Ask Travelin' Joe: Orlando, Tucson and Riviera's best and worst holes

Ask Travelin’ Joe: Orlando, Tucson and Riviera’s best and worst holes

Ocn_600If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at [email protected]. Hey Joe, A friend and I are planning a trip to the Orlando area in late February, and we’re considering the Orange County Golf Resort. We’re looking for a moderately priced deal for three to four days of golf. Should we consider a local hotel and play individual courses or go with a package deal at one of the resorts? Sam Coppola Via email I’ll leave the Disney-flavored puns out of this answer—much as it pains me—because if you’re considering Orange County National, you’re likely a no-nonsense golfer who wants straightforward info.
Orlando boasts so many terrific golf properties that it’s hard to choose just one. Bay Hill has its Arnie aura, Disney has its PGA Tour pedigree, the Waldorf-Astoria has tranquility, Reunion has variety, and the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes has those greens—well, you get the point.
However, if you’re into golf—and value—book a package at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge. Its unwieldy name manages to say it all. Its two championship courses, Crooked Cat and Panther Lake, both have served as PGA Tour Qualifying School tests and comprise two of the best bargains in the area.
If you book an Orange County National package, you’ll have access to both courses, plus free golf (cart fee extra) at Tooth, their nine-hole executive course, pre-round range balls, locker, club storage, bag tag, and discounted extra rounds. (February rates from $302 per person, based on double occupancy and a two-night minimum; 407-656-2626,
Toss in one of the three best public-access practice ranges and short-game areas in the country and superior instruction, and you’ve got a winner. If there’s a drawback to OCN, is that it’s a tad remote, away from Orlando’s plethora of attractions and restaurants. Still, to some, that’s a plus. Dear Joe, I read your suggestions about places to play in Tucson. Can you recommend any condo-type accommodations similar to what I find in the Myrtle Beach area? We’re looking for a one-stop place where the group has a roof over their heads and a bunch of tee times. Ken Gardiner Philadelphia, PA If Phoenix/Scottsdale were your destination, Zona Resort Suites (888-222-1059, would be exactly what you’re looking for. Tucson’s a different animal. It offers neither the quantity nor variety of prices available in the Valley of the Sun, and it cannot touch Myrtle Beach for maximum options—but then, no destination can.
I’ve got two solid outfits to recommend in the Old Pueblo, as Tucson is often called. First is Sonoran Suites (888-786-7848, Though based in Phoenix, they have covered Tucson since 1997 and operate in every desert destination. February packages start at $129 per person per night, but they offer an array of options that include 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units as well as choices ranging from value courses such as Del Lago, El Conquistador and Canoa Hills, to ultra-premiums like Ventana Canyon, Omni Tucson Nation and La Paloma.
My other pick in Tucson is the Golf Villas at Oro Valley (888-904-9158, This is pure, perfect desert, in one of Tucson’s most desirable locales, right around the corner from top tracks such as Arizona National, Vistoso and Ventana Canyon. You’re surrounded by excellent restaurants, nightlife and the towering mountains and cactus-covered slopes that brought you to the desert in the first place. February rates for two-bedroom villas start at $239. Riviera Country Club: the Best Hole and the Worst Hole When the PGA Tour pros renew their love affair with Riviera Country Club this week in suburban Los Angeles, they will encounter the design skills of George Thomas, a golden age architect who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast. As proof of Thomas’s magical skills, check out Riviera’s 10th hole. For years, I considered Augusta National’s par-5 13th to be the ultimate risk/reward hole that the pros see every year, but these days, that honor goes to the 315-yard, slight dogleg-to-the-right 10th at “the Riv.”
Any self-respecting pro can drive the green, but the penalties for missing are so severe, thanks to the ingenious positioning of both bunkers and putting surface, that 5s and 6s are much more common than 2s.
Jack Nicklaus has stated that the 10th presents more options than any other short hole in the world. Few have the discipline to approach the green from the proper angle, which calls for a lay-up drive to the far left side of the fairway—especially when the hole location is back-right on this shallow, diagonal green corseted by bunkers. When the pin is on the left, unprotected by a fronting bunker, the temptation is to go straight at it—even if you fall short. However, that open portion of the green slopes away to the back, making a straight-on approach that much exquisitely tougher. No matter where you approach from, the shot is an extreme test of nerve. That’s what makes it a superior short hole. There’s no water to set the pulse racing or chasm to carry, just the knowledge that you’ve got to hit two perfect shots on such a tiny hole.
The worst hole at Riviera? Some might argue that the second is suspect because it’s a par 5 converted to a par 4, with a green complex much more receptive to a short approach than a long one. Others point to the shot values lacking at the par-5 first. With its exhilarating hill-top tee box, the short par 5 really plays like a par 4. For one great player, however, the dubious distinction belongs to the 236-yard, par-3 fourth. That player is not Ben Hogan, who labeled it “the greatest par 3 in America.” No, the dissenter is another supreme shotmaker, Lee Trevino, who stated in 1985, “One famous (course) with a flaw is Riviera. You could go to Communist China and say ‘Riviera Country Club’ and some guy would say ‘It’s in Los Angeles, California.’ It’s known worldwide, but Riviera is a 17-hole golf course.
“The clinker is No. 4, the par 3. A monkey’s as good as a man playing it. It slopes away from you. It plays against the prevailing wind because the play is toward Santa Monica and the ocean, and the hole plays about 240 yards against the wind. Hell, you have to hit a driver on it. They should plow that damn hole up and start building a legitimate par 3.”
No small wonder that the Merry Mex never won at Riviera, or even finished runner-up.
(Photo: Orange County National)

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