Golf courses do great damage to an ecosystem as precarious as Central Florida’s, but the sport is nonetheless a major draw. Some of the brightest names in golfing, including Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Ernie Els, and Nick Faldo, have called Orlando home, as does cable's Golf Channel (which isn't open to visitors). In January, Orlando is home to the annual PGA Merchandise Show (www.pgashow.com), held in January at the Convention Center.
Every self-respecting resort has a course or three (the new Four Seasons opened its course in September 2014), as do luxe condo developments. There are some 170 courses around town, and the competition has caused rates to plummet in recent years, although some still command around $150. The booking websites TeeOff.com and GolfNow.com both sell discounted tee times, driving rates down further. Some courses give priority to players who stay in their hotels, either through advantageous tee times, early reservations privileges, or cheaper fees. Prices can be steeper in high season (Jan–Apr), and they may be lowest in the fall and early winter. They usually sink to about half the day's rate for "twilight" tee times, which start around midafternoon. Club rentals cost $40 to $60. Reservations are all but required and most courses have a dress code and even an age minimum, so always ask.
From pedigrees by well-known designers to clubhouses that operate more like spas, these fashionable courses are the theme parks of the fairway set. Tee time at these pricey greens fill quickly because the courses have national reputations. Count on paying about $10 per hole:
Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Designer: Arnold Palmer, who owns it and also oversees the golf school. This guests-only course regularly receives the most accolades from experts. There’s a full map of every hole on its website.
9000 Bay Hill Blvd., Orlando. [tel] 888/422-9445. www.bayhill.com. 18 holes.
ChampionsGate Golf Resort
Designer: Greg Norman. Headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy ([tel] 888/633-5323; www.davidleadbetter.com), this resort and handsome high-rise hotel is 10 minutes south of Disney.
1400 Masters Blvd., ChampionsGate. [tel] 407/787-4653. www.championsgategolf.com. 36 holes.
Mystic Dunes Golf Club
Designer: Gary Koch. Located 2 miles south of Disney, it has steadily won “Golf Digest” praise. Elevation changes up to 80 feet over the course of play.
7600 Mystic Dunes Lane, Celebration. [tel] 407/787-5678. www.mysticdunesgolf.com. 18 holes.
Reunion Resort & Club
Designers: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson. Top designers and a golf school overseen by Annika Sorenstam—all a 10-minute drive south of Disney.
7593 Gathering Dr., Kissimmee. [tel] 407/396-3199. www.reunionresort.com/golf. 54 holes.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes
Designer: Greg Norman. This Golf Digest School ([tel] 800/875-4347) is taught by PGA and LPGA professionals. Family golf packages are often available.
4040 Central Florida Pkwy., Orlando. [tel] 407/393-4900. www.grandelakes.com. 18 holes.
Shingle Creek Golf Club
Designer: David Harman. Local near the convention center, Shingle Creek is also home to a school overseen by Brad Brewer.
9939 Universal Blvd., Orlando. [tel] 866/996-9933 or 407/996-9933. www.shinglecreekgolf.com. 18 holes.
Villas of Grand Cypress
Designer: Jack Nicklaus. In 2012, this club, right next to Disney in Lake Buena Vista, was noted one Orlando’s best golf resorts by the readers of “Condé Nast Traveler,” who know about such things.
One North Jacaranda, Orlando. [tel] 407/239-1909. www.grandcypress.com/golf. 45 holes.
Walt Disney World Golf Courses
Disney has been closing courses or parceling them to other resorts, but there are currently four left, including the Lake Buena Vista (once a PGA tour host), the recently refurbished Palm, and the Magnolia (the one with the sand bunker shaped like Mickey). Oak Trail (9 holes; $38) is the better choice for family outings. Greens fees include golf cart, when available, and kids under 18 get half off full tee time rates at the 18-hole courses. All courses opened with the resort in 1971, and if truth be told, their maintenance is spotty.
Walt Disney World. [tel] 407/938-4653. www.disneyworldgolf.com. 63 holes.
More Affordable Courses
Unlike the aforementioned courses, these don’t have big marketing budgets and they don’t always come attached to celebrity names, but they nevertheless are high-quality courses you can enjoy at sensible prices.
Celebration Golf Course
In the Disney-built town next door to the Disney-built world, English master designer Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and his son pocked their course with water hazards on 17 of its 18 holes.
701 Golf Park Dr., Celebration. [tel] 407/566-4653. www.celebrationgolf.com. 18 holes.
Errol Estate Golf & Country Club
Golf for $22! The course, mostly through quiet Florida forest with several dogleg-shaped runs and a variety of elevations, is worth more. Its Lake Course is long but easy, while its Grove Course is known for being its trickiest because of dense trees and hills. The club is 20 miles north of Disney in Apopka.
1355 Errol Pkwy, Apopka. [tel] 407/886-5000. www.errolestategcc.com/golf. 27 holes.
Hawk’s Landing Golf Club
Because it's part of the Orlando World Center Marriott resort on World Center Drive by Disney, it crawls with convention-goers who keep prices high. Water is in play on 15 of the 18 holes, and the par-71 course carries a slope rating of 131.
8701 World Center Dr., Orlando. [tel] 800/567-2623. www.golfhawkslanding.com. 18 holes.
Highlands Reserve Golf Club
This highly praised public course, with a fair mix of challenges and cakewalks, is a strong value, charging a top rate of $45, and its twilight rates kick in as early as noon. It’s about 10 minutes southwest of Disney.
500 Highlands Reserve Blvd., Davenport. [tel] 863/420-1724. www.highlandsreserve-golf.com. 18 holes.
Hunter’s Creek Orlando
Former cattle-grazing land was transformed into a wavy course with a good gimmick: 13 lakes were created as water hazards for 13 of the holes. The fairways are long, so prepare to drive hard. It’s near the airport.
14401 Sports Club Way, Orlando. [tel] 407/240-4653. www.golfhunterscreek.com. 18 holes.
MetroWest Golf Club
This Marriott Golf–managed course is the work of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., famous for tight greens protected on both sides by sand traps, trees, or water. In late 2013, it was "redesigned to make the game faster and more enjoyable for everyday golfers," as its owners put it. Considering it's one of the city's most popular courses, let's hope that $1.5 million was well spent. It's less than 3 miles north of Universal Orlando.
2100 S. Hiawassee Rd., Orlando. [tel] 407/299-1099. www.metrowestgolf.com. 18 holes.
Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge
At this wide-open complex (922 acres, unspoiled by houses—atypical around here), fees peak at $89 for 18 holes, depending on time of year and day of the week (Mon–Thurs are cheapest). Holes have five sets of tees, allowing you to choose a game that ranges between 7,300 yards and a little over 5,000. It’s among the developments north of Walt Disney World.
16301 Phil Ritson Way, Winter Garden. [tel] 407/656-2626. www.ocngolf.com. 45 holes.
Royal St. Cloud Golf Links
Aiming to recall Scotland’s great links—there’s even a stone bridge that looks like it was built during the days of William Wallace, not in 2001—this modest club, 25 miles east of Disney, charges $19–$22 for morning fees. Its fairways are noted for being wide, well groomed, and firm, and planners promise you’ll use “every club in the bag.”
5310 Michigan Ave., St. Cloud. [tel] 877/891-7010 or 407/891-7010. www.stcloudgolfclub.com. 27 holes.
Timacuan Golf and Country Club
There are five sets of tees, adapting this exceptionally well-groomed course from 7,000 to 5,000 yards, and unusually, designers were careful to leave its handsome Old Florida features (undulating fairways, Spanish moss, wetlands) mostly intact. Only 3 holes are riddled with water, which might make it easier for kids. The greens were renovated in 2013. Lake Mary is 10 miles north of downtown.
550 Timacuan Blvd., Lake Mary. [tel] 407/321-0010. www.golftimacuan.com. 18 holes.
Orlando is a world capital for miniature golf. Here, a flat, green fairway just won’t do. Here, you play crazy golf under waterfalls, through caves, over motorized ramps, and even into volcanoes that “erupt” if you hit your shot. Putter around with one of these. The coupon booklets print discounts for all but Disney’s courses; also check individual course websites for coupons.
* Congo River Adventure Golf (www.congoriver.com): One of the best options, the challenging courses wind through man-made mountains speared with airplane wreckage—and there are live alligators in the pools! Play 18 holes for $12 adults, $10 kids. Two locations: 5901 International Dr., Orlando ([tel] 407/248-9181); and 4777 W. Hwy. 192, Kissimmee ([tel] 407/396-6900). Both open daily (Sun–Thurs 10am–11pm; Fri–Sat 10am–midnight).
* Disney’s Winter Summerland (outside Blizzard Beach, Walt Disney World; [tel] 407/939-7529; $12 adults, $10 kids; daily 10am–11pm; 50 percent discount on the second round): Two cute 18-hole courses themed around Christmas. The Winter side, piled with fake snow, has more bells and whistles (love that steaming campfire and that squirting snowman). Combine it with Blizzard Beach without moving your car. Summerland beats the other Disney course, Disney's Fantasia Gardens (same rates), themed to the movie “Fantasia,” with its two courses: Fairways and Gardens. The Fairways course has challenging shots; Gardens is sillier. Find it by the Swan and Dolphin hotel duo.
* Hawaiian Rumble Adventure Golf (www.hawaiianrumbleorlando.com): These tropical courses are threaded with streams and waterfalls that could use a little upkeep. Play 18 holes for $10; 36 holes for $13. Two locations: 13529 S. Apopka Vineland Rd., Lake Buena Vista ([tel] 407/239-8300; daily 9am–11pm); and 8969 International Dr., Orlando ([tel] 407/351-7733; Sun–Thurs 9am–11:30pm and Fri–Sat 9am–midnight).
* Hollywood Drive-In Golf (CityWalk Orlando, 6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando; [tel] 407/802-4848; www.hollywooddriveingolf.com; $14 adults, $12 kids 3–9; daily 9am–2am) The newest (2012) and coolest 36 holes in town, CityWalk's "haunted & sci-fi double feature" is kitted out, hilarious, and always surprising. Spinning vortices! Corkscrew ball elevators! At night, the lighting effects are impeccable. You can even download its own scorecard app and putt with an eyeball.
* Putting Edge (Festival Bay, 5250 International Dr., Orlando; [tel] 407/248-0700; www.puttingedge.com; adults $11, kids 12 and under $8.50; Mon–Thurs 1pm–9pm, Fri noon–11pm, Sat 10am–11pm, Sun 11am–7pm). An 18-hole glow-in-the-dark course of fluorescent balls, holes, and decor.
* Pirate’s Cove (www.piratescove.net): Navigate wooden ships—a newly installed one is life-size—and falls of blue-ish water. Choose Captain’s Adventure or Blackbeard’s Challenge. Two locations: 8501 International Dr., Orlando ([tel] 407/352-7378), and 12545 S.R. 535, behind the Crossroads shopping center, Lake Buena Vista ([tel] 407/827-1242). Rates and hours the same: $12 adults, $11 kids 12 and under; open daily 9am to 11pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.