ChampionsGate offers dramatic contrast in style
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.
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.
Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated” while taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.
Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor, he made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.
Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).
Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.
“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.
Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”
“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”
Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.
“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”
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Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.
Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.
“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.
To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.
“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”
Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.
“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”
The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.
“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.
Van Rooyen continues links run with impressive 67
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For Erik van Rooyen familiarity has not bred contempt.
The South African, like many European Tour players, has been on a links golf odyssey the last three weeks, playing the Irish Open, Scottish Open and this week’s Open Championship in consecutive weeks, and the crash course paid off on Day 1 at Carnoustie when he opened with a 4-under 67 to assure himself a spot among the early leaders.
Although van Rooyen missed the cut last week just down the coast at Gullane Golf Club, he entered the final round in Ireland with a four-stroke lead.
“I didn't pull it off the final day,” said van Rooyen, who closed with a 74 to tie for fourth place. “I still think I played pretty well. I was nervous. That's completely normal, and I'll learn how to deal with that. I'll take that experience into tournaments like this.”
Van Rooyen, who was alone in second place when he completed his round, began his round with back-to-back birdies and was bogey-free until the last hole. It was just what one would expect from a player who has immersed himself in links golf for the better part of a month.
“We've been playing nice golf now the last three weeks, so definitely used to the way this course is playing, definitely used to handling the wind,” he said. “So I'll be ready.”