Waldorf Astoria Golf Club is the newest addition to the Orlando golf scene. (Nile Young Jr.)
ORLANDO, Fla. – While some golf destinations cater to a certain demographic, golf courses in Orlando appeal to a much wider audience. From luxurious hotel brands like Waldorf Astoria to historical gems such as Dubsdread, here are the best options at three different price points:
Orlando golf on a big budget
Waldorf Astoria Golf Club is one of the newest and most luxurious golf courses in Orlando. This Rees Jones layout, carved out of a rare vacant piece of wetlands on the Walt Disney World Resort property, has a classic look not found elsewhere in Orlando. The adjoining Waldorf Astoria Hotel lives up to its name and is one of, if not the finest hotel in Central Florida.
Another high-end golf resort in Orlando is another famous name: Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. Just like the hotel, this Greg Norman design is well-built and fantastically maintained, with an emphasis on service (it’s the only course in Orlando where a forecaddie is included in your green fee).
Bay Hill Club also belongs among the higher echelon of Orlando golf courses, and it’s because of one man: Arnold Palmer. Not only is Bay Hill the King’s home course it’s also the host site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an elite PGA Tour event that draws the world’s top golfers.
Bay Hill was originally designed by Dick Wilson in 1961, but was reconstructed in 2009 by Arnold Palmer Design Company. The resulting layout features deeper bunkers and greens cut closer to the edges of the signature rock-lined lakes. The quaint, recently renovated Lodge at Bay Hill is literally a “must-stay” because members and registered hotel guests are the only ones granted access to the course.
Though lower rates can be had in summer months, Disney’s Palm and Disney’s Magnolia are still considered high-end courses. PGA Tour pros make minced meat of both courses during the Children’s Miracle Network Classic each November, but each course (particularly Magnolia) can be a good test for the average golfer.
Orlando golf on a medium budget
At the southern end of Orlando’s I-4 corridor is ChampionsGate’s two distinct golf courses and Omni hotel. The International Course is regarded as the tougher of the two because of its length, deep bunkers and windy conditions though the National Course is no slouch with its devilish wetlands. This facility has good pro pedigree as former host of the Del-Webb Father-Son Challenge and current home of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
If you’re staying near Universal Orlando Resort or the Orange County Convention Center, a solid mid-priced option is Metrowest Golf Club. This parkland style golf course has good variety – you won’t hit the same club on any of the par 3s – and its conditions rival any comparably priced course.
Another convenient choice for business travelers is Shingle Creek Golf Club. Quality conditions and friendly service are the hallmarks at this Rosen resort property, which also is home to a large hotel and conference center. As with most courses in the area, water hazards and bunkers are Shingle Creek’s greatest defense.
For visitors looking for a deviation from your standard resort golf experience, check out Celebration Golf Club. Located in the exclusive Celebration neighborhood, it has a relaxed, family vibe to it while still maintaining a high level of service. A junior course and junior tees further enhance the family element.
Not far from Celebration is Falcon’s Fire Golf Club, which recently reopened after a renovation and features some of the best greens in town. This Rees Jones layout is a rarity in Orlando because it doesn’t have a hotel or housing on property.
If you’re looking to venture off the beaten path, Harmony Golf Preserve is a superb Johnny Miller layout that’s priced right. It’s one of the newest courses in the Orlando area, but conditions have quickly matured to make it one of the best-conditioned tracks around.
Orlando Golf on a small budget
The best low-budget golf course in Orlando is also the city’s oldest. Dubsdread Golf Course opened in 1924 and has been a local favorite ever since. Located in the historical College Park district near downtown Orlando, “Dubs” is fresh off a long-awaited renovation.
Another old course that passes the walk-in-the-park test is Winter Park Country Club, a nine-hole executive course in the affluent Winter Park suburb. This walking-only track doesn’t accept tee times, only walkups, but the backdrop of old trees and high-end real-estate makes for a relaxing and scenic deviation from your standard Orlando resort golf course.
Editor’s note: Before deciding how much you want to pay, consider the season. High-end courses can be had for bargain prices in the summer months. On the contrary, even the least-expensive golf courses in Orlando are at peak rates in late winter / early spring.