When most visitors think of Orlando, the most obvious attraction that comes to mind is Walt Disney World, the largest and most visited entertainment complex on the planet. There's also Universal Orlando with more than six million annual visitors and Sea World Orlando with millions more passing through the turnstiles. But golf aficionados know that Florida has more golf courses than any other state in the nation and Orlando is one of the world's top destinations for a dream golf vacation. The Orlando area has more than 170 outstanding golf courses and the following are among five of the best.
Bay Hill Club and Lodge
9000 Bay Hill Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32819
Clearly one of the best golf courses in the country, Bay Hill Club and Lodge is owned by one of the grand legends of the sport – Arnold Palmer, winner of seven grand slam events, including four Masters tournaments. Located a few miles west of Universal Studios Orlando, the 270-acre golf course is open only to club members and guests staying at the lodge. A "bucket list" package ranges from $171 to $263 per person, double occupancy, with accommodations in a deluxe room, full breakfast and 18 holes of golf and golf cart. The course lies near the Butler Chain of Lakes and is well cared for with fast greens. The 441-yard, par-4 18th hole is generally regarded as one of the nation's hardest and is guarded by water and bunkers. Bay Hill Club is home to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an annual PGA event most recently won by Tiger Woods.
ChampionsGate Golf Resort
1400 Masters Blvd.
ChampionsGate, FL 33896
This world-class resort features two premier 18-hole championship golf courses designed by popular Australian pro golfer Greg Norman. Located just 10 minutes from Walt Disney Resorts, there is an International Golf Course, measuring 7,363 yards with the highest course rating in Florida and the traditional, American-style National Golf Course, measuring 7,128 yards, featuring 80 sculpted bunkers, challenging water hazards, lush fairways and greens. Current golf rates are as low as $45 after 2 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and as high as $139 on Fridays and Saturdays, from opening until noon. Non residents can receive the best discounted tee times by booking online.
Grand Cypress Golf Club
1 N. Jacaranda St.
Orlando, FL 32836
The Grand Cypress features two award-winning championship golf courses designed by another golf legend, Jack Nicklaus: the challenging 27-hole North, South and East Course and the 18-hole, 6,773-yard New Course, reminiscent of classic Scottish links. The North, South and East Course consist of nine holes for each section, with more than 10,000 combined yards. Open to resort guests, tournaments, memberships and limited public play, the club is located a few minutes east of the Magic Kingdom and near Lake Buena Vista. Among its numerous distinctions are multiple Gold Medal Awards from Golf Magazine, Top 50 Resort Courses from Golf World, 50 Best Golf Courses for Women by Golf for Women and among the World's Best Golf Resorts by Travel+Leisure Golf. Current green fees (with shared golf cart) for either course range from $120 from May through September and $150 from October through December.
Orange County National Golf Center
16301 Phil Ritson Way
Winter Garden, FL 34787
Featured in Golf Magazine as one of the "Top 10 you can play in the U.S.," the Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge provides two championship golf courses and one nine-hole "executive" course. The center is about five miles northwest of the Magic Kingdom and 14 miles west of downtown Orlando, in the suburb of Winter Garden, whose historic downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 18-hole Panther Lake Golf Course has brand new greens made of ultra dwarf Bermuda, identical to the greens from the most recent PGA Championship at the Atlanta Atlantic Club, but the Crooked Cat Golf Course may have the best back nine at the center. The Tooth short course is considered to be one of the nation's best short courses and very popular for golfers with limited time. Rates for either Panther Lake or Crooked Cat are as low as $19 after 5:30 p.m., seven days a week.
Shingle Creek Golf Club
9939 Universal Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32819
The official golf course of the Central Florida University Knights, Shingle Creek is a spacious resort located not far from Sea World Orlando. The 7,149-yard, par-72 championship golf course was named by Golfweek as one of America's Top 40 New Courses and its golf shop has been featured among the Top 100 Pro Shops by Golf Shop magazine. The golf course offers five sets of tees, dependent upon a player's preference in degree of difficulty. The 18th hole is a 443-yard, par-4 dogleg from the back tee. The well-maintained fairway is protected by three bunkers, making the approach difficult but worthy of a challenge.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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