Wednesday, July 02, 2014

You, too, can play golf on the PGA Tour's Florida Swing

Ever wonder how you would stack up against the PGA Tour Pros on the courses they play? Well you can have that opportunity with the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour.

While many of the venues that host PGA Tour events are private, here's a tidbit that might surprise: Of the four courses on the Florida Swing, all four are open to the public.
Yep, that means you can play through the Bear Trap at PGA National, site of the Honda Classic, or test your skills on the new and improved TPC Blue Monster at Doral, where owner Donald Trump hopes to land a U.S. Open some day. If you stay at Bay Hill in Orlando you might even run into the tournament host, Arnold Palmer. Or check out the beautiful Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, one of the favorites among PGA Tour players.
They're not cheap to play, of course, but you can get on, whether by booking a tee time or at least staying at the resort. Here's a look:

The Honda Classic, PGA National

Where can you find five championship golf courses, all in PGA Tour-quality shape, all at the same place? The answer: PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens. The Champion Course, which has played host to the Ryder Cup, PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship, is the host course for the first stop on the Florida Swing, the Honda Classic.
The course is renowned for its famous Bear Trap, holes 15-17 that perilously make their way through a series of lakes and water hazards with no bailout in site. Catch on a calm day, and with a little skill, you have a chance to make it through unscathed. But even the best players in the world tremble through these holes when the wind's ablowin' and the tournament is on the line. All that said, this is a wonderful Jack Nicklaus-designed Florida golf course that's very memorable.
Best part is you'll like the other courses, too. They include the linksy Palmer Course, the traditionally designed (George and Tom) Fazio Course (formerly The Haig) and the Squire, which pays tribute to Gene Sarazan.
Also, the 379-room resort has undergone a $65 million renovation, which means updated rooms, a fabulous lobby bar and terrific restaurants. My favorite part, aside from the golf, is the 40,000-square-foot spa, which offers its outdoor mineral pools, dubbed the Waters of the World.

WGC-Cadillac, Doral Resort

My GolfAdvisor colleague Jason Deegan says the word "opulent" doesn't begin to describe the new Trump National Doral Miami, where they play the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. Pretty much everything is new and spiffy.
The Donald bought the old worn-out resort when it was in bankruptcy in 2012 and vowed to make it U.S. Open worthy and then some. Basically, the 809-acre resort got more than a facelift; it's a complete makeover, including the famed Blue Monster Course, which is now more than 7,500 yards.
The pros will get their first look at the course -- which was extensively altered by architect Gil Hanse -- in competition this March. You can be sure that it will have its old bite and then some, including the 18th, one of the toughest finishing par 4s in the world. Tiger Woods has won there three times, by the way. The course, which used to have six holes with water hazards, now has 14.
Like PGA National, though, there are four other courses at Doral, including the McLean Signature Course, designed by resident teaching pro Jim McClean, and Greg Norman's Great White Course, which was redone in 2005. As part of the recent renovations, the resort also got a new lighted driving range and TaylorMade Performance Lab.

Valspar Championship, Innisbrook Resort

It might surprise many casual golfers to learn that the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort near Tampa is one of the favorites among PGA Tour players, especially those who live in Florida. Paul Azinger, who resides in nearby Bradenton, said it was "the best course we play on tour," and Stewart Cink said it's good enough to host a U.S. Open.
Designed by Larry and Roger Packard, the course opened in 1974 and has hosted numerous pro events, including the Valspar Championship every mid-March. Playing more than 7,300 yards, the par 71 doesn't have a Bear Trap but rather a Snake Pit, which is the finishing stretch on the Copperhead Course.
Again, the beauty of Innisbrook is that there's more golf at this resort.
The recently renovated Island Course plays more than 7,300 yards and has hosted both NCAA Championships and U.S. Open Qualifiers, while the North Course and South Course, although shorter, still have plenty of fangs.

Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill

If you're an Arnold Palmer fan, have ever drank an Arnold Palmer or just like to walk in the footsteps of a legend, you've got to figure out a way to play out at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.
Host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard, the surest way to play the course is to stay at the intimate hotel there. The best part about this whole experience is that you might catch a glimpse of Mr. Palmer at the club. And not that I'm encouraging you to bother him at lunch or on the range, but he's always been fairly approachable.
The course, designed by Palmer and Dick Wilson in 1961, may not be one of the country's best, but it's well above average with several memorable holes. The sixth is one of the best par 5s anywhere, racing around a lake that dares long hitters to cut off as much as they can off the tee shot and approach, making it one of the greatest risk-reward holes in the world. And the finishing hole, with water to cover on the second shot, is pretty memorable as well. Just ask Tiger, who has secured several of his ridiculous eight wins there with long, clinching putts.

Mission Inn Resort & Club: More than meets the eye

Mission Inn Resort & Club is a hidden gem. Here is a description of the property and what it has to offer.

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. -- You sort of know what to expect with Mission Inn Resort & Club just north of Orlando. As Drew Toth, director of sales and marketing, says unapologetically, "This isn't the Ritz-Carlton," so you might expect a pretty blue-collar resort.
And that's true, to a point, until you realize that the clientele runs the gamut.
There's something about this place that appeals to everyone. Sure it's not the Ritz, the Omni and even the Hyatt -- there are plenty of those -- but you won't find anything quite like the Spanish Colonial-style Mission Inn Resort.
It has a golf course that dates back to 1917, a tennis academy, plenty of meeting space and some of the best wedding settings in the state. This is the old "sum of the parts exceeds the whole" scenario. What you see isn't all you get. And you can't underestimate the value of a personal touch.
This unique property has been owned for the past 50 years by the Buecher family, which is still active in the day-to-day operations. Maybe that's why you feel like you're part of that family when you're here. But beyond that, there's simply a pretty good product there -- has been for years -- even if it's not particularly glitzy.

Mission Inn's El Campeon golf course

For golfers, it starts with the older of the two golf courses. Mission Inn's El Campeon Course, designed by Chicago's George O'Neil in 1917 and enhanced in 1926 by Charles E. Clarke of Troon, Scotland, has as much character as you'll find in any Florida golf course. It's been the site of NCAA championships, state tournaments and local pro events for decades.
These are not cookie-cutter holes on a typical flat piece of Florida land. The finishing stretch includes a par 4 with an island green surrounded by sand, palm trees and water on the 16th, an adventurous, tough par 5 and a dogleg-right par 4 that plays over water off the tee.
The 6,800-yard par-72 course is one of the two or three hilliest in the state, with elevation changes up to 93 feet that come into play on several holes, not only from elevated tees, but also approaches that add a club or two going back up the hill. That may not sound like a lot to folks who play in other parts of the country, but in Florida, that's huge. And many of the greens have false fronts and quite a bit of slope.
"Every hole will give you something to think about," said a GolfAdvisor reviewer. "Playing this course was truly a gift. Cannot wait to return."
Another reviewer chimed in: "An absolute must for any golfer in Central Florida. It is the unique jewel of all the courses in Central Florida."
As for the other course at Mission Inn, Las Colinas, it's enjoyable, too, and certainly a test, but not nearly as memorable. This 1992 Gary Koch design is spread out and not walkable like El Campeon. Still, it complements the other course and gives resort guests two options.

The rest of the story at Mission Inn Resort

If you're staying at the resort on a weekend, you might want to ask for a room away from the lobby. The reason: wedding traffic. Mission Inn does a lot of it, and wedding guests like to celebrate. They're not always quiet when they roll in late at night. So just ask for a room a little farther out -- at least for the weekend -- unless you plan on crashing their party.
I bring this up because much of the same thing that attracts wedding parties -- setting and value -- appeals to golfers as well. The resort has a marina, a poolside bar, pool room, fitness center, nice spa and really good food. I was particularly impressed with the Saturday night prime rib and seafood buffet. Even if you're on a diet, you might enjoy the sushi, crab legs, fish and fresh vegetables. If you're not watching your weight, you can graze for a couple of hours. Be sure to top it off with a sundae and a bread pudding.
If you're like me and play tennis, too, you'll love the tennis facilities, which not only include hard courts, but also six har-tru claylike courts as well as the Cesar Villarroel Tennis Academy. Villarroel is a former Bolivian Davis Cup player who has been at the resort for 25 years, and he knows how to teach, not only in terms of strokes, but strategy as well.
There's also eco-touring, fishing, volleyball, skeet shooting and excursions into the nearby town of Mount Dora. And the resort's 30,000 square feet of meeting space not only attracts wedding parties, but also corporate retreats.
Here is the Golf Zoo hot deal for this great resort. Feel free to contact to plan your next trip.

Orlando Top 10 golf courses by player ratings

Here are the top 10 rated courses in Orlando, rated by the players. You can contact to set up your Orlando golf package.

Top Rated Courses In Orlando Area

 Courses with the highest golfer ratings (minimum 10 reviews to qualify)
  1. Orange County National - Crooked Cat: #17

    Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge

    Winter Garden, Florida, USA
    4.7 stars from 5 (30)
  2. Waldorf Astoria GC: Hole #11 “Horseshoe”

    Waldorf Astoria Golf Club

    Orlando, Florida, USA
    4.6 stars from 5 (225)
  3. Mission Inn Resort & Club - El Campeon: #7

    Mission Inn Resort & Club

    Howey in the Hills, Florida, USA
    4.6 stars from 5 (212)
  4. Bella Collina GC

    Bella Collina Golf Club

    Montverde, Florida, USA
    4.6 stars from 5 (174)
  5. Red Tail GC: #17

    Red Tail Golf Club

    Sorrento, Florida, USA
    4.5 stars from 5 (263)
  6. Grand Cypress Resort - East

    Grand Cypress Resort

    Orlando, Florida, USA
    4.4 stars from 5 (205)
  7. Grand Cypress Resort: Aerial view

    Grand Cypress Resort

    Orlando, Florida, USA
    4.4 stars from 5 (192)
  8. Celebration GC: 18th green

    Celebration Golf Club

    Celebration, Florida, USA
    4.4 stars from 5 (450)
  9. Falcon's Fire

    Falcon's Fire Golf Club

    Kissimmee, Florida, USA
    4.4 stars from 5 (339)