The ability to play golf all year long is a luxury that few places in the United States can claim, but it’s something that helps make Orlando one of the most popular destinations in the country for the sport. While the city is more commonly known as the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” Orlando is home to far more golf resorts than amusement parks. However, choosing a resort to visit can be a difficult task. To help make the job a little easier, here is a look inside some of our favorites.
One of the first true golf resorts in Orlando, Villas of Grand Cypress recently completed a dramatic head-to-toe renovation of its spacious accommodations. At a cost of nearly $14 million, the “Old Florida” décor of the 1980s was replaced with some of the most modern and technologically forward guest rooms (with TVs in the bathroom mirrors, power strips built into the headboard) in the city. Pair that with 45 holes of challenging Jack Nicklaus-designed golf, and you’ve got a combination that sure beats waiting in line to ride Space Mountain.
The ultimate name in luxury hotels also happens to be one of the premier Orlando golf resorts. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star features a Greg Norman signature layout, and is one of the only resort courses in Florida to offer a Caddie Concierge program. Of course, the unparalleled experience that is Ritz-Carlton is found throughout the entire resort, from the Four-Star spa to multiple options for fine dining. Let The Vineyard Grill serve as your 19th hole while you enjoy the view as well as the mustard-crusted lamb loins on its terrace.
Bay Hill Club & Lodge has the unique distinction of serving as the winter home of Arnold Palmer as well as the annual PGA Tour event that bears his name. To play at Bay Hill is to spend an afternoon with history (Remember Robert Gamez’s famous shot on No. 18 at the 1990 Nestle Invitational?). That history continues inside The Lodge, a 70-room retreat where a warm, masculine color scheme and décor ripped right from a Ralph Lauren catalog are joined by an abundance of memorabilia from Palmer’s career. And if you visit the property between November and May, chances are you’ll run into the King himself.
Just a few miles from the front gates of Walt Disney World, Reunion Resort offers some of the largest accommodations in Orlando — from private luxury homes to spacious villas — and was recently named the headquarters for the North Florida section of the PGA. While the kids splash around in the resort’s incredible water park, brush up on your game with a lesson at the ANNIKA Academy, Reunion’s state-of-the-art instructional facility named after LPGA icon Annika Sörenstam. After a clinic or two (some of which are even led by Sörenstam herself), head out on one of three championship courses designed by the trifecta of golf greatness — Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson — that you’ll only find at Reunion Resort.
Somewhat removed from the beaten path, the Omni Orlando is on the outskirts of town, providing a more secluded vacation experience. Of course, the resort itself is enormous, boasting 720 guest rooms, five restaurants, a renowned spa and one of the best hotel pools in the city. The real attraction, however, is the golf, which is highlighted by the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and two Greg Norman-designed courses. The National Course is more of a traditional Florida resort layout, with generous fairways, but numerous penalizing water hazards. By contrast, The International side feels like it was transported from the shores of Scotland, what with its countless waste areas lining the narrow fairways, and long, wispy rough to swallow up the poorly struck shot.
Photo Courtesy of Benchmark Hospitality International