Bella Collina: Where opulence and a Nick Faldo design combine for a memorable golf experience

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

MONTVERDE, Fla. -- At the end of a winding uphill cobblestone street is a gargantuan structure that looks like a Tuscan mansion.

18 Holes | Private/Resort | Par: 72 | 7594 yards
Bella Collina clubhouse
The $40 million clubhouse at Bella Collina looks like a Tuscan mansion.
Bella Collina clubhouseBella Collina golf course - 11th holeBella Collina golf course - 7th hole

You're not in Italy, though. It's Montverde, just 30 minutes west of Orlando.

Known as "the castle," the ultra-luxurious $40 million clubhouse sets the tone for an opulent golf outing.

Once an uber-private golf club, Bella Collina has tee times available to the public. Before the recession in 2008, the Bella Collina development was being described as "the next Isleworth." After some tough times, Bella Collina underwent an ownership change, and the new owners have done an admirable job of keeping the amenities in excellent condition.

Bella Collina's amazing terrain

The hilly and undulating terrain at Bella Collina is very Tuscan-like as well. Lending an air of authenticity are tall, slender Italian cypress trees, fruit trees and shrubs throughout the property, making you feel as if you have been magically transported to central Italy.

Overlooking two lakes, Lake Apopka and Lake Siena, the course affords inspiring panoramas of central Florida in every direction, and the clubhouse is almost always in view.

Designer Nick Faldo fashioned a traditional valley-style layout by utilizing the hills to frame many holes. The 7,594-yard design (from the back tees) offers wide-open and sometimes sloping fairways with generous landing areas.

How to play Bella Collina

"We sit up on a hill and the wind blows regularly, so you need a good ground game and some shot-making ability to score well here," said Jim Kroll, director of golf at Bella Collina.

There are six sets of tees on every hole, and it's imperative to select the right one for your skill level if you want success at Bella Collina.

"Only the young flat bellies who can really bust it should consider playing the back tees," Kroll said. "With the wind blowing in your face on some holes it's impossible to play unless you can drive it super long."

Kroll says the member tees (at 6,504 yards) and club tees (6,021) offer more than enough challenge for the typical weekend player. Single-handicappers might try the championship tees at 6,920 yards, which has a course rating of 73.8 and slope of 136.

"There's a little bit of everything on the course with drives to radically sloping fairways, blind shots and three long par 3s," Kroll said. "It's a great mix of holes with lots of variety."

On several holes, the fairways slope in different directions.

"It helps to have someone in your group who has played the course before, so they can give you the correct target line," Kroll said. "Golfers generally do better the second time they play Bella Collina because they know exactly where to hit the ball for best results."

Kroll said the two most difficult holes are No. 8, a 521-yard par 4 from the back tees and 460 yards from the member tees, and No. 17, a 439-yard par 4 from the member tees that demands an accurate tee shot. If you miss right off the tee, you're rewarded with an approach shot over greenside bunkers to a microscopic green.

My favorite hole is No. 7, a picturesque par 3 that plays 160 yards from the member tees. Get your camera out on this one. It's one of the most beautiful par 3s in Florida.

Bella Collina: The verdict

Bella Collina's appeal centers around an innovative but fair design, roller coaster, un-Florida-like hilly terrain, slanted fairways and lots of memorable holes.

Even if you're three-putting and hacking the ball around, rest assured, there's always a magnificent vista of the clubhouse, lakes and surrounding hills to ease the pain.

Better still, after the round you can luxuriate in the clubhouse, a more than 50,000-square-foot pamper palace that's lavishly appointed with Italian stonework, handcrafted tiles, wrought iron gates, fountains, plazas and terraces.

If you've ever wondered what the Italian term "La Dolce Vita" (the sweet life) means, one stroll through this clubhouse and you'll wonder no more.

You might consider making Bella Collina a day trip as the clubhouse has a pro shop, spa, billiards room, casual and fine dining room, the 19th hole, men's and women's locker rooms and fitness facilities.

For the quintessential, opulent, private club style experience, play Bella Collina.

It's a lot cheaper than traveling to Tuscany, right?

Ed SchmidtEd Schmidt, Contributor

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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