After you tire of the amusement park rides, check out our expert’s picks for the best Orlando golf courses.
Tee up in Orlando and there’s a good chance you might see a PGA Tour player roaming the local fairways. Orlando’s most famous golfer residents, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, head the list of nearly 90 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players who call the city home, including Ernie Els, Mark O’Meara, Lee Janzen and Annika Sorrenstam.
Rest assured, the pros, like local and visiting golfers, don’t have much of a problem finding a course to play. Orlando has more than 125 courses within a 45-mile radius of downtown. Acres of former orange groves, palm- and oak-dotted land, beautiful lakes and some un-Florida-like hilly terrain serve as the palette for numerous exceptional layouts. Course architects like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Tom Fazio and Pete Dye have fashioned courses that feature high-profile features and strategically placed hazards.
Things to know when you play golf courses in Orlando:
Nestled in a splendidly landscaped residential community in southwest Orlando, Bay Hill, site of the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, is a private club with a 27-hole golf complex. Guests at the 70-room lodge are accorded playing privileges. Tel. 888-422-9445, www.bayhill.com.
This sprawling, 1,400-acre resort/residential complex three miles west of Walt Disney World offers two 18-hole courses designed by Greg Norman, the headquarters facilities for the David Leadbetter Golf Academies and a 732-room Omni Orlando Resort Hotel with a spa and multiple restaurants. Tel. 407-787-4653, www.championsgategolf.com.
There are 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf here. My favorite layout is the New Course, which is inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. Some of the similarities include a creek that fronts the first green similar to the Swilcan Burn at St. Andrews; the 17th hole, which resembles the famous Road Hole; and the 5th hole, with its bunkers on the right side of the fairway is similar to the Principal’s Nose and Deacon Sime in Scotland. In addition, there are replicas of stone bridges and walls. Tel. 877-330-7377, www.grandcypress.com
Other resorts in the Orlando area with excellent golf include Walt Disney World Resort, Grande Lakes Orlando, Mission Inn, Orlando World Center Marriott, Reunion Resort and Shingle Creek Resort & Golf Club.
A couple of miles from Universal Orlando theme park, this Robert Trent Jones Sr. course has 100-foot elevation changes, large undulating greens and wide landing areas. With its mature oak trees framing many fairways, MetroWest is remindful of a hilly Midwestern U.S. course. Tel. 407-299-1099, www.metrowestgolf.com.
Situated five miles north of Walt Disney World on a sweeping parcel of former ranch and citrus land, this public/private venture is a world-class complex that features 36 holes of championship golf, a nine-hole executive course, clubhouse with restaurant, 42-acre practice facility and 50-room lodge. If you play only two public courses during your Orlando stay, make them Panther Lake and Crooked Cat at Orange County National. Both layouts have received numerous accolades from major golf publications. Tel. 888-727-3672, www.ocngolf.com.
Located near the college town of Deland, about 30 miles east of downtown Orlando, this gem is worth the drive. Victoria Hills Golf Club is a wonderful place to spend a four- or five-hour reprieve from the tourist hordes in Orlando. Framed by oak hammocks and Augusta pines, the course preserves the natural flow of the area’s gentle rolling hills and native foliage. Tel. 386-738-6000, www.victoriahillsgolf.com.
Originally designed in 1923, Dubsdread received a massive, full-course makeover in 2008. It’s the oldest public layout in the area. Featuring smallish greens, narrow fairways, mature trees and numerous bunkers, the layout is short and challenging for a municipal course. The complex located near downtown in College Park also includes an aqua range and an excellent on-site restaurant. Tel. 407-246-2551, www.historicaldubsdread.com.
Situated in a mature, tree-laden community in Winter Park, Winter Pines is a short, 5,402-yard, 18-hole course designed by Lloyd Clifton that caters to all skill levels. One of the few courses in the area that allows walking, this family-friendly gem is affordable and fun. Tel. 407-671-3172.
I highly recommend this public layout because it has no homes lining the fairways—just trees, natural lakes and lush turf. Located in the town of Ocoee, about 15 minutes from downtown Orlando, Forest Lake has a great collection of interesting holes in a peaceful setting. Tel. 407-654-4653, www.forestlakegolf.com.
I would also consult ForeLinksters.com for a listing of better golf courses around town, here's a link: