Orlando is fore-word thinking
The Panther Lake course at Orange County National rollicks around and over wetlands and lakes. Since there are no houses nearby, there’s also plenty of wildlife. (Handout)
Way down south, in the midst of all the signs pointing to the kingdom ruled by a famous mouse, there's also plenty of mighty fine golfing.
And it's not just a summer or winter fad, either. There's something to do in all seasons and can be spectacular in the spring and fall as well.
Orlando is a golf Mecca, with world-class courses, dining and plenty of accommodation options.
We stay at one of the exceptional homes scattered throughout Orlando, a five-bedroom beauty with covered pool and hot tub. (See waggletravel.com for info on arranging a home or setting up a golf package). Our journey starts at Orange County -- an exceptional layout, with two beautiful 18-hole courses -- Panther Lake and Crooked Cat -- along with a nine-hole short course called Tooth, which is free for lodge guests.
The Orange County National courses are a treat.
Crooked Cat has significant elevation changes, rolling fairways and large, contoured greens -- a player's best friend. There aren't a lot of trees and it has a distinct links-style look. Really, Grip It and Rip It isn't a bad philosophy here. The thing is, even seemingly good shots can wind up in a wee spot of trouble -- as is the case on any good links course. The generous greens are good for your score and ego.
Panther Lake has native pines with the course rollicking around and over wetlands and lakes. There is plenty of natural beauty and since there are no houses, there's also plenty of wildlife. The 10th hole became sort of famous when Tiger Woods, from 150 yards out, appeared in a TV commercial, where he was told by his talking golf head-cover, Frank, to "get more forgiving irons, the Nike Pro Combos."
Orange County National has received plenty of accolades -- including Top 10 Best Places You Can Play, a Readers Choice Award and Top 50 Public Courses. The PGA Tour Q School has held its finals there four times and will be there again in 2013. And politeness from anybody that works there is another big plus.
There's also a 17-hectare practice facility. To find out more about the golf course and its lodging, go to ocngolf.com.
A couple of hour drive away, we hit PGA Village in Port St. Lucie.
We stay at the comfortable Perfect Drive Golf Villas (PerfectDriveatPGAVillage.com), conveniently located at PGA Village (pgavillage.com), where there are three awesome golf options -- 54 holes of golf heaven (Wannamaker, Dye and Ryder) designed by Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. The resort is listed among Golf Digests Top 75 Best Golf Resorts in North America. There's also a six-hole short family course and a 14-hectare PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance.
The Dye course is typical Dye genius. Waste bunkers, grass bunkers and pine straw roughs. It's frustrating at times, but nonetheless, it leads to a wonderful day of golf.
The Ryder course, with its water and wetlands and slick, undulating greens, has a great variety of landing areas. I personally take a liking to the wider ones, with my sporadic fairway-finding ability.
Golf Digest has the Wanamaker course listed as the 21st best in Florida -- for good reason. It's a test of shotmaking ability that still leaves you wanting more.
Golf historians will want to check out the on-site PGA Museum of Golf, where admission is free.
Then, it's back to Orlando.
While the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort is spectacular enough to host seven PGA and LPGA events over the years, there's much more to the golf experience at the wonderful course that has players coming back for more and more.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed course is special enough to have on its member list several celebs, including LPGA stars Amy Yang and Suzanne Petersen.
"There's a sense here that you are on your home course," says Drew Toth, sales and marketing director of Grand Cypress. "You have your clubs taken out of your car, your shoes are cleaned. Golf is first here. We don't have the big-box atmosphere here. We cater to golfers.
"We've got a great variety here. You've got the New Course, Jack's tribute to the Old Course in Scotland. And our three other 9s provide a different kind of game, typical of Jack -- open fairways with a more difficult carry into the greens."
"You can play five different rounds of golf within our 45 holes. This is classic Jack Nicklaus from back in the '80s. Back then, it was all about shotmaking."
The quality of golf is also putting plenty of plaques on the walls. Among the numerous awards: America's Top 50 Courses For Women, Top 100 You Can Play, World's Best Golf Resorts, 100 Best Golf Shops and Top 50 Resort Courses.
"We get a lot of requests coming through from Canadians. People are more willing to travel now ... but they're looking for good value. It's a very competitive environment and we're providing value in our golf packages. It's a hotel experience as well as a golf experience."
The on-property accommodation -- spacious suites and elegant villas (up to four bedrooms) -- is first rate. The villas are also racking up the awards, including being mentioned in the 500 Best Hotels in the World. For more info, check out grandcypress.com.