Magic Kingdom Offers Award-Winning Golf to the Masses

Orlando golf vacationsAs the schedule stands now, the PGA Tour makes two trips annually to the Orlando metropolitan area; a fall series event, the Children's Miracle Network Classic, in Lake Buena Vista, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which is the crown jewel of March's Florida Swing. If you were to attempt a marathon golf session, sampling a new course each day, starting at the conclusion of the Classic in November, you would fall well short of checking every name off of your list by the time the boys from the PGA Tour made it back to Bay Hill in the spring.

With more than 150 championship golf courses, Orlando is the heart of a state that eats, sleeps and breathes golf, but the grand old game is just the tip of the iceberg in this vibrant and varied city.

Mega tourist attractions such as SeaWorld Orlando, Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom and Universal Orlando, combined with the city's rising reputation as one of the country's premier places for meetings and conventions, have made Orlando a veritable Mecca for out-of-town visitors. The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates that more than 48 million people flock to sunny Central Florida each year, creating an economic impact of nearly $30 billion.

The capital of childhood fantasy and family-friendly entertainment is alive and well, especially on the links. Golfers will be impressed by the line-up of highly-rated layouts designed by the world's finest golf course architects. There is a different place to play for each member of the family every day in Orlando.

More Golf Than You Can Shake a Magic Wand At

Panther Lake at Orange County NationalMany of Orlando's finest golf facilities can be found along the Orlando Golf Trail, a group on nine premier golf facilities and seven lodging properties.

The founding member course of the trail is Hunter's Creek Golf Club, a Lloyd Clifton design featuring rolling fairways and 13 lakes, carved from a landscape of towering Carolina pines. An exceptional course that provides golfers with a plethora of shot-making opportunities, Hunter's Creek has been honored as one of the nation's best public-access facilities.

Another must-play is the 36-hole ChampionsGate Golf Club, which features two championship courses (International and National), designed by Greg Norman. During the first week of December, the golf club hosts some of the all-time greats as part of the Del Webb Father-Son Challenge.

For a pure golf experience, visit Orange County National, host of the PGA Tour's Qualifying School in 2010. This facility features 45 holes of golf, including the award-winning Panther Lake and Crooked Cat courses. An expansive practice area that's rated as one of the nation's best and on-site lodging make OCN a wonderful overall golf experience.

The well-bunkered Southern Dunes located in Haines City is ranked No. 6 in Florida by Golf Digest's "Places You Can Play," and provides dramatic, undulating scenery seldom seen in the Sunshine State. Other top-notch places along the Orlando Golf Trail include Falcon's Fire Golf Club, MetroWest, Celebration Golf Club, Shingle Creek Golf Club and Ridgewood Lakes Golf & Country Club.

Southern Dunes Golf Club

One of the most renowned golf courses in the state of Florida can be found in Orlando. Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge, host of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational, was listed by Golf Digest as one of "America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses."

Next up is the Marriott's Grande Pines Golf Club, a dramatic layout created by the team of Steve Smyers and six-time major champion Nick Faldo. The golf course is situated just off International Drive, close to all of the city's exciting attractions.

Private Clubs and Communities

While public-access facilities dominate the Orlando golf landscape, the area does contain some of the country's most celebrated private clubs and golf communities.

Listed as one of America's top three new private courses in 2008 by Golf Magazine, the Coore & Crenshaw design at Sugarloaf Mountain, the pair's first project in the state of Florida, is the focal point of Central Florida's most unique private club community.

Sugarloaf MountainSugarloaf Mountain was built upon the highest elevation on the peninsula, and offers its residents breathtaking views of the 18-hole championship golf course, as well as Lake Apopka.

Just one element of the award-winning master-planned community of Harmony is Johnny Miller's Harmony Golf Preserve, which has been rated 4.5 stars by Golf Digest from 2005 - 2009. Harmony isn't just a golf course, it's a preserve. This designation is attributed to the layout's fresh approach to golf course design - one that seeks to preserve the treasure of Harmony's 11,000+ acres of broad meadows, towering stands of southern pines and two shimmering 500-acre natural lakes. In accordance with the nature-intensive setting, no homes will be built that front on the golf course.

Measuring more than 7,400 yards from the professional tees, Harmony provides low handicap golfers with a formidable challenge. However, five overall tee positions and very few forced carries make the course very playable for all ages and abilities.

Each year, members of Isleworth and Lake Nona compete for the coveted Tavistock Cup. Residents of these esteemed golf communities include Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer.

For more information on the selection of golf courses in the Orlando area, visit Orlando.golfersguide.com.

Planning a tee time ahead of time? If you want to play more and play less during an Orlando golf vacation, check out the list of area courses available at Tee Time Savings (www.teetimesavings.com).

Stay and Play

Ever-expanding Orlando boasts a staggering 112,000 hotel rooms and counting, which can turn the simple task of finding a place to stay into an adventure.

Golfers will be delighted to know that the majority of the area's top golf courses are convenient to world-class hotels and resorts, and some are even located on the same grounds. These hotels and resorts specialize in presenting their overnight guests with every imaginable amenity, from luxurious spas to state-of-the-art fitness centers.

Omni Orlando Resort

Staying and playing is seldom as glamorous as it is in Central Florida. The pristine Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate is just steps away from 36 holes of championship golf, the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and various recreational pursuits. This four diamond resort has 720 guest rooms and suites, plus two- and three-bedroom villas offering all of the modern conveniences and amenities you'd expect from a premier resort facility.

Golfers can gain access to the renowned Ritz-Carlton Golf Club by setting up shop at the luxurious JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes or the resplendent Ritz-Carlton Orlando.

The city's newest luxury destination is Rosen Shingle Creek, which is situated on 230 lush acres in Central Florida. Shingle Creek offers its guests a world of lavish choices, complete with luxury accommodations, exciting restaurants and a championship golf course.

Golf Schools

Dozens of established professionals and aspiring Tour players have established Orlando as home base for their operations, which should come as no surprise considering the wealth of top instructors who teach in the area.

Many of the country's top golf schools are located here, including programs headed by the likes of Nick Faldo and David Leadbetter.

One particular golf school has separated itself from the pack with a comprehensive approach and personalized coaching.

At Bird Golf Schools, students are promised at least a 2:1 student-teacher ratio. They'll also be staying in world-class accommodations and playing on first-rate courses while they receive instruction from the finest PGA and LPGA Professionals.

The Bird Golf branch in Central Florida is located at the storied Mission Inn Golf Resort, which is just a short drive north of Orlando. For more information, visit www.birdgolf.com.

 

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