By: Claudio DeMarchi
Holy “Howie in the Hills” Batman!@&%@@ Kapow! Did you know that somewhere in Florida there are hills? Yes sir, and you would not believe the two courses that I found in them there hills! My old friend Drew Toth is now the sales manager at the Mission Inn Resort & Club that just happens to be located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, about 35 minutes west of Orlando but certainly much closer to the land of the Big Mouse, that being Mickey of course.
Drew called to tell me of his move and told me that I had to come visit this property. “When are you coming this way?” Asked Drew, “You need to come and check out the resort I am now at. I guarantee that you will be impressed with the golf here, my friend” he added. It just so happened that I was heading to Florida and so I could not resist the invitation, because that’s what the Traveling Golfer does.
I was impressed, to say the least. By the time you arrive at the reception area you can’t help but notice that the resort has a Spanish flare. The hotel sprawls up the hillside with its Spanish Colonial architecture, arched verandas and red tiled roofs. You get the feeling that you are in a distant land and you will forget that you are in Florida.
Once there you won’t have to venture far for much. In the two days that I was at Mission Inn I did manage to check out all four restaurants. I would have to say that my favorite was El Conquistador which is only open for dinner and where you will have a mighty fine one at that. If you like martini’s beforehand it is you‘re must stop. Nickers in the clubhouse is also fun and they have some dinner specials on weekends.
Other things on property to keep you active while you are not on the course include: the pool and pool bar of course. What is a pool without a pool bar anyway!?! For boaters and fishermen, or just to get out on the water, the Marina Del Rey Yachting Center is on Lake Harris, just minutes away. They have a fitness center, volleyball courts, a basketball court and children’s playground.
Over the past few years I had the opportunity to spend some time in Spain and even got myself onto Valderamma which has been ranked as Europe’s #1 golf course for years. I was not more than a few holes into the El Campeon course at Mission Inn that I was envisioning fairways lined with olive trees.
There is not a weak hole on the course and at least half will be memorable, but none more so than the diabolical double dog leg signature 17th. The 518 yard (blues tees) par 5 appropriately named “Devils Delight” is tight off the tee, tight on your second shot (thinking Valderamma again) and shot 3 is over water to the green. A word of warning – if you get too close to the water be aware of the course mascot, he is a big boy! Check out the poser!
Instead of olive trees, these fairways are lined with a collection of palms, oaks and pines. The fairways might just be the only true rolling fairways in the state and they do lead you up and down the almost 100 feet of elevation change. 13 of the 18 holes have water, and many of the undulating greens are either island greens or semi island greens; some with water, some with sand. There is never a dull moment on this course. It has been a golfer’s favorite for many years as it was built in the 1920’s. It is a toughie for sure, 6,900 yards from the tips, with a rating of 74.2 and consistently ranked in the top 25 in the State.
The Traveling Golfer thinks that El Campeon Course is his Valderamma of North America!
In 1992 the Los Colinas Course designed by former PGA Tour journeyman Gary Koch was added to the resort. The opening did not go unnoticed with an immediate nomination for “Best New Resort Course” by Golf Digest. Both courses maintain 4 star Golf Digest ratings as “Best Places to Play.”
Los Colinas, with its open fairways, is a little more forgiving than El Campeon. Elevation changes are somewhat less dramatic but there is plenty of water as at least a dozen of the holes has it. Greens too, are large and undulating. Both courses were immaculately maintained and you get a true appreciation of the natural environment. While you are looking up for your ball keep an eye out for the many Osprey and their nests along the course. The par 5, 12th hole, or “Alligator Alley”, is most likely considered the signature hole on Los Colinas’ 493 yards of tree lined fairway. Accuracy is a must, so all I can tell you is to keep it straight!
If you are anywhere in the Orlando area or looking for someplace that is just a little different in Florida, it would be well worth considering a visit to Howey-In-The-Hills. I am pretty sure that you will not be disappointed.
For more information visit www.missioninnresort.com and give Drew a call – he will take care of you!