Tour-tested courses in abundance in golf-crazy Orlando

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

Orlando has long been a magnet for professional golfers and aspiring PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Nationwide Tour and LPGA Tour players who are drawn by the superb inventory of championship-level layouts and year-round temperate climate that affords tee times every day of the year.

Bay Hill Club & Lodge - 14th
Bay Hill Club & Lodge hosts the PGA Tour every March.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge - 14thMagnolia golf course at Disney - 12thTimacuan Golf Club - 14th holeFalcon's Fire golf course - 18th

Enhancing the appeal is that many of Orlando's layouts are utilized for professional tournaments, U.S. Open local qualifiers and collegiate championships.

If you're a low-handicapper looking for an in-your-face challenge or a player with serious game considering a run at professional golf, Orlando has a bevy of tournament-tested courses that'll put you through a thorough skills exam.

Simply put, if you want to see where your game really stands, head to Orlando.

Orlando's PGA Tour courses

Dozens of PGA Tour pros live in the Orlando area, so they don't have to travel far for the Arnold Palmer Invitational staged at Bay Hill Club & Lodge every March.

Guests at the resort's 70-room lodge are afforded play privileges on this private course designed by Dick Wilson and Arnold Palmer, which has Arnie's imprint everywhere. The exceptionally conditioned layout has six doglegs with water in play on 10 of the 18 holes.

Nearby in Lake Buena Vista, Disney's Magnolia Golf Course hosts the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic every November. The longest of Disney's four championship courses, the Joe Lee-designed Magnolia weaves through 175 acres of dense Florida wetlands dotted with 97 bunkers and fragrant blossoming magnolia trees.

Disney's other courses include the Palm Course (Joe Lee), Osprey Ridge Course (Tom Fazio), Lake Buena Vista Course (Joe Lee) and nine-hole Oak Trail walking course.

If you have member connections, private clubs Isleworth Country Club and Lake Nona Golf & Country Club -- which alternate as sites for the Tavistock Cup -- are phenomenal Tour-quality layouts. The Tavistock Cup is a high-profile event that pits PGA Tour teams against each other every March.

Orlando's U.S. Open qualifier sites

In 2012, the USGA utilized four courses in the Orlando area for U.S. Open Local Qualifying.

In Lake Mary, a 20-minute drive north of downtown Orlando, Timacuan Golf and Country Club, which opened in 1987, has two distinctly different nines. The front nine holes offer rolling fairways, while the back nine holes snake through wetlands and Spanish moss-draped oak trees.

Southwest Orlando is home to MetroWest Golf Club, a Marriott Golf-managed layout with wide fairways that entices big hitters to grip it and rip it, and Orange Tree Golf Club, a stern test of tight-tree lined fairways, undulating greens and three spectacular finishing holes known as "The Loop." Lose concentration on holes 16, 17 and 18, and you can easily turn a good round into a bad one.

For Donald Ross fans, the Lakes Wales Country Club in Lake Wales, 53 miles from Orlando, which was built in 1926, is a palm-studded layout with smallish greens and signature Ross bunkering.

Orlando's mini tour venues

Moonlight Tour, the highly successful, long-time mini tour with alumni such as Keegan Bradley, D.A. Points and Tripp Isenhour has staged its tournaments on Orlando-area golf courses since 1992.

Among those on the Moonlight rotation are Black Bear Golf Club, a links-style design by P.B. Dye in the town of Eustis; Falcon's Fire Golf Club, a Rees Jones design in Kissimmee near Walt Disney World; Forest Lake Golf Club, a layout in Ocoee with rolling fairways, natural lakes, lush tree growth and no homes bordering the course; and Ridgewood Lakes Golf Club in Davenport, known for its sugar-white sand bunkers and generous landing areas.

The female pros like Orlando, too. The Suncoast Ladies Series, a mini-tour based in central Florida, attracts impressive fields to its tournaments, which are staged predominantly on Orlando area courses. LPGA Tour players who've played the Suncoast this year include Maria Hjorth, Anna Nordqvist and Amy Yang.

Tournament sites for the Suncoast Ladies Series include Marriott's Grande Pines Golf Club, a Nick Faldo/Steve Smyers design on International Drive close to the attractions; Harmony Golf Preserve, a Troon Golf-managed course designed by Johnny Miller built on a 260-acre wildlife preserve; and Disney's Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, where the highlights include elevated bunkered greens, an island green at No. 7 and scenic views of boats navigating Disney's waterways.

College-tested layouts

College golf is an important part of the fabric of golf life in Orlando.

Rio Pinar Country Club in east Orlando, which has hosted PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events, serves as the home course for the University of Central Florida's men's and women's golf teams and Rollins College men's golf team.

Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey In The Hills is home to 2012 NCAA Division III Men's Golf Championships. The resort complex features the classic El Campeon Course built in 1917 and the Gary Koch-designed Las Colinas Course, which debuted in 1992.

Every October, Isleworth Country Club hosts the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, one of the most prestigious tournaments of NCAA men's Division I.

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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