Trip dispatch: Orlando golf resorts for adults at Omni Championsgate & Mission Inn

By Mike BaileyJanuary 27, 2014, 10:03 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. -- No doubt, there's lot of magic to be found in Orlando, Fla., but it isn't just limited to Mickey Mouse at Disney World or Harry Potter at Universal. For golfers, this is epecially true as I found out last week while in town for the PGA Merchandise Show.

Not only did I spend the week viewing the latest and greatest in golf products at the show, but I also checked out two resorts that are beyond Disney World and then some.

The Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate is a few exits south of Disney heading toward Tampa off of Interstate 4, but in a whole other world. Few kids and no mouse ears. Just plenty of rest, golf and relaxation for adults. The Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., is about 45 minutes north of town and caters to a more diverse audience, although it's mostly adults, too. Both are worthy golf destinations, both have 36 holes and great dining, but they couldn't be more different.

The Omni Orlando is just what you might expect from an Omni property: luxurious accommodations, fancy restaurants and two golf courses designed by a big-name guy, Greg Norman. It's also the home of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy as well as a lighted par-3 course right behind the hotel. Pretty much everything is first-class, including little touches like complimentary coffee delivered to the room first thing in the morning.

Meanwhile, northwest of Orlando in Howey in the Hills, the Spanish-style Mission Inn is old Florida. Family-owned for the last 50 years, you feel like you're a part of the family when you stay there, which is probably just one of the reasons the resort attracts so much repeat business. The resort, with comfortable and modest rooms, is spread out in a Florida grove setting. The original golf course, El Campeon, is nearly 100 years old. It's been the site of NCAA championships, state tournaments and local pro events for decades. It's one of the hilliest courses in Florida and far different from the resort's other course, the Gary Koch-designed Las Colinas Course, which is spread out through development in a more traditional Florida golf setting.

The two courses at ChampionsGate are very different, too, but that's where the similarities between resorts end. The International Course was inspired by links courses in Ireland and Scotland as well as features from one of the Shark's favorites, Royal Melbourne in Australia. It's hardly a links course, but the home of the annual Father-Son Challenge does have links design elements in it, including a wind-swept dunes look and firm, fast greens and fairways. The National Course, meanwhile, is traditional American golf, with risk-reward holes, interesting bunker/greens complexes and plenty of Florida features.

Although Norman is sometimes criticized for his designs (like the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, which drew the ire of some pros, for example), I found both of these courses to be very enjoyable and good tests of golf. Best of all, even if you're not staying at the resort, you can still book a tee time, often for less than you might think (the same goes for Mission Inn). Perhaps one of the best parts of the golf experience at ChampionsGate is the after golf experience. With a sunken octagon bar, great outdoor deck and a couple dozen new flat screen TVs, Piper's Grill is one of the best 19th hole experiences in the Orlando area. The deck overlooks the golf courses, and the food, including breakfast, is top-notch. The facility also boasts an extensively stocked top 100 golf shop with some of the best logoed apparel I've seen anywhere.

Staying at the Omni makes the package complete. With more than 730 rooms, it's one of the largest Omni hotels in the world. There's also tennis, jogging, basketball, an 850-foot lazy river, a 10,000-square foot spa and the aforementioned par-3 course, perfect for a few clubs, flip-flops, a cocktail, and a cigar after dinner.

The dinner options are pretty good, too, including a terrific pan-Asian experience at Zen's, which serves up gourmet Chinese, sushi and seafood as well as Trevi's Italian food and a sports bar and grill.

Simply put, the Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate is an upscale golf experience, but not pretentious.


El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort & Club

Mission Inn, which also has a spa and what seems like an endless menu of activities, might be considered a little more blue-collar, but the setting is no less spectacular. It's long been a favorite wedding destination and with its 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a suitable retreat for corporations as well.

But for the golfer, Mission Inn really does represent getting away from it all – free to experience unencumbered golf and enjoy a cigar and a Guinness afterwards.

This is a place where you're likely to make new friends on the golf course or later that night at the weekly prime rib and seafood buffet, where most people probably blow their weekly allotment of calorie intake with little thought of guilt. Like ChampionsGate, the grounds offer so much more than golf, including skeet and trap shooting, boating, fishing, hiking, basketball and tennis. In fact, the resort has both har-tru and hard-courts and the Casar Villarreal Tennis Academy, run by Villarreal, a former Bolivian Davis Cupper, who has been at the resort for 25 years. The historic town of Mount Dora is also nearby, where day-trippers can make a day of antique shopping and a strudel at a local German bakery.

Still, the star of Mission Inn for golfers is El Campeon, which dates back to 1917. Designed by Chicago's George O'Neil with later enhancements by Scottish architect C.E. Clarke, there is nothing like it in Florida. The most interesting hole might be the 17th, a par-5 that runs downhill, turns the corner and then plays over a bunker and Spanish-moss covered oak tree to a green protected by a large pond. How you play that hole, or the tough 16th, which has a green surrounded by a bunker and palm trees, is likely to be among topics of exaggerated conversation an hour later over a cold beverage.


Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''

Park's stumble creates wide-open finale

By Randall MellNovember 18, 2017, 11:46 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park didn’t turn the CME Group Tour Championship into a runaway Saturday at Tiburon Golf Club.

She left with bloody fingernails after a brutal day failing to hold on to her spot atop the leaderboard.

OK, they weren’t really bloody, but even the unflappable Park wasn’t immune to mounting pressure, with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the money-winning title among the prizes she knew were within reach when she teed it up.

“It’s honestly some of the worst pressure,” Stacy Lewis said of CME week. “It’s so much pressure.  It’s just really hard to free yourself up and play golf.”

Lewis isn’t in the mix for all those prizes this year, but the two-time Rolex Player of the Year and two-time Vare Trophy winner knows what the full weight of this week’s possibilities bring.

“It’s almost nice to come here without all that pressure, but you want to be in that situation,” Lewis said. “It’s just really tough.”

Park is no longer in charge at Tiburon.

This championship is wide, wide open with a four-way tie for first place and 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Park is one shot back after stumbling to a 3-over-par 75.

Count Michelle Wie among the four tied for the lead after charging with a 66.

Former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (67), Suzann Pettersen (69) and Kim Kaufman (64) are also atop the leaderboard.

Kaufman was the story of the day, getting herself in contention with a sizzling round just two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Park is in a seven-way tie for fifth place just one shot back.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Lexi Thompson (69) is in that mix a shot back, as is Lewis (67), who is seeking to add a second title this year to her emotional win for Houston hurricane relief.

For Wie, winning the tournament will be reward enough, given how her strong rebound this year seemed derailed in September by an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie fought her way back from two of the most disappointing years of her career, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” Wie said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun. That’s when I play my best.”

All the subplots make Sunday so much more complicated for Park and Thompson, who are best positioned for a giant haul of hardware.

They have the most to gain in the final round.

Park has already clinched the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, but she can add the Rolex Player of the Year title, joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both those awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978.

A fifth place finish or better could give Park the Player of the Year Award outright, depending what others do.

“There are a lot of top players right now at the top of the leaderboard,” Park said. “Keeping my focus will be key.”

Thompson can still take home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the CME Globe jackpot. She needs to win the tournament Sunday to win Player of the Year.

Like Park, Thompson is trying not to think about it all of that.

“I treat every tournament the same,” Thompson said. “I go into it wanting to win. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”

The Vare Trophy for low scoring average is Thompson’s to lose.

Park has to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson on Sunday to have a shot at the trophy, and they are tied at 9-under overall.

The money-winning title is Park’s to lose. So Yeon Ryu has to win the tournament Sunday to have a chance to wrestle the title from Park, but Ryu has to pass 31 players to do so.

The CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot remains more up for grabs, with Thompson and Park best positioned to win it, though Jutanugarn is poised to pounce if both stumble. A lot is still possible in the race for the jackpot.

The pressure will be turned way up on the first tee Sunday.

“There is always that little bit of adrenaline,” Thompson said. “You just have to tame it and control it.”

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”