Grande Pines Golf Club - A Smyers Marriott Masterpiece

Grande Pines Golf ClubSome renovations simply alter or spruce up a golf course. Other ones, however, can drastically change the personality, playability and challenge of a single layout much for the better. Five years removed from a renovation by Steve Smyers, Grande Pines Golf Club is most certainly far more the latter than the former.

Located in the shadow of Sea World in the heart of Orlando just off International Drive, Grande Pines was already one of the better regarded layouts in Central Florida before the renovation began. Following Smyers’ redesign, this 18-hole Marriott Golf facility is in the discussion as one of the finest courses in the area; a significant statement given the world-class golf that is found throughout the Orlando region. The reigning Marriott Golf property of the year, Grande Pines was originally designed by Joe Lee and opened as the International Golf Club in 1986. In 2003 the club shut down for the considerable redesign, and opened a year later with a fresh new look, a new name and a new designer of record in Smyers, whose work at the course more than justifies that honor.

Working in conjunction with player consultant Nick Faldo, Smyers completely reworked the green complexes, strategically added and removed bunkering, took out numerous trees to open up the design and reworked the routing of many of the holes to improve playability. The Florida-based designer also added a fourth set of tees and about 300 yards of distance to infuse some muscle to the layout.

The end result is a course that challenges the more accomplished golfer while not proving too penal for the novice or higher handicapper. The four sets of tees make length a non-issue and the lack of forced carries adds to the playability. On just about every hole, however, there are hazards to be avoided in the form of bunkers, lateral water and the elevated, rolling and well-bunkered greens that will challenge approach shots no matter the length.

Grande Pines Golf Club, Florida

“The idea was to not make the course too tough off the tee with forced carries and length but to create a golf course where you really had to place your ball,” said Grande Pines Director of Golf Andy Mitchell. “The course is entirely out in front of you, but there are places on every hole you simply can’t hit the ball and not pay a price.”

The true mastery of Smyers’ work at Grande Pines is in the 18 green complexes he crafted. In most cases elevated and well-bunkered, the rolling, often water-sided greens provide the truest defense – and some of the finest scenery – at the resort course. With ridges, rolls and often significant drop offs, Smyers forces golfers to pay attention to pin placements, a task that is well-aided by the GPS found on all the Grande Pines golf carts.

“Visually, the green complexes are very stimulating from back in the fairways or from the tees,” Mitchell said. “They are dynamic and call for a variety of different shots.”

The same could be said of the entirety of Grande Pines, which recently earned designation as an “Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” A unique mixture of short and medium length par-4s keeps the golfer thinking throughout the round. On the front side there are two par 4s – Nos. 3 and 7 – that measure less than 350 yards from the tee but pose crafty doglegs to deal with.

Grande Pines Golf Club

By contrast, the front nine features three holes that exceed 400 yards, including the beautiful 429-yard 6th that features a right dogleg to a green guarded left by a huge lake.

The course stretches a bit on the back nine with no par 4s under 380 yards and a couple that stretch beyond 430 yards, highlighted by the scenic 439-yard, dogleg left 14th hole. The 13th hole, however, is really the only reachable par 5, measuring only 505 yards from the  tips and featuring few hazards to be  concerned with.

As one might expect, the challenge in the par 3s is more about placement than length as each of the four feature tricky, rolling greens, elevated targets and plenty of bunkers to capture wayward irons. The combined effect is a golf course that challenges the mental side of the game as much as the physical - just the way Smyers intended it to be.

“You have a lot of decisions you can make on this golf course,” Mitchell said. “On every hole there are a lot of features that make you think about the shots that you have to hit.”

Grande Pines Golf ClubFrom the outset, Grande Pines, which is also home to the Faldo Golf Institute by Marriott located directly across the street, aims both to challenge and stimulate golfers. Challenging but not punitive, the opening drive on the 404-yard first hole requires golfers to avoid water that runs the entire right side and trees that guard the left. The approach shot is to a large green that in sure Smyers style is surrounded by bunkers left and right and water behind. Do well on this hole and you might just have a fun day ahead as many of the challenges found here continue throughout the entire course.

Speaking of fun, try playing the 618-yard par-5 second hole from the tips, which are nearly 50 yards from the next tee and require a full shot over a small lake that the other tee markers do not. Find the fairway off the tee and the remainder of the hole is there for the taking with only one fairway bunker to avoid on the lay-up and only a single, albeit deep bunker, guarding the elevated green.

One look at the tee box on the 404-yard par-4 ninth (and the 18th for that matter) and you will discover why this course was renamed Grande Pines several years ago. The tee shot must navigate a beautiful chute of gorgeous pine trees that lead out to a fairly generous fairway that doglegs to the left toward a typically elevated and bunker-guarded green.

Like the front, the second nine wastes little time impressing and challenging golfers. Rated as the second toughest hole on the course, the 551-yard par-5 11th is certainly a classic. A true three-shot par 5, water looms down the entire right side of the hole, putting more value on accuracy than length as golfers work toward a short approach shot to a green that turns back toward the water and features a bunker in front. Play conservative on this daunting hole as par will feel a lot like birdie walking off the green.

Grande Pines Golf ClubThe remainder of the back nine is highlighted by a trio of par 4s – the 14th, 16th and 18th – that will test every aspect of your game from driver to putter. All three stretch beyond 435 yards from the tips, feature sharp doglegs and require deft approach shots to challenging greens. Thankfully, a pair of quality par 3s separate these three impressive holes and provide golfers a brief respite before the next challenge arrives.

For those looking to improve their game, Faldo Golf Institute has programs segmented to match each player’s skill level and desired goals. Applying expertise matched to your game, the institute caters to elite players, new players, and everyone in between.

The institute offers 2- and 3 day golf schools, 3-hour sessions, private instruction, and custom clubfitting. This 35-acre teaching facility includes the latest technology and a staff of certified instructors who teach the philosophy of six-time major champion, Sir Nick Faldo. On course playing lessons are also available at the institute’s 9-hole course that features a nice mixture of par 3s and par 4s, which make it the perfect learning course for young players and adults just picking up the game. In addition, a nightly clinic geared toward younger or beginning players is held from 4 to 5 p.m.

For more information on Grande Pines Golf Club, the Faldo Golf Institute, current specials and rates or to book a package or special program at the resort, visit or call (407) 239-6909.


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