Ritz-Carlton's Grande Lakes Orlando has it all: Soaring golf, soaring food and a soaring zip-line course

By Travel ArticlesJanuary 25, 2013, 5:00 am

ORLANDO, Fla. -- This was a mistake.

Of all the extracurricular activities your correspondent could have chosen -- golf, fly fishing, an East Indian lime scalp and body massage -- the zip-line course at Grande Lakes Orlando seemed, at least at the time, to be the most compelling option.

That was before we scaled the three-story climbing wall and came face-to-face with the gravity of the situation, not to mention gravity.

'Stand up and clip onto the green line. Everything will be okay,' the 20-something guide with the angelic face instructs.

No.

'It's fine, stand up and clip onto the green line. Everything will be okay,' she repeats, a little more sternly this time.

No.

And so it went, for some 15 minutes before reason -- and not one but two safety harnesses -- beat back the flight instinct, and we cautiously navigated the rest of the course.

Next time, just go to the practice range and work on your wedge game.

Therein is the dichotomy of Grande Lakes -- a sprawling property less than 20 minutes from Orlando International Airport and three miles, as the duck flies, from Sea World.

Ritz-Carlton guests, at least as a general rule, are not adrenaline junkies, but between the zip lines and Greg Norman-designed golf course and eco-tours, the Grande Lakes property has created a reason to avoid the contrived magic of Disney and the sprawl of International Drive.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes

As a golf destination, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes has been -- at least until the recent PNC Father/Son Challenge exposed the manicured layout to a national television audience -- a hidden gem. Some would even say the course was a vastly underrated option in the congested Orlando golf scene.

No? Pop quiz: Name Orlando's best golf option for a quick, 24-hour drop in? Most would opt for Bay Hill, Disney or maybe ChampionsGate, a 36-hole complex that, until this year, had hosted the Father/Son. All are fine options, but an argument could be made that Grande Lakes should be in a category by itself.

Although Grande Lakes seems to have been adrift in central Florida's golf clutter, few, if any, area courses can beat the Ritz-Carlton's proximity to the theme parks and downtown or provide the level of service that guests enjoy.

Until recently, tee times at the Ritz-Carlton came with a 'caddie concierge' (a looper by any other name). Although caddies have become optional (we highly recommend one, every round is better with a bag man), the experience remains second-to-none in the area, and the golf course is one of the most playable Norman layouts we've ever encountered, deftly weaving just enough risk-reward amid the confines of resort-comfort golf.

Grande Lakes also features the more family friendly J.W. Marriott, complete with a lazy river and one of central Florida's best eateries, Primo. Full disclosure, I am not a 'foodie,' but my better half certainly qualifies, and she was duly impressed with the breads, which are made daily on property, and the garden adjacent the J.W. Marriott that provides many of the vegetables and spices used in Primo's signature dishes.

And, of course, there are the Ritz-Carlton staples: miles of manicured gardens, impeccable customer service, an extensive spa and, for the more adventurous, the zip-line course.

Just remember, don't look down and always listen to the 20-something barking orders. Turns out everything will be okay.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Zip-line course photo courtesy of pulseofcentralflorida.com.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

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.'"


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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."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

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.