Families can keep up with the Jones at Celebration Golf Club near Orlando
CELEBRATION, Fla. -- Celebration Golf Club holds the distinction as the last of three golf courses worldwide on which architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and his son, Robert Trent Jones Jr., collaborated before the elder Jones died in 2000.
That father-son connection is no coincidence, considering Celebration's mission statement.
Here, a family atmosphere comes first.
"Golf can be intimidating for a new golfer, or even a veteran golfer, for that matter," said Gene Garrote, president of Celebration Golf Management. "At Celebration, we're very welcoming, from the community to the course layout to the club's services."
Disney built the Celebration community in 1994 just an exit south of Walt Disney World on Interstate-4. On the way to the golf club, check out the small, walkable, shady town center, with spots for a pre- or post-round meal. Orlando families who live here use the area as a retreat for peace and quiet.
Celebration Golf Club opened shortly after the community in 1996. Most Celebration residents live here full time, so it makes sense to offer a golf course that caters to the needs of these families -- not to mention the many others who visit Orlando each year.
One such amenity that especially encourages family play, a set of green tees turns this championship-caliber Jones test into an executive golf course, featuring holes that play between 86 and 184 yards for a total of 2,219.
As much as Celebration Golf Club aims at family play, the golf course, as you'd expect with any Jones design, rates as tough. The back set of five tees plays more than 7,000 yards, with a slope rating of 74.5/140, demanding enough to rank among the most challenging golf courses in Orlando. The shortest par 3 plays 198 yards, so players who own a 6-handicap or higher are advised to take on the gold tees -- more manageable but still a stern 135 slope.
The slope reflects the penal nature of Celebration Golf Club, which is plenty water-heavy with 17 holes that feature hazards to go with loads of scattered bunkers. We all know the Joneses love their big bunkers, often used for directional help in the fairways. Check the golf-cart GPS units for distances to fairway bunkers and over them, because, to the eye, your line off the tee is not always obvious. And many holes feature multiple angles to play.
The best stretch comes on the back side. After No. 12, a sharp dogleg-left par 5 that's tough to reach in two unless you can hang a serious louie off the tee and challenge out of bounds, Nos. 13 through 16 are especially tucked away. They play through dense forest and wetlands, starting with a par-3 shot entirely over water.
Celebration Golf Club's 14th hole earned it nickname, Turkey Trot, as a small flock, in fact, strutted between the 13th green and 14th tee box. The two tightest tee shots on the golf course follow. It's a straight chute to the green, 382 yards away, on No. 14, followed by a short par-4 dogleg right, where you'd be well advised to take out an iron.
The golf course closes with a par 5 that measures as the longest hole at Celebration and puts a premium on placement. It weaves to the left and back right around water, trees and sand.
Celebration Golf Club: The verdict
At first impression, Celebration Golf Club is relaxed and welcoming, with a windmill above the clubhouse and a collection of small putting and chipping greens near to the clubhouse. The driving range doubles as the irrigation pond, making for a huge "aqua range." A collection of island greens beckons, including central Florida's largest island green in the center.
You'll feel at peace here. It helps sharpen your mind before challenging a Jones design that demands focus. The golf course fills a good niche as one of Orlando's better middle-priced options. And it's more affordable than nearby Disney World and Waldorf Astoria facilities.
Florida residents receive a discount at Celebration. And if you don't have your golf gear, the club offers Ping and TaylorMade clubs and FootJoy golf shoes for rent.
Stay and play near Celebration and Walt Disney World: Hilton Bonnet Creek
Celebration Golf Club sits south on I-4 from Walt Disney World and Bonnet Creek, which houses three hotel properties and the new 18-hole Waldorf Astoria Golf Club.
The Hilton Bonnet Creek, also new, features 1,001 guest rooms, plus amble, flexible meeting space that adjoins the Waldorf Astoria Orlando next door. Hilton and Waldorf share six restaurants, from casual pub fare in the Hilton's lobby to the Bull and Bear Steakhouse at the Waldorf.
Though decidedly more sophisticated than your average Orlando-area hotel near the theme parks, the Hilton caters to kids and families more than the adult-minded Waldorf Astoria Orlando. Additionally, the Hilton features a water slide and lazy river in the pool area. Adults can find their own brand of relaxation at the Spa by Guerlain, home to a wide array of massage and beauty treatments.