The best of Orlando, Florida: One golf writer's five favorite area courses

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

ORLANDO -- I've lived in Orlando for more than 20 years and have played dozens of golf courses. With 110 courses within a 45-mile radius of downtown O-Town, the extensive menu offers something for everyone.

Bella Collina Golf Club - 11th
Bella Collina G.C. offers great value and an uber private club experience.
Bella Collina Golf Club - 11thMetroWest Golf Club - 14th greenWaldorf Astoria Golf ClubGrand Cypress G.C. - New Course - 2ndRedTail Golf Club

I haven't played them all (whoa, that's nearly 2,000 golf holes) but more than enough to reliably recommend the best places to tee it up.

When visitors come to town to visit Mickey, Donald and Harry Potter and play some great golf, I send them to my favorite layouts. Here are five at the top of my list:

Bella Collina Golf Club

Once envisioned as a posh rival to Orlando's exclusive Isleworth, Bella Collina, the development, has hit some hard times recently. Fortunately, the Nick Faldo-designed golf course is in superb condition and open for limited public play providing players a great value and an uber-private-club experience. The 7,594-yard layout is a valley-style design with many of holes framed by hills. The radically sloping fairways, blind shots and three long par threes offer a great mix of holes with lots of variety.

RedTail Golf Club

This is my go-to layout when someone requests "a hidden gem." Set in Sorrento, about a 35-minute drive north of downtown Orlando, RedTail Golf Club was designed by Dave Harman, who also fashioned Shingle Creek Golf Club and Magnolia Plantation Golf Club in the area. Surrounded by ranchland and a few homes, the links-style, 7,152-yard course has rolling fairways, 100-year-old oak trees, native foliage, lakes and spectacular bunkering. With one of the best natural golf settings in the Orlando area, RedTail is definitely a lesser publicized layout you'll be raving about to all your golf buddies after you've played it.

Grand Cypress Golf Club's New Course

Orlando's answer to the Old Course in Scotland is the 6,773-yard New Course at Grand Cypress Golf Club. Opened in 1988, this tribute layout designed by Jack Nicklaus has a starter's hut overlooking the first tee, stone bridges and walls, a snaking burn (creek), deep pot bunkers with ladders, simple white fences, a double green system and five-foot flag pins. There are just a few trees, very little water and, chances are, you'll probably end up in one of the 150-plus bunkers. Once you get done with the New Course, or it gets done with you, the resort also offers 27 more golf holes on the North/South/East configuration.

MetroWest Golf Club

I live about a five-minute drive from this 7,051-yard Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course, and I enjoy it immensely every time I play. It has dramatic elevation changes on several holes, mature oak trees framing fairways, spring-fed lakes and sculpted bunkers. A traditional parkland-style golf experience with more than 1,300 trees dotting the rolling terrain, MetroWest Golf Club, managed by Integrity, is consistently maintained and is a favorite for locals in southwest Orlando and tourists visiting the Universal Orlando theme park and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is less than 10 minutes away.

Waldorf Astoria Golf Club

Visually stunning, the 7,108-yard Rees Jones-designed Waldorf Astoria Golf Club is as beautiful as it is challenging. Jones prefers to allow the terrain's existing contours to heavily influence his designs, and at the Waldorf Astoria, he masterfully utilizes pine and cypress trees and a wetland preserve to provide challenge and scenic views. High-impact features abound on this course, which has exaggerated mounding on many holes and well bunkered, elevated greens. Played from the back tees, you must have serious game to score well. However, Mr. Jones and the resort want returning guests of all skill levels, so there are five tee settings on each hole making the course playable, fun and always scenic.

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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