Travelin' Joe Says
"Compared to flashier resorts elsewhere in town, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge is pretty staid. It's quiet, low-key, even conservative.
"Yet, from late autumn through early spring, there's a palpable buzz around the property, verging on electric. The King is in the house. Mr. Palmer has held court here since the 1970s. He now spends some of his winter months in the desert near Palm Springs, California, but even so, there's nowhere on earth that you're more likely to run into Arnold Palmer than in the men's grill room, in the locker room or on the putting green at Bay Hill.
"Honestly, that's what makes this place great. Best of all, Arnold Palmer, in contrast to virtually every contemporary and modern superstar, is eminently approachable. In fact, he's every bit as likely to offer a handshake or a hello as anybody on staff.
"You've got to stay at Bay Hill to play here, but for the opportunity to hit balls next to the King, it's worth the splurge."
Local Haunt: For cheap, quality golf, bargain hunters should flock to Dubsdread, a muni and former Tour site that dates to 1924 (historicaldubsdread.com, 407-246-2551, $20-$56). So, too, have generations of Orlando insiders descended on the Tap Room at Dubsdread (407-650-0100, taproomatdubsdread.com) for steaks, seafood and burgers. Prices aren't McDonalds-low, but most entrees are 25 to 50 percent less than what you'd pay at the tourist staples.
Despair for Design Geeks: Unfortunately Sugarloaf Mountain Golf & Town Club is closed indefinitely. Located 40 minutes west of Orlando in Minneola, Sugarloaf was Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw's first Florida design and it was a dandy, featuring rolling terrain, cleverly contoured greens and views of Lake Apopka. In late January 2013, former manager Hampton Golf confirmed that new owners were being sought. Hopefully, someone with an appetite for creative golf course architecture will find the cash to resurrect this neglected treasure.
All Ages: Orlando and Disney are practically synonymous, especially where family attractions are concerned. Golf is no exception. While the already-mentioned Osprey, Palm and Magnolia courses are Disney's heavy hitters, the wee ones — and their elders — will warm to Disney's Oak Trail (disneygolf.com, 407-939-4653, $20-$38), nine-hole, walking-only nature stroll. Make no mistake, at 2,913 yards (junior tees at 1,712 yards) this par 36 is no mere pitch-and-putt. It's real golf, served family style.
Best Bargain Course
Orlando has got some smokin' values, even at rack rate, but Travelin' Joe's vote goes to Falcon's Fire (falconsfire.com, 407-239-5445, $49-$119). Sure, there are cheaper championship layouts in town, but the combination of a solid Rees Jones design, firm, fast greens, recent renovations to the facilities, a central location and afternoon rates during high season of $69-$89 makes this a must-play.
Flat fairways framed by endless mounds give Falcon's Fire a dated, early 1990s look, but timeless are holes such as the 218-yard, par-3 8th, with its daunting water carry and the 379-yard, par-4 13th, with its bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew tee shot and minefield of 15 bunkers left of the fairway.
From the Concierge
"The best time to visit Orlando for weather is between October through May when it gets cooler (temps in the 70s/80s) and course conditions are at their peak, but you get the best price breaks between the hotter and stickier months of July through September.
"Local attractions, especially Disney World, become the most crowded during the holidays, so plan your golf trip around those times."
-James Lally, Concierge at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes
Top 100 Tip
"You have to prepare for the bunkers here. If you have a 56 degree wedge, I recommend 12-14 degrees of bounce; for a 60 degree wedge, go with 10-12 degrees of bounce.
"You should have three goals with bunker shots: get out, get on the green and get close to the hole, unless shooting away from it would help limit a big number. Also pay attention to the sand's color and feel. A lighter shade and sugary feel means more sand, so you have to swing harder since the club will be slowed down. A darker color and more tightly packed feel means less sand, and you should swing easier since the ball will come out faster."
-Top 100 Teacher Fred Griffin is based at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando.
Need a lesson from one of the country's best teachers while in Orlando? Then contact a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teachers in the Orlando area:
Mike Bender, Magnolia Plantation Golf Club, (407-321-0444)
Brad Brewer, Brad Brewer Golf Academy at Shingle Creek, (866-996-9933)
Fred Griffin, Grand Cypress Academy of Golf (grandcypress.com, 407-239-1975)
David Leadbetter, David Leadbetter Golf Academy, Championsgate (407-787-3330)
Rick McCord, McCord Golf Academy at Orange Lake Country Club (407-905-1955)
Brian Mogg, Waldorf Astoria Golf Academy (407-654-7740)
Phil Ritson, Orange County National Golf Center (407-656-2626)
Mitchell Spearman, Mitchell Spearman Golf (800-733-1653)
If you have downloaded the My Pro To Go app (myprotogo.com) and want an in-person swing consultation, or just need a tune-up before starting your first round in Orlando, head to GolfTec's locations in Altamonte Springs (407-869-0105) or Millenia (407-370-2755)