If you have kids, it's only a matter of time: You will, in your lifetime, do Disney. It's a rite of passage for every parent. But do not consider a visit to Orlando tough duty. The central Florida entertainment and recreation colossus, all 47 square miles of it, has as much in store for golfers as it does for starry-eyed youngsters. It's just that Disney World's list of assets is so overwhelming, the resort's 99 holes of golf tend to get overshadowed.
Here's a partial bio of Mickey, master of all he surveys, as he enters his 30th year: Four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom); three water adventure parks (Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, River Country); 27 resort hotels at a variety of price points (17 owned and operated by Disney, with an 18th, the deluxe 1,293-room Animal Kingdom Lodge, scheduled to open this month); Downtown Disney, an entertainment/shopping/dining megalopolis encompassing the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and West Side; the Wide World of Sports complex; two full-service spas; the Disney Institute, for continuing education; 55,000 "cast members"; and, last but not least, over 300 restaurants, or more dining spots than many small cities offer. Several of them, notably California Grill, Victoria & Albert's, and Wolfgang Puck's, deliver culinary experiences every bit as memorable as the famous amusements and attractions. (Top attractions, by the way, are heavily patronized. On non-golf days, get to the theme parks early to avoid long lines. Doors open at 8 a.m. for resort guests, an hour before the general public is admitted. Also, Disney's free FASTPASS, introduced in 1999, offers guests a one-hour-long window when they can return to a designated attraction and skip the regular line).
As for the golf, it's good and getting better. Customer complaints about course conditions in the late 1990s prompted management to institute a five-year plan to significantly improve irrigation systems and upgrade turfgrass maintenance. The results are already noticeable. All six layouts are in much better shape than in years past. Also, Disney has made getting to the courses the easiest drive of the day: Guests booked into any of the resort's hotels can arrange for complimentary transportation and club transfers to and from the courses. The service-oriented golf staff is helpful and friendly.
Disney upped its golf ante in 1992, the year it debuted two new courses by the game's leading designers. Osprey Ridge, by Tom Fazio, hopscotches from an Everglades-like wilderness to dense oak and pine forests to lagoons fringed by waste bunkers. Accented by long, sinuous mounds, Osprey Ridge is a superb, scenic test with a dramatic (and watery) finish. Beside it is Eagle Pines, a low-profile, minimalist layout by Pete Dye marked by concave fairways, native grasses, and topsy-turvy greens. Site of the Senior PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament last fall, it is not long at 6,772 yards (par 72), but neither is it easy. Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines are served by a sleek, futuristic clubhouse at Bonnet Creek.
Disney's traditional offerings are found at the Palm and Magnolia courses, both laid out by Joe Lee and both used as venues in the National Car Rental Classic, a PGA Tour event. The sleeper is the Palm Course, a narrow, tree-lined, shotmaker's track with plenty of water in play, especially on the back nine. The Palm's long par-four 18th, which calls for a long approach shot over water, has been ranked as high as the fourth most challenging hole on Tour. The Magnolia, longest of the Disney courses at 7,190 yards (par 72), has been host to the final round of the Disney tournament since 1971. With nearly 100 bunkers sprinkled around the course and water in play at 11 holes, this is a classic Florida test with plenty of driving room. For a sporty outing, there's also Lake Buena Vista, a pleasant spread rated the easiest of the full-size courses.
Last but not least is Oak Trail, a walkable 2,913-yard, par-36 layout designed for family play. A pushover it's not: According to head pro Kevin Weickel, Oak Trail has "small, challenging greens and two of the best par fives on property." This is where Mickey plays Goofy on the rare day when the world's children do not require their presence in the Magic Kingdom.
Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830; 407-939-4653; golf.disneyworld.com