Independence course at Reunion Resort has distinctively British feel

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Independence Course that Tom Watson designed at the Reunion Resort here was his first in Florida, and he apparently wanted to make sure it turned out right. Architect visits are generally written into the contract, but officials here at Reunion say Watson went over and above the call of duty.

"Tom Watson has been out here about 40 times," said Jerry Thompson, vice-president of Ginn Golf, which is building and operating the three courses that will eventually be built at this family resort on the western outskirts of Orlando. "For an architect, that's unbelievable. His interest in this has been extremely important."

When he was in his playing heyday, a lot of Watson's interest was in the United Kingdom, where he won the British Open five times. That influence is definitely seen on the Independence, with its deep pot bunkers.

"It looks intimidating, but it's fair," Thompson said. "The drive zones look narrow, but you step them off and they're not. He does that with different tools, like subtle bends in the fairways. You can have a hole with a left to right bend, but it slopes right to left. It gives you a bunch of shots that aren't level."

No. 9, a 431-yard par-4, is a good example of the visual tricks Watson uses. It's called the "moon hole," and as you stand on the tee, you can get vertigo from all the bunkers. Yet, from the condos behind the hole, you can see nary a one.

The par-5 No.8 has an angled, slanted green, so that if you're say, 240 yards out and want to reach in two, you'll be trying to land in the narrowest part of the green. But, if you play the hole the way Watson wants you to, you'll lay up right and be shooting to the fat part of the green.

The course is routed around the perimeter of the land, so that a nature preserve is always to one side of the hole; berms were built on the other sides to offset the homes built along the course. The effect is that the homes aren't as intrusive as they are compared to other golf communities.

"So even in a busy resort you don't get the feeling you're watching someone sunbathe," said Thompson.

The greens are huge, undulating and multi-leveled, with large collection areas surrounding them. It's important to hit to the right level, otherwise you'll have your putter in hand for way too long.

For being so close to the Orlando tourism mania, the course does have a rather pastoral feel, though that may change as new construction progresses. The builders had 300 oaks shipped in and planted, and they combine with the intricate landscaping to make it an aesthetically pleasing course.

There are also some elevation changes, as much as 50 feet, particularly on the back nine.

The verdict

This is a fine resort course, one that will keep your interest after multiple plays. While not overly demanding, it has enough length and risk-reward shots to keep you thinking.

The GPS system installed on the carts is one of the better ones I've seen; it's easy to read and gives various distances to the front of the green as well as to the flag, and as a bonus, offers tips.

The practice facility is impressive; this isn't your typical driving range, with its mounds on both sides and rolling fairway. It's as if you're playing an actual hole.

The course is not fully complete yet; there is still some landscaping to be done, and the course will only be open to those who live or stay at the resort.

The builders made sure they installed adequate infrastructure: even with all the hurricanes that hit central Florida this summer, the Watson course was up and playing within two days.

The clubhouse, while not huge, has wood floors and brick, and the tiled patio overlooks the practice range. It has a small, intimate bar.

Stay and play

The Reunion resort, meant to entice "family reunions," has 8,000 units and is about 10 minutes from Disney World.

About 4,000-5,000 units will eventually be available for rentals, from 900 square-feet townhouses to million-dollar homes. The community is designed around golf, and the Arnold Palmer "Legacy" course is open, though closed in October for re-seeding. Jack Nicklaus' "Tradition" course is scheduled to open late next year.

Eventually, there will be a $6 million "fantasy pool" with 23 lifeguards, walking and jogging trails, horseback riding and tennis, all connected by bridges. Room service will also be available.

Construction won't be fully complete for at least eight years; officials say everything is on schedule.

Dining out

Food service will eventually be available at the resort now, but for now you will have to eat at one of Orlando's hundreds of restaurants. That means a considerable drive to area attractions, which in turn means you'll be getting into the dreaded Orlando traffic. The Black Angus is nearby, with a $20 all-you-can-eat lobster buffet.

Fast fact

Real estate customers - prospective buyers - can play the course along with club members and guests.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Reunion resort

    Bob Lynch wrote on: Sep 23, 2005

    Anyone have a recent review of the courses at Reunion Resort Orlando ?
    We're planning to go down in February 2006 with a group of 16.


    • RE: Reunion resort

      Beeba wrote on: Mar 27, 2006

      The conditions are great; just got back about a month ago; I'm sure you found things very tip-top indeed. They're well into the swing of preparing for the LPGA event, so some tees are closed (and some suspiciously good women golfers and their coaches are playing from them), but it's stunning as always.


    • RE: Reunion resort

      HawgDaddy wrote on: Nov 21, 2005

      Hi Bob,
      While our group has not played it recently, I felt sorry for you that you had received only one reply. The accomodations were superior to anything we had experienced previously in Florida, Myrtle Beach, or in Pinehurst.
      The golf courses were in excellent shape and very challenging. I felt that the Watson course was the better of the two, and we played each of them 4 times, spread over 5 days.
      We are returning in mid-March of '06.
      The only thing that I did not like was the location of quite a few of the fairway bunkers. It seemed like I hit some good drives that found their way into trouble.By the 3rd time we played it, I had learned my lesson. Just pay attention to the yardage book, and not your eyes, and you'll be okay.
      We are looking forward to returning.


    • RE: Reunion resort

      Frank Principe wrote on: Nov 15, 2005

      Hi Bob,
      I just played Reunion a month ago and it was GREAT !! The 2 courses that are currently open are exceptional and unusual for Florida in their rolling terrain. It was a pleasure to play such a beautiful and challenging course. In addition the staff is wonderful and very helpful and the golf carts with their GPS systems really help.
      The Resort itself is in the building stages but it is a beautiful piece of property in a great location.
      I highly recommend it you will have a great time !


    • RE: Reunion resort

      Bob Lynch wrote on: Nov 14, 2005

      Bob, just want to point out that the entire internet is ignoring you here ...
      rightfully so. If you want to rate the place, pony up and fly down to check it out.
      How about this for some advice; the place is great, you can't afford to live here, and you stink at golf.