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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Aggressiveness pays off for Spieth vs. Schwartzel

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 9:32 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On Tuesday, Jordan Spieth said he hoped this week’s format would free him up and allow him to play more aggressively.

Although that wasn’t the case early in his Day 1 match against Charl Schwartzel, Spieth was able to get his week off to a solid start with a 2-and-1 victory.

After playing his first nine holes in even par, Spieth moved ahead in the match when Schwartzel made bogey at the par-5 12th hole and the American hit his approach at the par-4 13th hole to 3 feet, a shot he said was “pivotal,” and he added another birdie at the 14th hole to pull away.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

“I had a couple of iffy numbers and some swirly winds. I did not play aggressively,” Spieth said of his opening nine. “Once I got a couple numbers where I could put really nice, solid swings on, zeroed in at the target with no worry about anything else around, I did just that and it led to three or four birdies from the eighth hole on. You have to go at flagsticks to make birdies here.”

The early victory puts Spieth on a collision course with Patrick Reed, who also won his first-day match against HaoTong Li, 3 and 2. Spieth and Reed, who are a combined 7-2-2 when teamed together in the Ryder and Presidents Cup, will play each other in the final day of round-robin play on Friday.

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List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

“Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

“I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

“He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-1-0 (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm:  (4) J. Spieth: 1-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 0-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed: 1-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 0-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li: 0-1-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-0-0
(60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-1-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 0-1-0 (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day: 1-0-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
(18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-0-0
(46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner: 0-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-0-0 (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn: 0-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 0-1-0 (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman: 0-1-0 (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-1-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace: 0-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-0-0 (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson: 1-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
(58) I. Poulter: 1-0-0 (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri: 1-0-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 0-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar: 0-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 1-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher: 0-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-1-0 (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-0-0
(61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III: 1-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-0-1
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Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

“It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.