Get a taste of Florida tradition on new, old Orlando golf courses
ORLANDO -- Long before the theme parks and outlet malls, this part of the Sunshine State was full of wetlands, alligators and cypress trees.
While admittedly a little harder to find, that Old Florida vibe is still around. And among the best places to capture it is on Orlando's golf courses. Naturally, some serve up a quiet, timeless Florida experience more than others.
Here's a selection of courses that bring to mind a time when the area's visitors were golfers like Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, who would retreat to Orlando not for water slides, but for peace, quiet and some great golf.
Dubsdread Golf Course
You could vacation in Orlando every year and never actually find yourself downtown, home to the area's oldest golf club, Dubsdread Golf Course, in existence since 1924.
Dubsdread is the city's historic, beloved municipal course. That love led to a massive renovation project in 2007 that returned the golf course's design and conditions to a level as strong as ever. There's plenty of shade under oaks here, which you're sure to visit if you hit too many titanium drivers.
El Campeon at Mission Inn Golf & Tennis Resort
One of Florida's oldest golf courses is alive and well, just head a few miles northwest of Orlando to Howey in the Hills. This rural village is home to Mission Inn Resort's El Campeon Course, which dates back to 1917. Today, it's been altered and lengthened to over 7,000 yards, but the ambiance of pure, traditional golf is alive and well with virtually no residential component on the course. The course design, originally by George O'Neil and later by Scotsman Charles E. Clark, features many raised greens and there are about 85 feet of elevation change on the property.
Bay Hill Club and Lodge
Bay Hill Club and Lodge opened its first Dick Wilson-designed 18 holes in 1961 along of the Butler Chain of Lakes. Now owned by Palmer himself, Bay Hill has been altered numerous times since to accommodate the tour pros in his Bay Hill Invitational each spring.
But the King has seen to it personally that Bay Hill provides one of central Florida's timeless, walker-friendly rounds. The whole semi-private resort and lodge serves up the personal service of a bygone era.
Magnolia at Walt Disney World
The 1970s brought a new era and a higher standard of golf courses to Orlando -- not to mention the beginning of the Walt Disney World empire. Walt Disney World's Magnolia opened along with the Magic Kingdom in 1971. It hosted the pros that same season. The Mag has a more native landscape than the next-door Palm, which imported thousands of Palm trees to offer a little taste of southern Florida. Mickey Mouse bunker aside, this golf course sits within a much more natural setting.
While Magnolia finishes near the theme park, most of its other spots are well secluded and filled with wildlife, including plenty of alligators, to earn its designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
New Orlando-area golf courses with that Old Florida vibe
It doesn't require an old golf course to offer a bit of the old Florida vibe. Two of the newest Orlando-area golf courses were built with traditions in mind.
If the brand new resort didn't tower over the clubhouse and closing stretch, you'd think the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club was a classic, high-end, private golf club. Instead, it's the area's newest venue, traditionally-designed by Rees Jones and set in the secluded wetlands preserve of Bonnet Creek.
Though part of a larger real-estate development east of Orlando, Harmony Golf Preserve sits on 260 acres with no homes nearby. More than 4,000 trees line the 7,400-plus yards, which feature native grasses and marshes -- all home to a wealth of bird life.
Also worth a look
Before Bay Hill emerged as a regular PGA Tour stop, there was Rio Pinar Country Club, host to 17 PGA and LPGA Championships in its heyday. Now more than 50 years old, this traditional club features an illustrious history of hosting many of the game's greats of past eras. Formerly a private golf club, it recently began to offer a select amount of public-access tee times.
The double row of oak trees that line the main entrance to Mayfair Country Club were planted in the 1870s. Mayfair didn't come into existence until 1922, when the city of Sanford purchased 152 acres of land north of Orlando and commissioned Donald Ross to design the golf course. Today, it stretches to more than 6,400 yards. Many of the game's greats have passed through, like Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, and it even served as a PGA Tour stop for a brief period in the 1950s, welcoming Arnold Palmer.
More than a century old, Winter Park Country Club experienced a tumultuous history and numerous sites for its golf course before settling on the current land in 1937. The, 2,392-yard venue remains just nine holes of narrow fairways, shady mature trees and small, postage stamp-style target greens. Apparently, its appeal is timeless, however; it was rated the second-best public golf course in the Orlando area by Orlando magazine, perhaps because it costs just $13 to play.
September 8, 2010