Greg Norman's International Course at ChampionsGate Golf Club is tough enough - and fun enough
ORLANDO, Fla. - Most consider the International Course at the Omni Resort at ChampionsGate the more difficult of the two Greg Norman layouts at the facility.
After all, for five years until 2008, it served as the site of the annual Father/Son Challenge, which featured former major champions and their sons.
And the golf course is a bit longer than its sibling, the National Course at ChampionsGate.
But difficult is a relative term. If you like to bang it out there with the driver, you'll love the International. If you like links-style golf, the International is your golf course. And if you like working to avoid 160-plus bunkers, well, I'm not sure anybody's crazy about that.
More than anything, though, if you want a good test on a well-conditioned golf course that differs slightly from most Florida venues and includes plenty of interesting holes, the International is a good choice.
"It's probably my favorite of the two courses," said Vinnie Paolozzi, senior assistant golf professional. "But really, you can't go wrong with either course. They complement each other very well."
Indeed, the International and the National golf courses are opposites in many ways.
Both opened almost a decade ago, just a few months apart. But the National is more like a traditional, American course with tight, tree-lined fairways. It's target golf, while the International, which can play to nearly 7,400 yards, is more wide open off the tee.
Both are susceptible to the wind, but the International is designed for it. Norman provided opportunities for bump-and-run shots into the greens. And if you get close to the putting surface, it almost always remains an option to putt from the closely mowed surroundings. Sometimes, it's the best decision.
Plenty of testy holes on the International Course at ChampionsGate
From the back tees, long par fours and threes are aplenty. And many include water and an abundance of bunkers.
Nos. 6, 7 and 16 are prime examples - lengthy par fours that often play into a stiff breeze.
The sixth wraps around a large wetlands area. At 496 yards, even a good golfer, if tackling this hole into the wind, could find himself in need of a fairway wood to reach the green. And there's trouble down the entire right side.
The seventh ranks as the No. 1-handicap hole. While its 447 yards don't seem as intimating as the sixth, the approach forces a solid and accurate shot to carry a lake.
And the 16th, which usually plays into the teeth of the wind, is 464 yards.
"There are days I can't hit 16 in two," said Paolozzi, a fairly long hitter by most standards.
A couple short par fours offer good risk-reward scenarios.
Two par threes are difficult, too. The fifth plays 217 yards over a pond and wetlands, and the 14th is a whopping 231 yards from the tips. Even two tees up, it stretches more than 200 yards.
And while the par fives aren't lengthy, the shortest of the four, No. 8, rates arguably as one of the toughest holes on the golf course. It's only 533 yards but runs alongside a lengthy water hazard on the right, and the fairway narrows closer to the hole. Going for it in two requires a long and precise shot to avoid trouble on both sides.
The International Course at ChampionsGate: The verdict
ChampionsGate ranks among the best clubs in the area, especially of the resorts. Teamed with the fabulous Omni Orlando Resort, a terrific clubhouse, restaurant and outstanding service, the golf and the atmosphere are first rate.
As an added bonus, ChampionsGate houses the headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, situated next to the hotel. A perfect vacation stay includes a lesson and practice sessions at the academy, mixed with golf at both courses.
If you don't get enough excitement in the day time, look for the nice, lighted, pitch-and-putt golf course behind the hotel. Don your flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt and get a bonus game going after dinner.
The International Course is one of Norman's better designs. He brought a legitimate links feel to Central Florida and preserved the natural habitat. The holes offer enough variance that you'll remember the layout after one round. And the course, while demanding, certainly is not unfair.
December 8, 2010