ChampionsGate offers dramatic contrast in style
ORLANDO, Fla. – The consensus is that the National Course at ChampionsGate Golf Club is the easier of the two Greg Norman-designed layouts at Omni Orlando Resort. At the very least, that’s a debatable point.
Though it’s shorter, and has more scoring opportunities, it's also more of a target golf course, meaning wayward shots will quickly unravel your round. And just the like the International Course at ChampionsGate – which is the former host of the Del Webb Father-Son Challenge – if the wind is up, it's one tough test.
ChampionsGate's National Course: More of a domestic feel
The International Course was designed to reflect a windswept links style, perhaps like the British Open courses or, more accurately, Royal Melbourne Golf Club from Norman's homeland Down Under. While both courses at ChampionsGate are unmistakably Florida, they couldn't be more opposite.
With more than 160 bunkers, and many of them pot bunkers at that, the 7,300-yard International has plenty of hazards. You can throw in the wetlands as well to see how difficult the course can play, especially with several very long par 4s that often play into the wind.
The National Course was built more in the style of North America courses. If you find the fairway bunkers on the National, you've got a chance to hit greens. And if you find the fairways, it's pretty straightforward.
What makes it interesting are the varied lengths of the holes. The par-4 fifth is just 323 yards from the big boy tees, 311 from the blues, which means if the wind is right, long hitters can take a shot at the green, or at the very least, put a drive in position for a chip and a putt.
The trouble is that there is trouble everywhere – wetlands that you have to carry and that run down the entire left side of this dogleg left; large bunkers on the right with ball-gobbling trees right of the bunkers. It's classic risk-reward. If you're playing a stroke-play tournament, you'd probably hit the hybrid or long iron off the tee; in a scramble, get one in play and go for it.
The fifth isn't the only short par 4 that tantalizes. The 16th is just 315 from the back and 255 from the blues, which means many players don't have to hit driver to make the green. But with a kidney-shaped green wrapped around a troublesome tree and bad news long or left, you need to be in full control of your golf swing before going for the green.
The 16th really kicks off one of the better finishing stretches in the Orlando area. While 16 is short, 17 is anything but. This difficult dogleg-left par 5 measures 636 yards from the back tees and follows a lake all the way to the green. Hitting three good shots is challenging enough, much less trying to go for it in two.
Then there's the 18th, a 451-yard dogleg around a lake. Bunkers and water right of the green make the long approach plenty difficult – a real test to finish the round.
ChampionsGate Golf Club's National Course: The verdict
Together, the National and International are a nice 1-2 punch, although they can certainly be a little pricey.
Still, if you're visiting Orlando, playing them in a combination would be a good strategy because they are very different experiences.
Which one you will like better probably depends on your mood and your type of game. If you're a bomber, you might like the International better. It has wider fairways and length is definitely rewarded. But if you're a tactician, the National rewards course management.
Both are always in terrific shape, and both share excellent practice facilities. If you're staying at the Omni Orlando Resort hotel, you'll probably want to take the short shuttle ride to the course, where there's an expansive driving range, chipping green, putting green and practice bunkers.
However, if you're looking to get a lesson, the world headquarters for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy is right next door. Practice facilities at the Leadbetter Academy are as good as it gets – covered grass range, indoor bays, large outdoor putting and chipping greens, and practice bunkers. Call in advance to book a session.
Stay and play at ChampionsGate
The ultimate golf experience at ChampionsGate would be to stay at the Omni Orlando Resort there. Located just minutes from Walt Disney World in the master-planned community of ChampionsGate, the resort offers everything and then some.
The hotel has some 730 rooms, 70,000 square feet of meeting space, a 10,000-square-foot European spa, fitness center and 15 acres of pools, including hot tubs and an 850-foot 'lazy river.'
It also has five restaurants, including one called Zen, which provides one of the better pan-Asian dining experiences you'll find anywhere.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.