ORLANDO, Fla. ' If youre a baseball fan, you know that during the 1990s the Atlanta Braves set the MLB standard for pitching. Future Hall of Fame hurlers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux made up 'The Big Three.'
Today, the Braves next generation is being developed. Leading the pack is 25-year-old right fielder, Jeff Francoeur, who, as it turns out, is also an excellent golfer (his handicap is 5). In fact, past and present got together for a friendly golf game last week. The venue: Orlando's Isleworth Country Club. The host: Tiger Woods. Asked before his round if he'd take it if the world's no. 1 gave him three shots a side, Francoeur managed a quick smile before his competitiveness intervened. 'Last time we played at Isleworth Tiger made eight birdies and I shot 77. Im probably going to ask him for four,' he said.
Q&A with the Atlanta Braves
The nearest collection of courses is on Disneys sprawling, 35-square-mile property. There are four Disney courses from which to choose, all of which are championship-caliber.
General Info on Braves Spring Training
At 6,957 yards, Magnolia is the longest and most difficult of the Disney courses, though its no match for PGA Tour players who find little trouble negotiating the courses nearly 100 bunkers and large, undulating greens. Both Palm and Magnolia provide a formidable challenge for the everyday golfer, however. The other two Disney courses are Lake Buena Vista and Osprey Ridge.
For another excellent collection of golf courses, head a few exits west on I-4 to Ginn Reunion Resort. Each of its three golf courses (Legacy, Tradition and Independence) is designed by a renowned architect (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, respectively). The surrounding luxury residential community is the spring training home of several Braves players, including catcher, Clint Sammons.
I love staying at Reunion, Sammons said. Theyre really good about getting us out on any of their three golf courses, plus, its really close to the stadium so its very convenient for us players.
Each course in Reunions trio is similar to the other in that its suitable for all skill levels, a design characteristic customary in the resort golf genre. However, undulating greens and the flexibility of its tee boxes allow Reunion to draw professional events such as the LPGA Ginn Open, while also catering to the everyday golfer.
If youre looking to buck the trend of a standard Disney vacation, the condo-style living at Reunion is an excellent alternative. It has a feeling all its own, yet is only 15 minutes from Disney. And with a water park and several pools, it remains family 'and Braves' friendly.
For another course thats a favorite among Braves players, head back toward Disney to the town of Celebration. Developed in the early 1990s by the Walt Disney Co., the town is a real-life Pleasantville, where most residences are painted shades of white, and large front porches provide a welcoming feel thats quintessential Disney.
And because no quaint little town is complete without a golf course, Celebration Golf Club opened in 1996. Carefully routed through natural wetlands, the course tips out at 6,792 yards, but has several sets of tees, including one for juniors. Adding to its family appeal is the fact that it was designed by the father/son team of Robert Trent Jones and Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Head professional Kenny Nairn said its a common respite for Braves players, some of whom seek his keen eye for tips on their golf swing.
We have a great relationship with the Braves organization, Nairn said. Its amazing how competitive they are. Some of our staff and I will enjoy a friendly game with them, and they take it very seriously. Its evident they compete for a living.
But even when Braves players arent around, the course remains highly sought after. It prides itself on constantly changing for the better 'a new golf school is proof of such.
There are several possible itineraries for a spring training trip to Orlando, whether youre seeking a week with the family with baseball as just one of the options, or a weekend trip with as much golf and baseball crammed in as possible.
If you want to go the less expensive route, remember that most courses in the area have discount rates if you stay at their hotel, and/or book your tee time in the afternoon. Check out GolfNow.com for tee times at more than 20 Disney-area golf courses.
At the stadium, if you go the family route consider tickets in the outfield lawn. Although this option doesnt entitle you to a physical seat, the grassy hill is laid back, comfortable, and a great option for families with kids. Spread a picnic blanket out on the grass, flag down a cold beverage vendor and youve just discovered spring training bliss.
No matter how you decide to do it, attending a spring training game is a must for any avid baseball fan. And playing golf during spring training makes it even better. If John Smoltz and Jeff Francoeur can do it, then so can you!