Magnolia Golf Course: History and difficult play meet Disney charm
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When people think of Walt Disney World mainstays, Epcot and Mickey come to mind.
Most don't know that Disney's Magnolia Golf Course also ranks among the resort's original attractions. As it turns out, Magnolia has played host to the PGA Tour Children's Miracle Network Classic for 40 years.
And you thought golf in Orlando lacked a sense of history.
It's not just journeymen who have won here. Jack Nicklaus claimed the first three events. Tiger Woods won in 1996 and 1999. In fact, Disney remains one of only two non-major events, along with Doral, at which both legends have won at least twice.
While the success of the event is tied to the fact that the pros love to bring their families here, Magnolia -– which hosts the tournament along with Disney's Palm Golf Course –- also happens to be a great facility.
At more than 7,500 yards from the professional tees, Magnolia easily measures as the longest of the four Disney golf courses, though it plays much shorter for resort guests. It was lengthened through the years to keep up with long-hitting pros, but the Joe Lee design has retained most of its original characteristics.
Wide fairways give long hitters an advantage, but 97 bunkers and water on 11 holes present plenty of bite. In 2008, bunkers were deepened to make them more penal. Trees are also a factor as the golf course is named after 1,500 magnolias sprinkled across the landscape.
The unfriendly side of Disney
Though Magnolia has some friendly driving corridors, several holes challenge even the world's most proficient ball strikers. The par-4 fifth, for example, rates as Magnolia's toughest hole. One of nine doglegs on the golf course, it requires an accurate tee shot. Trees guard the entire right side, and two fairway bunkers protect the corner. The green is one of the trickiest on the golf course, and it drops severely on the left. A par here will feel like a birdie.
Magnolia's signature hole, the par-3 sixth, features a Mickey Mouse-shaped bunker that protects the front of the green. It's not a terribly difficult one-shotter, but anything short of carrying the Mickey bunker lands in the water or deep in one of Mickey's ears -- neither of which leads to par.
The longest hole in the Disney golf portfolio, the par-5 eighth, places a premium on placement. If you've hit it well off the tee or not, the important second shot gets your ball in position for the approach. Three bunkers protect the layup area, with more that guard an undulating green.
No. 8 teams with the long, par-4 ninth to give Magnolia a seriously unkind finish to the outward half.
Knee-knocking finishing stretch
As impressive as the front nine ends, the back nine is perhaps better, and it owns a championship history to boot.
No. 16 starts in relatively simple fashion, but the second shot over water grabs your attention. At more than 400 yards, it requires a mid- to long-iron approach, and the long green places an even greater importance on distance control.
No. 17 offers another tough, par-4 test, known as the hole on which Kevin Streelman clinched his title in the 2009 Kodak Challenge. In the season-long contest, PGA Tour players used their best scores on 18 of 30 designated holes. Needing a birdie to clinch the inaugural title, Streelman calmly stuck his approach shot during the second round of the tournament. The kick-in birdie earned the Duke graduate $1 million in prize money.
Even if you're not playing for big money, the 17th hole demands your attention. A tee shot over water is necessary at this severe dogleg. And while many doglegs let you bail out to the safe side, doing so here leaves a long approach to a green that's protected by water.
At the straightaway, par-4 18th, the difficulty continues. If you get your tee shot in the middle of the fairway, a tough approach remains, with a lake along the right and three big bunkers that protect the front and left portion of the green.
With more than a dozen CMN Classics decided by a single stroke, this tough par 4 has produced some well-earned pars -- and in Lucas Glover's case, an unlikely birdie.
During the final round of the 2005 event, Glover found the front bunker with his approach. Now regarded as one of the greatest shots in tournament history, Glover holed the bunker shot en route to his first PGA Tour win.
More important, he proved that if you're going to have success on Magnolia's finishing stretch, it's best to have a little luck on your side.