Dream Weekend: A golf trip to Orlando

Tuesday January 31st, 2017
Orange County National features 36 holes of championship golf as well as a nine-hole short course.
OCNGolf.com

Plan your next trip with our new Dream Weekend series, combining expert picks from GOLF.com staff and the travel gurus at Travel & Leisure. We’re bringing you the best recommendations for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing--so you can focus on your round instead of your itinerary. Now on the tee: Orlando.

So you’ve got a weekend to spend in Orlando, huh? The first question you will need to answer is: How much of a golf nut are you? If you’re like me, you’ll want to try to pack as much golf into your trip as you can. So that’s the approach we will take for this trip. If you don’t have quite this much time to spend on golf, you’ll at least get a feel for places to check out while you’re in the City Beautiful. 

Before we get much further -- you are visiting one of the golf capitals of America -- so do yourself a favor and make it a three-day trip! End rant. 

I am a native Floridian and proud product of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. I worked at golf courses and played golf all over the city while I was in school and during my tenure with the Golf Channel. There is so much good golf that I found this weekend trip hard to approach. I can only imagine how a golf nerd visiting the city for the first time must feel. Below you will find my recommendations – the way I’d spend my weekend – but I will also provide a list of courses at the very bottom that you can plug into this trip and still fully enjoy your experience. I’ll also give you some food and lodging recommendations. 

For maximum sunlight usage, I have broken the trip into winter and summer: In the winter, golf will be more expensive and the sun sets around 6 p.m. For the summer, golf is much cheaper and the sun sets at 8 p.m., but the mid-day heat is quite extreme. 

Travel and Leisure Tip: Travel to Orlando for year-round sunshine; there's no real off-season here. Just expect an afternoon shower or two, and pack accordingly. The very busiest times are from late May to just past Labor Day, almost all long holiday weekends, the winter holidays, and spring break—late March to April. 

Shingle Creek Golf Club offers amazing golf and amazing views of the Central Florida landscape.
Shinglecreekgolf.com

FRIDAY 

Good morning! Remember the above rant? We’re flying into a golf mecca, so you'll need to book an early flight

First stop from MCO will be Eagle Creek Golf Club. It’s one of, if not the, closest courses to the airport. As long as you tee off by 1:30 p.m. you'll have no trouble finishing. Consider this your warm-up round for the trip. Eagle Creek is a nothing special; it’s a muni. But the layout is phenomenal and the greens are always in great shape. (You’ll find solid greens are one of the focal points of this trip – as they should be with any golf trip.) This par 73 layout features generous fairways, great sight lines from the tee and five par 5s to take advantage of. Best part? The greens fee will be the cheapest of the trip. 

6 p.m. Refueling

From Eagle Creek, we’re just a short drive away from Graeme McDowell’s Nona Blue Tavern. Pop in for a bite to eat. It’s a very chill, welcoming atmosphere and you never know who you will run into. From burgers to flatbreads, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve tried on the menu. 

Graeme McDowell's Nona Blue is a must for any trip to the City Beautiful.
Nonablue.com

8 p.m. Hotel Run

I would suggest staying in the convention center/I Drive area. Don’t call me afterward if the traffic sucks in this area during your trip. I’m aware. But you’re centralized to everything and it will help you make the most of your time. If you can swing it, Shingle Creek or the Hyatt Regency would be my suggestion. 

9 p.m. Nightcap at the hotel bar – we’ve got an early tee time. 

Travel and Leisure Tip: Visit Cocoa Beach, one of the beaches that Orlandoans consider “ours,” it sits just east of Orlando, a straight shot down the State Road 528 toll road. It’s incredibly easy to reach—you just get on the expressway and continue until you pass the cruise ship port and hit the beach. It’s home to a huge Ron Jon Surf Shop and a handful of popular beachfront bars.

SATURDAY

Buckle up; we’re playing 36 holes today. 

8 a.m. We're wasting daylight!

First up: Orange County National. OCN played host to PGA Tour Q-School for a number of years and also hosts the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day. The facility features 36 holes of championship golf, a short course, a 360 degree driving range that you have to experience to believe, lodging and a massive pro shop. You could easily spend an entire day here playing both courses and be set. But for our purposes we are going to play Panther Lake. I prefer it to Crooked Cat, but really the back nine of both courses are the best. You’ll want to tee off by 8 a.m., and it’s a hike out there so be prepared for a drive. 

A look at Orange County National's 360 degree driving range from above.
OCNGolf.com

(Summer) 

12:30 p.m. Hair of the Dog

Because we teed off so early we have some time for lunch between rounds (sun sets at 8 p.m.). For this meal I do not recommend, I demand, that you check out a place called Yellow Dog Eats. This will be between the golf course and the area of our next tee time and is some of the best BBQ in Orlando. It’s in a bit of a weird spot, but trust me. This is insider information here. 

Yellow Dog Eats is home to some of the best BBQ in the Orlando area. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
YellowDogEats.com

Ok, well that was delicious. We have a 2:45 p.m. tee time at Shingle Creek. I’m a bit biased here, having worked at Shingle Creek for quite a while, but the course is great. It’s a pretty typical resort course, nothing that blows you away, but with water on every hole, it is the definition of Florida golf. Feel free to plug in any of the below courses for this stop. 

(winter) 

Ok, we need to scoot. We have a 1:15 p.m. tee time at Celebration Golf Club. I’ve taken traffic into account for this suggestion so if you deviate and miss your tee time – don’t @ me on Twitter. They often run a golf and lunch special which will help that starvation feeling you felt on the drive over. 

Celebration is a town full of beautiful homes owned by Disney, and although the mouse doesn’t run the golf course, it’s a ton of fun and always in amazing shape. There is Frank Sinatra playing on speakers on the range and putting green, and you really get into the older feeling of the property. Every hole has character and the staff is really great. 

6 p.m. Back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner

There are a number of good spots you can go for dinner on I Drive. Brick House, Yard House, and Chuy’s are a few of my favorites. But, if you’re up for it after that day of golf, I would suggest going to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Universal’s City Walk. There should be a shuttle from your hotel, so try a marg (or four)! 

 

9 p.m. Party Animal?

If you’re looking to party, this is your night to do it. Take a cab to downtown Orlando and head to Wall St. It’s an absolute blast, or so I'm told... I can assure you I spent my time studying, not here. If you get the late-night munchies head to a place called Gringos Locos for a couple Double D tacos. We won’t bring these up on the golf course tomorrow. 

Travel and Leisure Tip: Check out Discovery Cove, a SeaWorld park. Your ticket buys you an unlimited day of snorkeling with tropical fish and stingrays, feeding exotic birds, and interacting with otters and marmosets—plus breakfast and lunch, and all the snacks and drinks you want. Don’t miss the highlight of the day: a 30-minute swim with dolphins. Your ticket also includes 14 consecutive days of admission to SeaWorld and Aquatica.

Day 3: Sunday

Tranquilo Golf Club's signautre par-3 finishing hole.
Tranquilogolf.com

(winter) 

8 a.m. The Last Hurrah

We only have time for one more round before our flight, so we are going to Tranquilo. Tranquilo was formerly Disney’s Osprey Ridge, but is now owned and operated by Four Seasons – and it feels like it. The clubhouse is sick, they have Titleist Pro V1 range balls, and the greens are some of the best in the city. I call this a hidden gem because the few times I have played it, it has been almost empty! It’s a true member-for-a-day experience. It is a bit pricey, but totally worth every dollar. This is my new favorite track in the Orlando area. 

After the round, head into the clubhouse for a shower and lunch and we’re off to the airport. Enjoy your nap on the plane. 

(summer) 

7:15 a.m. We're packing lunch

I sure hope you’re friends with Dr. Scholl, because we’re going 36 again today. Step one for today is any early-morning visit to Publix. (Earmuffs, to the PGA professionals who read this.) Go to the Deli, get a sub made and put it in your golf bag for later. This is totally against the rules, but when you taste the deliciousness of the Pub sub, you will realize the risk was totally worth it. (Ok, PGA pros, you can take your fingers out of your ears) 

8 a.m. Time to peg it -- again

Like the winter trip, we will start our day with an early tee time at Tranquilo; please refer to the above description. Don’t forget about the sandwich in our golf bag around No. 12. 

1:15 p.m. One Final Round

From Tranquilo we will head to the Ritz Carlton’s Grande Lakes property to end the trip. This is a pricey end-cap to the trip, so if you’re tight on cash plug in one of the courses from the below list. 

Grande Lakes plays host to the PGA Tour Champions’ Father, Son Challenge each year and is one of the best tracks in the city. As you would assume with the Ritz Carlton name, there is not a blade of grass out of place and even though you’re ten minutes from your hotel, you will feel as if you’re playing in the woods of Central Florida for parts of your round. The closing stretch on this golf course, 15-16-17 and 18, are four of the best closing holes I’ve experienced. 

Travel and Leisure Tip: Like live music? Try the Velvet Sessions, which takes place in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando. An intimate evening with a band (recent guests have included Bret Michaels, Joan Jett, Eddie Money, Foreigner, and The Romantics), the event feels like a true VIP experience, complete with free finger foods and free specialty cocktails before the show begins. Ticket prices are very reasonable.

Hit the showers after the round and head to the airport. Hopefully you make it on the plane before falling asleep from your long weekend. 

 

 

Other course options to consider: Grand Cypress, Streamsong (bit of a drive), Reunion, Champions Gate, Champions Gate Country Club, Waldorf Astoria, Disney Golf, Falcons Fire, Hawks Landing and of course if you can afford to stay at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge you HAVE to play the King’s track! 

Cheaper options that are still worth playing: MetroWest, Dubsdread, Winter Park 9-Hole Course, Rio Pinar, Red Tail (bit of a drive) and Stoneybrook West.

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