When golf is not enough Off-the-course Orlando
ORLANDO, Fla. – If there ever was a destination where golf is not enough, it’s Orlando. Between rounds at such PGA Tour staples as Bay Hill Club or Disney’s Magnolia, golfers can be entertained by everything from rollercoasters to spaceships. Here's a rundown of the best off-the-course activities.
Despite nearly 100 golf courses in Orlando, there’s no mistaking the elephant in the room: theme parks. With Disney, Universal and Sea World the area has plenty of variety, so whether your Orlando golf vacation is shared with family or friends, you’ll find a theme park that fits.
For golfers traveling with family, Disney’s Magic Kingdom is a sure bet. It doesn’t have the best rides in Orlando, but if you’re traveling with adolescent children let’s face it – Magic Kingdom is their Augusta National.
Beyond Magic Kingdom Disney has Hollywood Studios, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom, all of which have enough rides and attractions to keep you engaged for an entire day. If you’re trying to pack multiple Disney parks into one day, consider the park-hopper pass which allows you the freedom to enjoy all of the Disney parks.
Sea World is another great spot for kids, with its mix of educational and entertaining exhibits. The stingray-themed Manta is arguably the best rollercoaster in town, and the Aquatica water park makes for a well-rounded Sea World experience.
While Sea World has the best single coaster, Universal has the best overall collection. The Incredible Hulk, Dragon Challenge and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rollercoasters are all as thrilling as they are unique.
Though it doesn’t have much in the way of rides, Disney’s EPCOT is a fun off-the-course activity, particularly World Showcase, a giant area divided into 11 countries, each featuring restaurants and exhibits from that nation.
Universal City Walk is similar to EPCOT in that it’s another fun place to wander around. It offers bars and restaurants galore, including NBA City Café, Margaritaville and Pat O’Brien’s. Music fans will appreciate Hard Rock Café, which in addition to being a good restaurant, hosts dozens of top concerts throughout the year.
Disney’s version of Universal City Walk is Downtown Disney, a boardwalk full of restaurants, shops – even a five story arcade. There’s also a Cirque du Soleil and House of Blues.
When it comes to sports passion Orlando is a far cry from Boston or Chicago, but among major golf destinations, The City Beautiful definitely holds its own.
If you’re an NBA fan visiting between October and June you should check the Orlando Magic schedule to see if the team is in town. Not only are Dwight Howard and the Magic one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, but the team plays in the brand new Amway Center, which has all the bells and whistles of a new sports arena – including a bar that overlooks the court.
The arena is on Interstate-4 in downtown Orlando. Tickets are fairly easy to come by, whether through Ticketmaster, StubHub or good ol’ fashioned ticket scalpers.
Sports fans looking for something closer to Disney should consider ESPN Wide World of Sports, a massive sports complex that hosts more than 200 events each year. The Atlanta Braves host spring training here, and the college basketball Old Spice Invitational takes place each Thanksgiving. Check ahead though, because unless there’s an event going on there’s not much to do.
If you have a passion for college sports check out University of Central Florida football and basketball. Despite having the nation’s highest undergrad enrollment in the 2009-10 academic year, it’s known as a commuter school so tickets to either sport are easy to find. And what’s more? Both teams have been impressive of late, with football winning the 2010 C-USA Championship and basketball fresh off a 6-0 start to their season, including a win over No. 16 Florida.
Though Orlando isn’t winning any awards for its natural beauty, there are still a few fun sightseeing activities you won’t find in most places.
One activity you won’t find at most other golf destinations is a helicopter tour. There are a few different companies, an inventory of which can be found with a simple Google search. Flying into the Orlando International Airport gives you a glimpse of the countless lakes dotting the Florida landscape, but getting a birds-eye-view of downtown Orlando, EPCOT, Universal and more is a unique experience.
If helicopters aren’t your thing, there’s also a helium balloon company in Celebration, Fla. that charters flights on a daily basis.
On the subject of flying, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Kennedy Space Center – even though it’s about an hour east of town. The Visitor’s Center is geared mainly toward kids, but if your travel schedule coincides with a shuttle launch it turns into a must-see no matter how old you are.
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.