(June 2016) I recently had the opportunity to play at Orange County National just outside Orlando and boy, was I pleasantly surprised. But first, let me tell you a few interesting facts about OCN:
- OCN is where Tiger Woods taped the Nike commercial where he bounces a golf ball off a club several thousand times and then whacks it out of midair right into the hole?
- Tiger also filmed his Nike commercial with his talking headcover Frank about 150 yards from the green on number 10.
- OCN is also home to the PGA Show’s Demo Day, an event held in conjunction with the annual PGA Merchandise Show each year in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center. It is estimated that a half million golf balls are hit during this event, all in one day.
- Several times OCN has hosted the Finals of PGA Tour Q-School
Before we get to the golf course, let’s talk practice facilities – I’ve never seen anything this comprehensive. The practice facility covers over 42 acres and has a 360 degree hitting area which can accommodate 600 golfers at a time. Don’t worry about being hit by someone on the other side – I watched REMAX Long Drive Champion Mike Dobbyn out there one day and if he can’t make it, I doubt anyone reading this article can. There are plenty of targets to aim at out here. There is a short game area as well as a sand trap area to work on the tougher parts of the game. In case your practice session takes you past the daylight hours, the 25,000 square foot putting green is lit. Then there’s “The Tooth,” a short practice course which provides the perfect venue to try out the new shots in your arsenal.
Assuming you have enough energy left in the tank, it’s time to tackle the real task at hand; bringing either course to its knees! You have two choices here, the original course, Panther Lake; or its sibling, Crooked Cat. No matter your choice, either (or both) will provide a challenge.
Course Review – Panther Lake
Panther Lake opened in 1997. The course plays 7,295 yards from the longest tees for a par of 72. The course rating is 75.7 and it has a slope rating of 137. At 6,394 yards, most golfers will have all they can handle from the green tees (71.4/125). Phil Ritson, Dave Harman, and Isao Aoki shared in the design of the course.
Panther Lake is everything you could want in a golf course. The course plays its way through native pines, rolling meadows, around and over wetlands and lakes, and up and down elevation changes of around 60 feet. It is first and foremost a visual delight, reminding you that natural beauty is one of the main reasons you play golf and a major factor in deciding which course to play.
Every hole on Panther Lake is unique and will require something different from your shot making arsenal. Gently sloping fairways are guarded by strategically placed fairway bunkers. Trees and water hazards frame the fairways of many holes. Many approach shots will be hit into well-guarded, elevated greens, which are large and full of undulation, making many two-putts a challenge.
Most Memorable Hole: Number 7, 518 yards (Green Tees). “Chad’s Way” can be a very difficult par 5. Your tee shot needs to be in the fairway in order to set up the second shot. The second shot will be played over wetlands; be sure to keep it away from wetlands on the left. Choosing the right club on your third shot is critical; you need to be precise in order to carry yet another wetland area. The green is not very deep and out of bounds lurks close behind the green and to the right! Par is a good score but the right approach shot could net a birdie. The question I have: “Who is Chad?”
Favorite Par 3: Number 4: 165 yards (Green Tees) The Panther is a challenging par 3 that plays mainly over water to a multi-tiered green. You’ll need a certain amount of accuracy off the tee; too far left and the ball is wet, too far right or long and you’ll find sand. It’s important to pay attention to where the hole is as club selection is everything here.
Favorite Par 4: Number 9, 360 yards (Green Tees). “Trace Lake” poses the toughest and most intimidating tee shot on Panther Lake because of a very narrow landing area that slopes from left to right towards the water. After successfully navigating your tee shot, the approach shot is no picnic either! The green is surrounded by water and bunkers; hitting an extra club might not be a bad idea!
Favorite Par 5: Number 18, 480 yards (Green Tees). “Hillocks” is a great finishing hole, with bunkers that sit in the middle of the fairway. Most players won’t have the length to carry them, so best to play your tee shot down the right side of the fairway. Just be sure to avoid the bunkers on the right. Keep your layup shot on the right side of the fairway, as there is a lake on the left that is not visible. That should leave a short approach shot will to a slightly elevated green that slopes right to left. Par is a good score, but lower numbers are definitely possible.
Last Word: Choosing just four holes to tell you about is tough because there are so many good holes. I always love a course that names their holes! Panther Lake grabs your interest off the first tee and holds it all the way around the course; each new hole is as a new adventure. You need to think your way around Panther Lake; it’s not all muscle. The only quality the holes have in common is that each shot demands good thinking and precise execution. Simply put, good shots will be rewarded and bad shots penalized; this is the hallmark of great courses everywhere. If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to get into Q-school, the tour tees provide such a test. Some of the carries can be quite intimidating and risk/reward approaches can lead to birdies, bogeys, or the unmentionable. From the three forward tees, you’ll find shorter carries, easier approaches and wider landing areas. This makes Panther Lake more friendly but no less memorable. For more information on Orange County National, visit their website at http://www.ocngolf.com or give them a call at (407) 656.2626