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.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.