By: Tim Baines
Just 15 minutes away from Orlando’s iconic Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the rest of Disney’s magical world, you can find peace and a couple of wonderful golf courses.
The ChampionsGate Golf Club has a country feel, its two Greg Norman signature courses – International and National – a lovely trip through natural settings, minus the clutter of the city. As the courses meander through wetlands and woodlands, you will feel that you are miles away from civilization – with only the towering Omni Resort visible in the near distance.
“It’s a four-diamond resort – there aren’t too many resorts in the area that have that level of service in the hotel, plus we have the two great golf courses,” said Director of Golf Sales Tony Arielly. “It’s not your typical Florida resort golf where it’s condo golf. It’s you and Mother Nature out there. You’re not aiming at somebody’s house or windows, you’re aiming at trees or bunkers. Plus there’s wildlife out there. It’s much more relaxing golfing in that atmosphere.
“I’m not knocking anybody else, I just think it’s a positive for us. We’re close enough to the madness if you want it, but you’re far enough way that you feel secluded.”
And if you want Disney, well … Arielly said: “The traffic from Orlando to Disney can be bad, but from here to Disney it’s not – you’re going in the other direction.”
Much time and money is being spent on the golf courses, plus on the resort, which will, by May, add a wave pool, room for 500 more deck chairs and a kids area. In October, a new building with 93 additional rooms and 120,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space, will open. The accommodation is perfect for sports teams and golfers.
The International course has 18 new greens, while the National will get its makeover within the next year.
“We wanted to make (The International) back into a links golf course,” said Arielly. “Everybody wanted it green, so it was soft and slower, it wasn’t playing links – there was no bumping out there. It’s going to firm up.”
The Par 72 National measures 7,128 yards from the blacks, with a demanding rating of 75.2 and a slope of 138. The remaining tee boxes are blues at 6,427/133 slope, the whites at 5,937 /124, and the reds at 5,150/117.
The classic American parkland-style course winds through 200 acres of secluded woodlands, wetlands, and former orange groves. Water comes into play on many holes. The sharply framed holes end up on smaller greens, making it a shot maker’s delight. The National has one of the best finishing stretches in the Orlando area. The par-3 15th is a short, but intimidating shot over wetlands – and is known to “eat” more than 15,000 balls annually.
The 7,363-yard links-style International Course is home to sprawling greens and wind-swept dunes, featuring 18 of the most dramatic and challenging holes in the state.
The International just had a complete restoration of 18 greens and all green-side bunker complexes to the original size, look and feel. Greens were restored with Champion Bermuda replacing the original Floradwarf turf.
Green surrounds and Par 3 tee surfaces were changed, with 419 Bermuda replacing the original Paspalum turf. Both changes will allow for firmer, faster playing conditions, more year-round consistency and more tolerance in colder temperatures, guaranteeing exceptional quality and playing conditions for years to come.
Along the way, the golf courses, plus the resort, have gotten plenty of awards, including: 4 1/2 stars in Golf Digest’s Places to Play, Top 50 Golf Resort and Best Golf Course in Orlando.
The on-site Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate – and I can vouch for how amazing it is – offers a free shuttle to the golf courses, plus to the Leadbetter Golf Academy. On site, there’s 15 acres of recreation, including tennis, sand volleyball, basketball courts, an 850-foot lazy river, a zero-entry family pool and slide, an adult pool with private cabanas and a lighted nine-hole Par 3 pitch and putt.
There are five restaurants and lounges, including exotic Pan-Asian cuisine in ZEN and the relaxed atmosphere of David’s Club with steaks and seafood. There’s also the Mokara Spa, with several treatment options.
There are 720 guest rooms and suites or you can stay in luxurious two- and three-bedroom villas, with private patios overlooking the golf course. Transportation to the Disney theme parks is offered.
For a tasty beverage, there’s the Piper’s Grille, named after the lone piper who walks between the National and International courses at sunset. Or there’s the Champions Gate Lounge and Veranda, featuring a spacious wraparound granite and slate bar and outdoor veranda. It’s not your average sports bar – everywhere you look, there are TVs and beautiful golf-course vistas, backed up with great service (I can testify that the draft beer is tasty and cold) and extensive menus.
Within this resort, it seems like there’s something for everybody.
“It’s a big resort so you can make it feel boutiquey for some of these groups,” said Arielly. “It’s big, but it’s not spread out.”
For info on booking golf packages, check out http://www.championsgategolf.com/omnistayplay/