The sun is shining, temperatures are in the mid-70s, and there is a nice breeze. Winters in Kissimmee, Fla., are as difficult as they sound.
Residing in the shadow of Disney World, Kissimmee has 45,000 rooms available, split almost evenly between hotel properties and rental houses, but more importantly for golfers, the area is home to some of Central Florida’s best courses.
A recent trip to the land of the Mouse had me staying at Embassy Suites. Free breakfast and a daily happy hour were the perfect complement to rooms that provided a couch, small dining table and a large television. Factor in the central location and Embassy Suites is a winner.
But the star of the trip was a trio of the area’s most popular courses.
First on the docket was ChampionsGate’s International Course. One of two layouts on the Omni Resort property, the International Course is a links-ish design featuring the sweeping fairways and small bunkers golfers might find across the pond.
A heavy wind on the day we played certainly gave the course a Scottish flavor, but it didn’t detract from a layout that was in pristine condition. The Greg Norman design underwent a recent renovation that included the installation of new greens and the project allowed the course to reclaim 42,000 square feet of putting surface.
The greens are, to put it mildly, large but were in perfect condition. There wasn’t a bump to be found but a significant part of the challenge at ChampionsGate was in getting to the green.
The front nine was more imposing off the tee with water looming, often along the right side, but the threat was primarily mental as there is ample room to hit the ball.
The 11th hole is a brawny, 509-yard par 5 (white tees). The gentle dogleg left includes an approach shot, framed by a pair of trees that provide a point of reference. It’s an unforgettable hole.
Number 14, a 208-yard (white tees) par 3, is the day’s most daunting challenge. Players must clear wetlands off the tee and hit a pushed-up green that will repel shots that are less than ideal. This is a par 3.5.
The Palmer Course at Reunion is a classic Florida design in all the best ways. Palm trees and large bunkers help visually define the most playable of Reunion’s three courses.
Starting with the dogleg left opening hole that offers plenty of opportunity to cut the corner, the Palmer Course is a treat throughout.
The hole all your friends will be talking about is the short par 4 seventh, featuring a green that is begging you to drive the ball onto it. As is the case with every good short par 4, it’s not without risk.
Playing just 274 yards from the most commonly played tees, an undulating green flanked by a pair of deep bunkers awaits. The trap on the left swallows shots that come up short, leaving a 40-yard bunker shot, a challenge that leaves mid to high-handicappers with cold sweats.
While ChampionsGate and Reunion fancy themselves as private facilities, requiring players to stay onsite to get a tee time, Celebration Golf Club is Kissimmee’s most popular public course.
The centerpiece of a community that is an oasis of calm amidst the congestion that engulfs nearby Orlando, Celebration was the final course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Sr.
Walt Disney himself requested the father-son duo design the course and the project reunited the Joneses, who had been previously estranged. While everyone enjoys a happy family story, what golfers really appreciate is the outstanding design and the year-round conditions the course offers.
Celebration is fun to play throughout, but the final six holes are what make the course special. Beginning with the par 3 13th, which plays 198 yards from the tips and requires players to deal with water, the course goes to the next level.
The shortish 14th, demands precision off the tee and on an approach to a green bordered by water to the right. Holes 16 through 18 are three of the four toughest on the home nine, providing no relief down the stretch.
ChampionsGate and Reunion enjoy a higher profile in the eyes of some, but Celebration is as enjoyable a round of golf as there is in Central Florida.
If You Want to Plan a Trip to Kissimmee: Check out Florida Elite Golf & Travel. They will put together a stay-and-play package tailored to the needs of your group and customer service is a priority.
If You Need a Lesson: John Montgomery is the lead instructor at Celebration Golf Academy and he is one of the game’s rising young teachers. Montgomery uses the game’s latest technology, including Trackman, to help diagnose what’s needed to improve you game and has the personality to explain it to those of us who aren’t familiar with smash factor, MOI and launch angle.
Where to Stay: You won’t go wrong at the aforementioned Embassy Suites. The rooms are huge and the made-to-order omelet is the perfect way to start your day.