The Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes Golf Club is a beautiful resort style golf course that sits adjacent to Orlando’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, part of Orlando’s JW Marriott Resort complex. The hotel features 584 well-appointed rooms and suites, as well as a full service spa and fitness center, lazy river heated pool, and a variety of restaurants. At the time it opened in 2003, Grande Lakes was the largest non-gaming hotel in the US.
The Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes Golf Club is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and, in 2012, was named the National Resort Course winner in the “Environmental Leaders in Golf” category by Golf Course Management Magazine.
Grande Lakes offers a full length grass driving range which allows you to hit every club in the bag. There is also a separate short game area complete with sand bunker, plus an oversized putting green. Inside the magnificent clubhouse you’ll find a restaurant and lounge, men’s and women’s locker rooms complete with showers, and a well-stocked pro shop with many top-name designers and the latest gear.
In an effort to make the course enjoyable for all caliber of golfers, Grande Lakes offers 5 sets of tees. From the tips the course plays 7,122 yards while the forward tees have a yardage of 5,223 yards. Choose the tees that best suits your skill level and you are sure to have a good time.
Caddie Concierge Program: Years ago when I first played Grande Lakes, a forecaddie was a mandatory amenity, which I’m sure factored into many decisions when choosing which area track to play. Now, a caddie is optional. But remember, this is the Ritz Carlton and if a caddie isn’t in your budget, maybe you should be playing somewhere else. Taking a caddie only heightens this golfing experience and, since they know the course intimately, chances are you’ll shoot a lower round – provided you listen.
The Course: Grande Lakes Golf Club was built by Greg Norman and opened for play in 2003. The course wraps its way around the base of the resort and then stretches out into remote portions of the Shingle Creek Basin, a vast natural preserve. The area surrounding the resort is still only partially developed and offers a more peaceful and serene setting than is typically found in the Orlando area.
In designing Grande Lakes, one thing that was not factored in was elevation change; there is none. Many of the challenges you’ll encounter here come from the natural wetlands that make up the Shingle Creek Basin as well as several man-made water and sand hazards. In fact, special emphasis was put on preserving the ponds, wetlands, live oaks, pines, palmettos and cypress heads that make up area’s well-balanced ecosystem.
Last Word: Grande Lakes has all of the amenities you have come to expect from a Ritz-Carlton: impeccable customer service, an extensive spa, mile after mile of manicured gardens, and, something different, a zip-line course.
Unlike several Norman courses I have played, this one actually had some rough – or at least longer grass – between fairway and hazard. Many of Norman’s courses are cut at the same length right up to the hazard which makes it easier for the maintenance staff but harder on golfers – especially if finding the fairway is not something you do on a regular basis. On the last few holes, finding the fairway is imperative if you plan on scoring well.
For the most part there is a lot of room out here, especially off the tees. However, the native vegetation and lateral water hazards stake claim to your ball on severe mishits. The wet stuff comes into play in some way, shape or form on 16 holes and there are a few forced carries over natural areas, but nothing too severe that can’t be handled when playing from the right set of tees.
There are a good deal of bunkers on the course but nothing deep enough to stop you from moving the ball forward. There are also several coquina-shelled waste areas (a Norman trademark) scattered throughout the course.
Miss the green and the collection areas allow for a variety of shots to get back in scoring position. From here you can pitch or putt; bump and run shots are also a favorite out here.
Of particular note at Grande Lakes are the greens. These Tif Eagle beauties putt quick and true with mild undulation. The way they are positioned in relation to the surrounding hazards gives an advantage to the player who can shape his shots. Also, knowing where best in the fairway to approach the green from will go a long way in scoring well out here. Of course aiming at the middle of the green usually isn’t a bad idea.
All in all, Grande Lakes will provide a comfortable test for the average resort golfer, while requiring just about every shot in the bag from the ace player. This type of golf experience is not typically found in Florida. When you combine the friendliness of the staff, with the course, this could easily be considered one of the best golf experiences in the state.
The Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes is located about 20 minutes from Orlando International Airport and about three miles from Sea World. For more information or to book a tee time, visit their website www.grandelakes.com or give them a call at 407-206-2400