Grande Pines Golf Club: More than the name has changed off "I-Drive"

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. ­-- Orlando Marriott's International Golf Club has a new name and, more importantly, a new look. The club reopened in January of 2004 as Grande Pines Golf Club after extensive renovations to the old course originally opened in 1986.

Grande Pines Golf Club in Orlando
Grande Pines Golf Club was designed by Steve Smyers with Nick Faldo as a player consultant.
Grande Pines Golf Club in OrlandoGrande Pines Golf Club in Orlando

Designer Steve Smyers, along with player consultant Nick Faldo, overhauled the Joe Lee design and added more complex green settings, a fourth set of tees, removed loads of trees and added more muscle ­ about 300 yards in length, stretching to 7,012 yards.

The "grande" pines still aren't quite grande enough to hide Sea World's ugly green roller coaster (which is out of place not only as the backdrop, but at Sea World itself), and traffic noise from International Drive can often be heard from the course. But the interior holes are peaceful, some holes even serene enough to make you forget there's $2 T-shirt outlets, scores of casual dining spots and countless discount ticket vendors just around the corner.

Walking is allowed at Grande Pines Golf Club and the grounds are walker friendly. If you choose a cart, they come equipped with the ProLink yardage system which uses satellites and GPS and all those space shuttle-like goodies to help you choose between a 9-iron or wedge. Rolling (for central Florida standards anyways) hills and scores of sand bunkers are positioned throughout the course. Each green is well-protected, even more so after the redesign, so precision is a must on approaches or expect to hit the beach.

Water is in play on five holes and every fairway is lined with tall grass or marsh. Miss the fairways at any point, and your ball will be gobbled up by the thick stuff. So bring a few extra balls, or buy them in the pro shop beforehand.

After a fairly easy opening par 4, you come face-to-face with the 618-yard, par-5 second, which is Grande Pines Golf Club's signature hole and the most difficult on the course. This hole has eight sand bunkers ­ four in the fairway with two on each side ­ starting about 250 yards from the tee, and four more protecting the green on all sides. The bunker in front of the green is huge and there's no way onto the green except going over this wide and deep bunker.

The trend of behemoth par-5s continues with the massive dogleg left, 551-yard, par-5 11th. For the tee shot, there's water on the right all the way to within 150 yards of the green, plus a forest of trees on the left. Where the water ends, its place is taken by a row of trees, which run to within 50 yards of the green, where the water again mysteriously reappears. Where the forest on the left side of the fairway ends, a succession of four fairway bunkers run up to the hole. The green is protected by two more sand traps on the right and back.

You'll find difficulty at the 11th unless you place your tee shot to the right side of the fairway, directly at the dogleg left. If not, you will be shooting your second shot blind, and most likely into one of the four fairway bunkers waiting for you ball on the left side of the fairway. Even if you miss the bunker and have a clear third shot at the green, your approach shot must be precise. Go to the right of the green and your ball is wet. Go too far left and your ball will flirt with sand.

Bottom line is if you've frequented the Marriott resort on I-Drive and its golf course but haven't played it since the reopen, you're missing an entirely different course. Grande Pines Golf Club's greens have undergone a massive overhaul and are some of the most intricate green complexes in Orlando. Trees have also been knocked out for more space so you can use your driver more to cover the added length. It's now one of the top courses in Orlando, which without all the amusement parks would stack up as having one of the southeast's best golf reputations.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Hole #11 at Grande Pines

    Norton Roussel wrote on: Dec 16, 2006

    I'm not sure what hole the author was descibing, when he was writing about the par 5 11th. I didn't see any holes on this course that match that desciption. I think he was getting mixed up with another course. There was water on the right side of most of the hole leading to a peninsula green. There were no bunkers at all on this hole. I think it was the only hole without sand. I thought it was cool, that you could see the Kraken roller coaster off in the distance at Sea World. Sea world also had a tall tower with an American flag at the top, that was visible from almost anywhere on the course, which was very useful in determining wind direction. It was a big help on this challenging course. I only noticed the traffic that was mentioned on the #10 tee box, and it was minimal.This was a beautiful and challenging course. I liked that it was different from all those typical Florida courses. One of the best places I've played.