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ChampionsGate offers dramatic contrast in style

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Omni Hotel at ChampionsGate

ORLANDO, Fla. – The consensus is that the National Course at ChampionsGate Golf Club is the easier of the two Greg Norman-designed layouts at Omni Orlando Resort. At the very least, that’s a debatable point.

Though it’s shorter, and has more scoring opportunities, it's also more of a target golf course, meaning wayward shots will quickly unravel your round. And just the like the International Course at ChampionsGate – which is the former host of the Del Webb Father-Son Challenge – if the wind is up, it's one tough test.
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The best part about the National Course, however, is that it's completely different than the International Course.

ChampionsGate's National Course: More of a domestic feel

The International Course was designed to reflect a windswept links style, perhaps like the British Open courses or, more accurately, Royal Melbourne Golf Club from Norman's homeland Down Under. While both courses at ChampionsGate are unmistakably Florida, they couldn't be more opposite.

With more than 160 bunkers, and many of them pot bunkers at that, the 7,300-yard International has plenty of hazards. You can throw in the wetlands as well to see how difficult the course can play, especially with several very long par 4s that often play into the wind.

The National Course was built more in the style of North America courses. If you find the fairway bunkers on the National, you've got a chance to hit greens. And if you find the fairways, it's pretty straightforward.

What makes it interesting are the varied lengths of the holes. The par-4 fifth is just 323 yards from the big boy tees, 311 from the blues, which means if the wind is right, long hitters can take a shot at the green, or at the very least, put a drive in position for a chip and a putt.

The trouble is that there is trouble everywhere – wetlands that you have to carry and that run down the entire left side of this dogleg left; large bunkers on the right with ball-gobbling trees right of the bunkers. It's classic risk-reward. If you're playing a stroke-play tournament, you'd probably hit the hybrid or long iron off the tee; in a scramble, get one in play and go for it.

The fifth isn't the only short par 4 that tantalizes. The 16th is just 315 from the back and 255 from the blues, which means many players don't have to hit driver to make the green. But with a kidney-shaped green wrapped around a troublesome tree and bad news long or left, you need to be in full control of your golf swing before going for the green.

The 16th really kicks off one of the better finishing stretches in the Orlando area. While 16 is short, 17 is anything but. This difficult dogleg-left par 5 measures 636 yards from the back tees and follows a lake all the way to the green. Hitting three good shots is challenging enough, much less trying to go for it in two.

Then there's the 18th, a 451-yard dogleg around a lake. Bunkers and water right of the green make the long approach plenty difficult – a real test to finish the round.

ChampionsGate Golf Club's National Course: The verdict

Together, the National and International are a nice 1-2 punch, although they can certainly be a little pricey.

Still, if you're visiting Orlando, playing them in a combination would be a good strategy because they are very different experiences.

Which one you will like better probably depends on your mood and your type of game. If you're a bomber, you might like the International better. It has wider fairways and length is definitely rewarded. But if you're a tactician, the National rewards course management.

Both are always in terrific shape, and both share excellent practice facilities. If you're staying at the Omni Orlando Resort hotel, you'll probably want to take the short shuttle ride to the course, where there's an expansive driving range, chipping green, putting green and practice bunkers.

However, if you're looking to get a lesson, the world headquarters for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy is right next door. Practice facilities at the Leadbetter Academy are as good as it gets – covered grass range, indoor bays, large outdoor putting and chipping greens, and practice bunkers. Call in advance to book a session.

Stay and play at ChampionsGate

The ultimate golf experience at ChampionsGate would be to stay at the Omni Orlando Resort there. Located just minutes from Walt Disney World in the master-planned community of ChampionsGate, the resort offers everything and then some.

The hotel has some 730 rooms, 70,000 square feet of meeting space, a 10,000-square-foot European spa, fitness center and 15 acres of pools, including hot tubs and an 850-foot 'lazy river.'

It also has five restaurants, including one called Zen, which provides one of the better pan-Asian dining experiences you'll find anywhere.

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