there have been 14 new golf courses built in and around Orlando," says Todd Howard, director of golf at the International Golf Club. "That is more than have been built in Myrtle Beach, or maybe anywhere other than Las Vegas. But because there are so many other things to do here, we aren't always mentioned as one of the major golf destinations."
The facts are simple -- no theme parks, no Orlando. At least, no Orlando as we know it. But take away Mickey and Shamu, and the area can still make a legitimate claim to being on of the world's golf capitals.
Orlando is the home of the Golf Channel, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, top-notch golf schools, and the annual PGA Merchandise Show, which attracts nearly 50,000 industry professionals each year. The PGA headquarters and the World Golf Village are just a morning road trip away, as are the golf rich towns of Tampa and Daytona.
"The amount of golf industry located in this area is amazing," says Bob Ferrera, Head Professional at Twin Rivers Golf Club. "We are almost more of a golf capital than a pure destination. In a sense, Orlando and north Florida are home to all things golf."
Disney World, the resort that made Orlando the tourism heavyweight it is today, may also be it's top golf resort. Mickey offers four championship golf courses, two of which, The Palm and The Magnolia, host an annual PGA Tour event each November. While these two courses near the Magic Kingdom, along with the Lake Buena Vista golf course near Downtown Disney are classic Joe Lee designs set in the heart of the resort, Tom Fazio's modern and showy Osprey Ridge is a welcomed escape - outside of earshot of any choo-choo trains, traffic noise or revved-up tikes.
The golf at Disney is often overshadowed by it's own abundance of activities, but each course satisfies even the most serious golfer. Disney tempts golfers into staying at one of their many hotel properties by offering discounted green fees and free transportation to and from its courses. For more, call (407) 938-GOLF.
Bay Hill - Arnold Palmer's home course is considered by many to be the top track in Orlando, and one of the best facilities in the state. Bay Hill consists of three 9-hole courses: the Challenger, Champion and Charger. Dick Wilson built the Challenger and Champion courses in 1961, which combined host the Invitational. Bob Simmons added the Charger in 1968. Renovations to the courses by Palmer and Ed Seay in 1989 and in 1997 added length and a new design to many of the greens.
The Legends at Orange Lake is named in reference to its founder, Kemmons Wilson, and its architect, Arnold Palmer. The sleepy Orange Lake Resort is located immediately south of Disney World and has always been a comfortable and convejnient alternative to the populous and glitzy resorts that harbor most of the vast amusement park’s guests. Its original golf course, a 27-hole layout called The Resort Course designed by Joe Lee, winds lazily throughout the villas and ranch-style time-share condos, dotted with lakes and framed by palm trees.
Diamondback Golf Club is the course that most golfers don't know about, located about 30 minutes southwest of Disney World in Haines City. Diamondback, opened in January of 1995, is billed as Central Florida's most preserved 18-hole course. Joe Lee designed the course - a prolific golf course architect whose portfolio size rivals that of Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones. As with most of Lee's courses, including his numerous Florida designs, there is no intention of pure punishment. Solid shots are asked for but spectacular play is not required for decent scoring. And whereas the penalty for straying too far from the wide corridors is severe, there is plenty of green to aim at before the trees interfere.
The International Golf Club is one of Orlando's most popular plays, due to its proximity to Sea World and its location just off of hotel laden International Drive. But this Joe Lee designed course has much more to offer than convenience. The front nine is wide open, and features some mounding and mild tiering of the greens. The back nine is a bit tighter off the tee, but hardly penal. Miss the fairways, however, and you'll be stuck in the reeds and forced into a penalty.
Grand Cypress Resort is Orlando's golf epicenter – a luxurious resort that houses the North, South and East nines from the original lineup, and the New Course, a Jack Nicklaus designed track that opened back in 1988. The New Course was inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. Visions of the St. Andrews course appear throughout the New Course, including pot bunkers as deep as 12-feet, seven large, double greens, a snaking burn on three holes, stone walls along the 15th and 17th holes (resembling the Road hole at St. Andrews) and a stone bridge. Grand Cypress is also home to the “Academy of Golf,” an equestrian center, and a tennis center.
For Orlando-area golf package information and quotes, call 1-800-767-3574 or visit www.FloridaGolfTravel.com.