Walt Disney World Golf (Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Nile Young)
Being born and raised in a small upstate New York town, I still consider myself a New Yorker. However, after moving to the Orlando area in 1996 to break into the golf business, my almost 27 years in Central Florida working in golf can most certainly qualify me to speak on the topic of great golf in the area.
Depending on how one would define the Central Florida area, the actual number of course options will vary but the remarkable quality remains consistent throughout. I would say that within an hour to hour and a half drive of downtown Orlando, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100+ golf courses. And if you know someone who lives in the Villages, FL, then add another 50 to that count, that place is a golf mecca! With that many incredible tracks in one area, it's nearly impossible to play them in one trip so be sure to make a list and come back often to try them all.
So, regardless if you are coming to Orlando for business or with your family to hang out with their favorite movie characters, the following are just a few of the incredible courses that you have to check off before you head home.
Winter Park Golf Course
Known to many locals as the WP9, this course holds a special place in my heart after working there from 1998-2011. This 9-hole gem has been getting a great deal of worthwhile notoriety in recent years and rightfully so. A very walkable course, WP9 is a throwback and a treat to play. Officially opened in 1914, the course actually has roots going back even further. Winter Park is the second oldest course in Central Florida and its historic roots show. On September 17, 1999, WP9 was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The golf course is a 9-hole, par 35 that is roughly 2500 yards long. The course underwent major renovations in 2016, making it one of the best short course experiences in the country. To learn more about WP9 check out my full write-up here.
“Although it is less than 2,500 yards from the tips, this routing that originated over 100 years ago received a stunning renovation in 2016 that turned it into a first-rate layout. The fact the course is located in the midst of the town with an active rail line bordering two holes simply adds to the charm.” - Anthony Pioppi - Golf writer, author of The Finest Nines
Bay Hill Club and Lodge
Arnie's place is one of my absolute favorite spots in golf. Not so much for the courses itself, but more so for the atmosphere, and the feelings that Bay Hill provides. And yes, I said courses because many don’t know that there is actually a third 9 at Bay Hill called the Charger. While the courses are exceptional, the history and the memories here are what take it to the next level. I met Mr. Palmer here on two occasions… make that three. That third time was with me getting out of my car very early in the morning as he was walking his dog. He had a big smile as he stuck out his hand and said “Good Morning! It’s a beautiful day! Thanks for coming out to Bay Hill!” I still get goosebumps telling that story.
There are three incredible courses at Reunion Resort to choose from: The Nicklaus, The Palmer and The Watson. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. The Nicklaus is my favorite and is probably the most difficult of the three but each one has its special charm. Reunion is now also the world headquarters of the Golfzon Leadbetter Golf Academy. I have a very deep respect and admiration for David as he and I were both recognized together in 2017 as PGA of America National Award winners. He as the Teacher of the Year and myself as the Youth Player Development recipient.
Royal St. Cloud Golf Links
Hands down, Royal St. Cloud is one of the finest public golf courses the Orlando area has to offer. With an amazing resort feel & conditioning at public golf prices, Royal St. Cloud is the best value in golf in Central Florida. It’s one of, if not the only, course in the area that has the same reasonable rates for all golfers, no matter where they are from. With three 9-hole layouts, Royal St. Cloud offers a unique links-style feel that you could play every day. Beyond the golf at Royal St. Cloud, the restaurant and banquet facilities are both economical and top notch. Trust me, my younger brother had his wedding here in 2012 and it was an absolutely memorable occasion!
Walt Disney World Golf
Coming full circle to visiting your favorite movie characters, Walt Disney World Golf, sometimes known as the “Happiest Place on Turf”, offers three Championship Courses: The Magnolia, Palm and Lake Buena Vista Golf Courses, and a family friendly 9-hole track at Oak Trail. Host of the PGA Tour's Walt Disney World Golf Classic from 1971–2012, the championship golf courses at Walt Disney World Resort are renowned for their fun designs, outstanding service, world-class amenities and exceptional playability. The Championship courses are awesome and filled with native wildlife walking the grounds at every turn. Being a junior golf guy myself and after hosting countless events on the Oak Trail 9-hole course, I’m a little partial to that. On Oak Trail, you can bring your whole family out for a unique golf experience everyone will enjoy. Certified by Audubon International as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary and reimagined in 2018, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course is a rolling hill 9-hole walking course (with pull carts and robo-caddies available) that is best known for its wildlife. Oak Trail offers the ideal way for families to enjoy a day of golf, fun, and fitness — even for novices.
As I mentioned previously, the greater Central Florida region has well over 100 golf courses and within those are options for every budget and taste. The Sunshine state, and greater Orlando area in particular, is a golfer's paradise. And if you're looking to brush up on your game while you're in the area, be sure to connect with one of the many local PGA Coaches.
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