The Magic of Disney Golf: Disney's Palm Course is a true Florida parkland
ORLANDO, Fla. - At Walt Disney World® Resort in Lake Buena Vista, all its "Magic" boils down to one color - green. Forest green, tifdwarf green, and Bermuda green to be exact. At least 99 shades of this earthly hue cover more than 37,752 yards from tee to pin on Disney's five 18-hole championship golf courses and one nine-hole walking course.
Within its 47-mile entertainment complex, Disney offers three separate golf locations: the Palm and Magnolia Courses, which includes the nine holes of Oak Trail, Bonnet Creek featuring Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines, and Lake Buena Vista.
For all these courses, Mother Nature and Father Time are the original "Imagineers" expertly aided by architects the likes of Joe Lee, Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Ron Garl. Here, the focus is on nature, not animation. Bambi, and others like him, are real. So too are the bluebirds, ducks and alligators.
Their habitat is protected and each of the courses since 1999 has systematically been designated as a "Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary" by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System (ACSS).
Collectively, the golf experience at Walt Disney World® Resort is immense - too immense to cover in a single story. So following is a five-part, in-depth series on "The Magic of Disney Golf."
Part I: Disney's Palm Course - A True Florida Parkland
Not far from Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom, lies a more naturelike Florida parkland - Disney's Palm Golf Course. It is the sister course to the Magnolia and the nine-hole walking course of Oak Trail.
Its fairways are crafted through a pine forest of mature, natural woodlands that includes moss-dappled oak, maple and cypress trees. Palmetto scrub fills the forest floor.
As early as the second hole, the course meanders along a network of waterways, and after the fifth, takes you quietly into the "park." Bridges connect many of the holes. Stop briefly on any one of them and you'll half expect to see a canoeist paddling upstream or down.
Architect, Joe Lee, designed the 6,957-yard Palm, with its elevated tees and greens, in 1971. The key ingredient, of course, was the Florida palm and he made good use of nearly every variety for aesthetic and strategic purposes.
The bunkers, many of which are deep-faced, are more penal than target. And it's not uncommon to find several greens heavily surrounded. As for water, it comes into play on half of the holes.
The Palm requires a little more shot making and precision, according to Kevin Weickel, Disney's Head Professional and Tournament Director of the National Car Rental Golf Classic.
"The woods and water seem to come into play," Weickel says. "But our course is very friendly. You won't find many greens bigger. They're relatively flat and there are not a lot of undulations. Our fairways are fairly generous, usually 40- yards wide if not wider in some places. The thing that bites the golfer on the Palm (and Magnolia) is length."
"Golf Digest" rated the Palm in the top 25 resort courses and "Golf Florida" ranked it in the top 100 in the state. To date, the Palm, in connection with one or more of its sister courses, continues to host a bevy of corporate, PGA and Senior PGA Tour events.
Most notably is the National Car Rental Golf Classic at Walt Disney World first established in 1971 and played every October. The defending champion is Duffy Waldorf with prior champions including two-time winner Tiger Woods, John Huston and David Duval.
Golf is serious on the Palm and any resemblance to the world's most famous mouse is slight. There are, for instance, colorful "Mickey Mouse" tee box markers. And, tucked into the woods is the occasional marble marker used as a "goof" offering golf instruction.
Like the parks, there are lines, too - cart lines. But they're usually only near the driving range and number one tee box. The rangers do a pretty good job and target the pace of play at four hours, 15 minutes to four hours, 30.
"Mickey" is so noticeably absent on the course that you'll feel forced into personifying some holes into certain Disney characters, like holes 13 through 15. Surely, they could be Cinderella's stepfamily dressed in their finest greenery on the way to princess's ball at the signature hole number 16.
These three holes, unlike all the others, open into a wide plane, are relatively flat, and share a corset of ponds interlacing one with the other. Can they be cruel? Oh yes, but in truth, they're merely a practice round for the Palm's finishing hole.
At 454-yards, this "Cruella" of a par 4 has been ranked as one of the toughest 50 holes on the PGA Tour nine times since 1983. In 1986, it reached as high as fourth. With a small, forward tilting, thumbprint green, it is further complicated by a creek cutting completely across the fairway at the 130-yard mark.
"It's long, too," says Weickel. "And in October, when the wind is in your face, the pros are forced to use a long iron into the green making it even more difficult."
From the blues, the Palm plays 6,957 yards and carries a course / slope rating of 73.9 / 138. The whites play 6,461 at 71.6 / 130, the golds - 6,029 at 69.5 / 126, and the reds - 5,311 at 70.4 / 124.
As with all Disney courses, resort guests receive complimentary "to and from" taxi vouchers. For non-resort guests, take Interstate 4 or Hwy 192 to the Magic Kingdom Park. Using Disney's far right lane tollbooth, pass through and follow the signs beyond the Polynesian Resort to the Palm and Magnolia Courses.