ChampionsGate offers dramatic contrast in style

By Mike BaileyMarch 23, 2010, 10:36 pm
Omni Hotel at ChampionsGate

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.
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The best part about the National Course, however, is that it's completely different than the International Course.

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.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.