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.


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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.