Snowbirds can thaw out on Orlando's most player friendly golf courses

By Travel ArticlesMarch 5, 2013, 6:56 pm

Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco celebrated the Baltimore Ravens' championship with a parade at Disney World, but I don't know if he played golf after visiting the Magic Kingdom.

If he did, he probably would have wanted a course that was not only in excellent shape but also kind to errant shots.

Although Flacco was at the top of his sport after his Super Bowl performance, his golf game would undoubtedly have some rust due to the Baltimore winter as well as his hectic schedule.

Certainly, the Orlando area can satisfy the desires of all golfers, especially snowbirds or vacationers escaping their winters or hectic schedules. With that in mind, here are some golf courses in the Orlando area that are not only extremely playable but also offer superior layouts, conditioning, service and amenities.

Celebration Golf Club

In a town developed by The Walt Disney Company, Celebration Golf Club is the collaborative effort of Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Set amid pines, oaks, magnolias and wetlands, the Joneses have created a lush, scenic playground dedicated to 'celebrating golf at every level.'

As the elder Jones said, 'With the beauty of the course, the design ... everyone will have fun because it can be enjoyed here on many levels.'

Each hole has its own name, starting with 'Shirley Temple,' the relatively easy first. The par-5 fourth is, 'Will ye or won't ye' go for it in two. The backside includes 'The Houdini,' the tricky par-3 16th, and the closing hole is, 'Keeping up with the Joneses.' Golf Digest has recognized Celebration Golf Club as one of the best-designed golf courses in Florida.

Falcon's Fire Golf Club

Managed by Marriott, Falcon's Fire Golf Club also keeps up with the Joneses -- Rees Jones in this case.

This stylish championship layout is a favorite with residents and tourists. The course is always in impeccable condition with generous fairways and true, fast greens.

'Falcon's Fire is golfer friendly,' Head Professional Austin Swanger said. 'It won't beat you up. The course sets up fairly open off the tee and is a fair test from beginning to end.'

The front nine is golfer friendly and should build a player's confidence. Starting with the long par-4 12th, however, the course brings out its talons, and the remaining six holes are excellent tests of shot placement and putting accuracy.

Harmony Golf Preserve

Located outside the hustle and bustle of Orlando, the motto at Harmony Golf Preserve is, 'Nature calls you home.' That reflects both on Harmony's certification as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and its commitment to protecting the environment.

Built on 260 acres of wildlife preserve, this Johnny Miller design wends its way away from home sites and into the verdant natural landscape. Besides keeping his eye on the golf ball, a player will also see turkeys, otters, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, deer, ospreys, hawks, bass and turtles in their habitats.

Operated by Troon Golf, the Harmony Golf Preserve combines a welcoming staff with a world-class layout. Each hole is distinctive and requires vision and strategy.

'We have a unique layout,' said Todd Van Meer, the head golf professional at Harmony Golf Preserve. 'It's pleasing to play and is a reasonable test for all golfers. Plus, we have awesome wildlife.'

Orange Lake Resort

Orange Lake Resort, home to Holiday Inn Club Vacations, sports The Legends Course and The Reserve Course.

Arnold Palmer designed The Legends, and it is acknowledged as one of Orlando's best golf courses. Palmer treats the golfer to two markedly different nines. The Links has wide open fairways and deceptively contoured greens, similar to traditional Scottish courses. The Pines returns the golfer to North Carolina with its blend of huge pines and oaks, twisting fairways and water hazards. Multiple tee boxes guarantee a course length that all skill levels can enjoy.

Palmer also designed Legends Walk, a delightful nine-hole, par-3 walking course that is entirely lighted for night play.

The Reserve, originally designed by famed architect Joe Lee and then renovated in 2005 by Mike Dasher, emphasizes the relationship between the course and its environment, the surrounding wetlands rich in native flora and fauna. The shortest of all six courses at 6,500 yards and a par 71, The Reserve doesn't need length to impress the golfer, who still has to negotiate the prevalent sand and water and then has to read the rolling greens.

Providence Golf Club

Dasher took his skills down the road to create Providence Golf Club, one of Orlando's best-kept golf secrets.

Upscale from the bag drop on, the links-style course opened in 2007 to critical acclaim. Dasher wrote, 'I would characterize Providence as a hybrid course, part prairie style, part old Florida, and part parkland. All in all, the variety of style and tree canopy throughout the course creates an ever-changing pallet that will provide for memorable holes as well as strategic golf.'

Thirteen of the holes venture into undeveloped, natural territory and through creeks, towering hardwoods and wetlands. So, what Dasher really means is that the golfer gets another unusual but immensely satisfying experience.

As should be expected with exemplary clubs, all of these golf courses have outstanding clubhouses and amenities, such as extensive practice facilities, grill rooms and/or dining rooms, locker rooms, private lessons and/or golf academies and beverage carts.

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.