Diversity of land and design dominates the Orlando golf scene

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

When a golfer say, "I'm playing Orlando," it can mean anything from teeing it up at a classic layout once played by Sam Snead to a resort course brimming with high-impact features to a hilly layout with roller coaster-like fairways.

El Campeon golf course - Mission Inn - 7th
El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort & Club boasts elevation changes of more than 85 feet.
El Campeon golf course - Mission Inn - 7thDubsdread Golf Course - hole 6Grand Cypress New Course in Orlando - 8thHarmony Golf Preserve - 17th hole

Orlando has more topographical diversity than any other part of the Sunshine State. Utilizing acres of former orange groves and farmland, wetlands and sometimes wildly undulating terrain, designers like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Greg Norman have fashioned an excellent lineup of courses in the theme park capital of the world.

The Orlando golf menu, please:

Exciting elevation

Hills in Orlando?

Yes. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the number of superb layouts boasting elevation changes.

One of my favorites is MetroWest Golf Club, which is located a few minutes from my home in southwest Orlando. On the back nine of this Robert Trent Jones Sr. design you can see the downtown Orlando skyline in the distance from the No. 13 tee box.

A venerable choice for those seeking diverse terrain is El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, 35 miles from Orlando, where elevation changes of more than 85 feet have made this a fun and challenging course since its debut in 1926.

Nearby in Clermont, three thoroughly playable layouts with rolling hills and elevation changes are Legends Golf & Country Club, Palisades Country Club and Sanctuary Ridge Golf Club.

In the college town of Deland, home to Stetson University, 30 miles east of Orlando, the aptly named Victoria Hills Golf Club, a Ron Garl design, takes full advantage of its un-Florida like rolling terrain.

Old-school favorites

Orlando existed long before Walt Disney World arrived and it has the classic golf courses to prove it.

About a five-minute drive from downtown Orlando, Dubsdread Golf Course, which opened in 1924 and has hosted golf legends like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Claude Harmon, is a classic layout dominated by mature oak trees and smallish greens. An extensive renovation and enhancement program in 2008 elevated Dubsdread's playability and challenge.

In east Orlando, Rio Pinar Country Club, previously a private golf club now offering public tee times, is a traditional favorite. Opened in 1957, this classic track hosted the PGA Tour's Citrus Open (which later morphed into the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill) and the LPGA Tour's Lady Citrus Open. Large trees with overhanging branches on some fairways demand accuracy off the tee on this engaging design.

Located about a 30-minute drive north of Orlando in Sanford, the 18-hole Mayfair Country Club, opened in 1927, is a 6,403-yard, par-72 course with fairways that are much wider than those typical of older course designs.

For those who relish walking, the options include Winter Park Country Club, a tree-laden, nine-hole course built in the early 1900s in the New England style village of Winter Park three miles north of downtown Orlando, and Winter Pines Golf Club, an economically priced 18-hole, par-67 layout opened in 1968 located two miles east of downtown Winter Park.

Resort designer gems

Golf course architects, perhaps inspired by Orlando's over-the-top creative theme parks and hotels, have designed courses at resort's oozing with "wow" factor.

If you enjoy playing golf in Scotland or don't have the time, money or inclination to travel there, by all means play Jack Nicklaus' impressive tribute to the Old Course at St. Andrews, the New Course at Grand Cypress Resort. From double greens and stone bridges to gorse mounds and deep pot bunkers, it's a wonderful slice of Scotland in Orlando.

For another Scottish fix, play the International at ChampionsGate Golf Resort, a links-style experience fashioned by Greg Norman.

At Disney's Osprey Ridge Golf Course, Tom Fazio was at the top of his game providing challenge with large, elevated greens, 70 bunkers and tree-lined fairways.

Other high-profile designs include the Grand Lakes Course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, a Greg Norman design known for it pristine setting and caddie program; Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, a Rees Jones design that weaves through a large wetland preserve; and Celebration Golf Club, a design by the father-son team of Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Sr. set in the Disney created village of Celebration.

Natural settings

For those seeking peace and quiet and a reprieve from Orlando's tourist crowds, Orlando has a good selection of courses in natural settings.

Located near Kissimmee, Harmony Golf Preserve, a Johnny Miller design, is a wonderland of southern pines, diverse plant life and natural lakes where you can occasionally see deer, sandhill cranes, ospreys and other animals.

In Davenport, about a 15-minute drive from the Walt Disney World area, the Mike Dasher designed Highlands Reserve Golf Club has pine trees, citrus trees and open fairways that strongly suggest gripping and ripping off the tee.

Nearby, Dasher also designed the Providence Golf Club, where fresh water creeks, wetlands and ancient hardwoods offer a nature park-like setting.

Ed SchmidtEd Schmidt, Contributor

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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