The Guru is a mild-mannered type, but I get a bit miffed when writers from outside of Florida swoop in to do a review of Orlando golf. I'm figuring they play a few rounds, take some notes, snap a few pics, hoist a couple of brewskis at World of Beer and suddenly they're some kind of experts on golf in O-Town.
Sorry guys and gals, this is the Guru's turf.
Heck, the Guru has lived in Orlando for almost three decades. I know golf in Florida, especially Orlando, and I don't need some carpetbagger to come in and tell me where to tee up. I also know the top golf resorts as well as the best dining and transportation options.
Thanks for letting me get that rant out. Now, here are some of the Guru's best places to play in Orlando:
Orange County National
Orange County National (OCN), located about five miles north of Walt Disney World, welcomes all comers. Whether you're a tour player grinding on your game to get better or a novice who just stumbled out of Topgolf and now want to take up the game, OCN has everything you need. The sweeping, 900-acre complex has 36 holes of championship golf, a nine-hole practice and learning course, 42-acre practice range, 22,000 -square-foot putting green, golf academy and 33,000 square-foot clubhouse. There's even an on-site 50-room lodge for golf travelers.
For Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson Fans
Three of golf's most influential icons, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, designed a separate signature course at the Reunion Resort near Kissimmee. The Palmer has dramatic elevation changes up to 50 feet on some holes and six tee locations on each hole. The Nicklaus, a parkland-style design, is a high-risk, high-reward gem. The Watson has fast, firm, wide fairways with a variety of interesting shot angles. All three layouts are wonderfully maintained and highly rated by numerous websites and magazines.
Best 9-hole Experience
Winter Park Golf Club
Set in the heart of the New England style village of Winter Park, 3 miles north of Orlando, this course used to be a rough-around-the-edges muni. Not Anymore. Winter Park GC underwent a terrific enhancement project in 2016 executed by up-and-coming architects Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb. Built more than 100 years ago, the course is thoroughly modern now with strategic bunkering and exceptional green complexes. It's a great little course for those who love walking and you'll absolutely love the fourth hole that doglegs around a cemetery. I enjoy strolling the fairways which are lined with beautiful mature oak trees. You'll definitely feel more of a New England than Florida vibe on this layout.
Bargain Hunter's Special
Winter Pines Golf Club
Affordable greens fees, inexpensive range balls, lots of excellent teaching pros for lessons and a snack bar with very reasonable prices for beer, breakfast and lunch are just some of the lures that make this one of Orlando's most popular golf courses for all skill levels. You'll see everything from tour pros working on their games to college kids with their hats on backwards flailing away on the range. Winter Pines is a short, fun, 18-hole layout that plays to par 67 with some 200-yard par threes and its number one handicap hole, a 400-yard par 4. How cheap is it? Monday through Thursday after 2 p.m. you can play 18 holes for $17 including cart. A large bag of range balls (50) is only $5.00.
Best Kept Secret
Red Tail Golf Club
It's about 35-minutes from the tourism corridor near the town of Sorrento, but it's well worth the drive. You won't recognize the course designer's name (Dave Harman), but, I assure you, this is a fun and interesting course to play. It's a links-style layout with mature oak trees, lush native foliage and lakes as well as a 10-acre practice facility and two practice putting greens. It's surrounded by ranch land and just a few homes so chances are you won't be bouncing any drives off pool screens. If you want to play a "hidden gem", this is it.
Bay Hill Golf Club
While Bay Hill is a private club, you receive play privileges if you stay at the 70-room Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge located in southwest Orlando, which is open to the public. It's an amazing experience for Arnold Palmer fans or just any golf fan. Arnie's pictures and memorabilia from his iconic career dot the walls everywhere, from guest rooms to common areas. Just seeing photos of Palmer will remind you of everything great about the game of golf. The course, home to the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational, is a spectacular layout that incorporates beautiful lakes, bold bunkering, elevated tees, sometimes rolling fairways and dogleg holes. Designed by Dick Wilson and Arnold Palmer, the course sweeps along the shores of the Butler Chain of Lakes with a good number of tight fairways.
Best Luxury Resort Experience
Ritz Carlton Golf Club
The Ritz-Carlton brand speaks for itself and you'll even find their exemplary service on the golf course as well. Immaculately maintained, the Greg Norman course is dotted with lakes, wetlands, live oaks and cypress heads. A Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course has a natural, park-like ambience making you feel like you're miles not just a couple of hundred yards from the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels. Wide fairways with generous landing areas, no out-of-bounds stakes throughout the course, short roughs and closely mown green complexes encourage a faster pace of play. In addition, there's an optional Caddie Concierge Program. During the winter months, the caddies wear white, Augusta National-style uniforms.
Best Family Golf Resort Experience
Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate
This amenity-loaded resort near Kissimmee has a fantastic master plan with all of the golf elements located directly behind the hotel. You have easy walking access to two championship golf courses, the world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, a par-3 lighted pitch and putt course and a miniature golf course. If you want to introduce your young children to golf this is the place to do it. For golfers seeking a challenge, both of the courses, designed by Greg Norman, are excellent plays, too. The headliner layout is the International, which is reminiscent of the challenging coastal links courses in Australia. The National is a traditional, parklike layout that was carved out from citrus groves, wetlands and natural forest.
Best Course With High-Impact Features
Waldorf-Astoria Golf Club
Visually appealing, this 7,108-yard Rees Jones design set behind the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando hotel is as beautiful as it is challenging. Jones has masterfully utilized the pine and cypress trees and wetland preserve to provide a scenic view on every hole. High-impact features abound on this layout, which has exaggerated mounding on many holes, undulating fairways and artistically styled bunkers with bright white sand and elevated greens.
Best Course For Links Style Golf
New Course at Grand Cypress
If you can't make it to St. Andrews, Scotland, this layout designed by Jack Nicklaus, is the next best thing with its noticeable similarities to the Old Course. A creek that fronts the first green on the New Course is similar to the Swilcan Burn at St. Andrews. The seventeenth hole at New Course resembles St. Andrew' famous Road Hole, and the fifth hole, with its bunkers on the right side of the fairway, is similar to the Principal's Nose and Deacon Sime at St. Andrews. Lending an air of authenticity to New Course are replicas of St. Andrews' stone bridges and walls, a snaking burn (creek), a starter's hut overlooking the first tee, seven double greens, five-foot flag pins, deep pot bunkers (some as deep as 12 feet) with ladders and simple white fences.
Best Places for an After-the-Round Brew
Fiddler's Green, an Irish pub/restaurant in Winter Park
World of Beer, a bar/restaurant with three locations in the Orlando area with dozens of beer selections.
Crooked Can, a craft brewery in downtown Winter Garden.
Best Transportation Options
If you've got a group, Limo Bus Orlando has an excellent fleet to accommodate a variety of your needs, large or small. For those playing golf in or visiting the Miami area, the Miami Limo Bus is a superb choice for restaurant hopping, pub crawls, parties, etc.
Best Luxury Non-Golf Hotels
Grand Bohemian Hotel in downtown Orlando
Alfond Inn in downtown Winter Park