The Magic of Disney Golf: Disney's Palm Course is a true Florida parkland

By Elaine Gallant, Contributor

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.

18 Holes | Resort | Par: 72 | 6870 yards
Disney's Palm Golf Course
Not far from Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom, lies a naturelike Florida parkland - Disney's Palm Golf Course.
Disney's Palm Golf CourseDisney's Palm Golf Course - green

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.

See Part II of "The Magic of Disney Golf" - the Magnolia Course.

Elaine GallantElaine Gallant, Contributor

Elaine Gallant is a freelance writer specializing in golf, tennis, and travel. Her many experiences with travel and golf have taken her around the Untied States, Europe, Greece, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaiian Islands, Australia and points in between.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Disney@s Oak Trail

    Robert wrote on: Sep 4, 2013

    URRRGH! Just had the worst customer service from Disney's Head Golf Professional!!
    My family 8 members have Annual Memberships for Disney, three of us have Premium Memberships because we like to golf. (My father, my son and I)
    I have golfed over 60 times this year alone at several of the Disney courses, the majority being Disney's Oak Trail. I golf in the spring, a little in the summer (too hot) and start again mid August and will golf till the end of spring. So basically have been golfing every weekday since mid August, including yesterday. I arrive today and as I am walking into the pro shop, the greeter welcomes me, Welcome to the Happiest Place on Turf then recognizes me and says, Oak Trail is closed today. I said really? Why is it closed? Response I don't know... Do you know how long for? No, the guys in the pro shop should know... I said ok, thanks.
    I walk up to the counter, wait my turn then get served. I said hi there, I have a question, the greeter just informed me Oak Trail is closed but didn't know why, is that correct? Yes, it is closed. I say oh, ok.. Do you guys have a sign or notice posted to inform your customers because I didn't happen to see one, we don't... I just golfed here yesterday and was not informed it would be closed today. How long is it closed is closed for a week!! ...Really? and no notice or email notification. No sorry sir. Man standing behind the counter blurts out. Did you have a tee time! I said no, Oak Trail is mainly a walk on course I reply (which I have been told in the past by staff as I used to block a (9:42 tee time Monday-Friday) The man says well that is why you weren't notified, you should have and smirks.. If you had a tee time you would know!
    Now I am feeling like I did something wrong...I explain to him, I used to get them to block me Monday to Friday tee times every week but even with tee times I was still waiting 20-30 minutes to tee off...and now that there is no starter on the 1st tee it is worse so why bother. I told the man you can look at my record on file to check for yourself. His reply was you didn't have a tee time today so too bad if you had of you would have known...I can't inform you if you don't have a tee time. I have been working here 10 years and it is not policy to post or have a notice for our customers in regards to course closures.
    I can't believe I am being told this and he is starting to get more and more aggressive. Premium pass holders make up a large portion of Oak Trail golfers, you would think a mass email would be sent out to them, but this is not policy. I look at his name tag, it says Sean (from Miami) I try to explain that I just drove 25 minutes to get here and it is very frustrating that it was not mentioned to me yesterday. Well you should have booked a tee time he snapped. So now I feel he doesn't give a care at all so I say OK, I would like to book some tee times please, he says when for, I say Monday-Friday 9:30am he says ok, I then say for the next year. Sean snaps OHH No! You can't book that far in advance! Well how far in advance can I book? No reply, he just stares at me.
    I am thinking to myself as he is staring me this really happening all I came in for was to find out why and how long Oak Trail was closed for and this guy Sean is treating me like trash.
    So I say how about until reply, he asks me my first and last name and then snaps, if you miss any of these tee times I will charge you. So now he is threatening me if I miss a tee time after basically calling me a fool for not having a tee time....I then say, so I am making these tee times at your suggestion, the tee times don't really mean a thing because as you told me Oak Trail does not have a starter this time of year, so they are not enforced but if I miss a tee time you will still charge me...Does this sound right I ask...Sean says yup! That's our policy.
    I am thinking this must be the Tower of Terror because I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone!! Now I am really frustrated due to the way he has been snapping at me with an arrogant attitude but instead of causing a scene I take a deep breath ask what day is my first tee time (Sept.9th) say thank you and start to walk out. The only reason I didn't give him a piece of my mind is because I am there all the time and have never had an experience like this. Andrew who is a superstar and Chris are both fantastic employees and have looked after my bookings numerous times and are a pleasure to deal with and make you feel like you are at Disney among many other employees at the pro shop. This Sean guy whom I have never seen before ever....was the complete opposite, hard to believe he has lasted 10 years. So I begin to walk away and Sean says here is my card if you have any problems, hands it to me with his little smirk again, I begin to walk away look at his card says Sean Clarson PGA, Head Golf Professional....I couldn't believe I was treated and talked down to by the Head Golf Professional at Disney!!!
    So now it is almost 4 hrs later, still no email confirmation of my tee times or dates...have no idea what he booked for me. Oh and even the web site has no notification of Oak Trail's closure...I guess against company policy.
    Sean dropped the ball on this one.
    R. Buckley


  • golf

    charles oldham wrote on: May 25, 2013

    played 18 holes today 5 hours,, was beat in the 90 degree heat @ they would,nt let me drive cart to the truck with 50# cartbag @had to hoss out to truck on my 55 year old back ya suck @I wont be back