Although best known for its world-class theme parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios, the Orlando area is home to some of the best golf courses in the state of Florida, including one that hosts a PGA TOUR event every year. Many of these courses are accessible to the public and for the most part, they are in great shape and extremely playable year-round.
One area of Orlando that is often overlooked for golf is Seminole County, north and west of downtown. After a recent visit to the area and the opportunity to play both some public and private courses, I find that hard to believe. The topography of the land is not what you typic see in Florida – flat and boring; it has some roll and undulation to it – naturally! That can make for some interesting golf shots, especially the dreaded uneven lie.
Heathrow Country Club is a private country club that is two clubs in one: Heathrow Country Club and The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes. Heathrow was designed by Lakeland, Florida native Ron Garl and plays to a par of 71. By today’s standards, it’s not long – the White Tees play less than 6,200 yards – but you better be able to hit accurate approach shots into small greens if you want to score well. The first hole is a picturesque dogleg left par 4 with bunkers that frame the landing area off the tee. Your approach shot is uphill to a large, well-undulated green. Once you hit the second tee, water takes center stage and comes into play on 16 of the final 17 holes. The par 3, 12th hole with its island green is the signature piece of this water jigsaw puzzle. The hole plays 117 yards with a pot bunker on the left side of the green. On the 17th hole, Garl has used the water to create an island fairway. Anything left or right off the tee will most likely find the water; hit it too far straight and your fate is either sand or water. Find the fairway off the tee and you’ll still have to cross over the water on your approach. It’s one of the more challenging holes on the course.
The sister course to Heathrow is The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes. Legacy Club was designed by one of golf’s most decorated architects, Tom Fazio, who considers this to be “one of his best efforts.” There are six sets of tees and the course can be played anywhere from 5,055 – 7,160 yards. The course is cut out of a dense forest and the trees tend to create a few narrow corridors on several holes. There is also a good bit of roll in the topography of the land out here. Pretty impressive for this part of Florida! The Legacy Club is often the site of US Open Qualifiers and the course has several PGA TOUR members. Number 11 was my favorite hole, a gentle dogleg right par 4 that plays 495 yards from the Blue Tees. Trees line both sides of the fairways and the bunkers on the left side can come into play off the tee. You’ll want to play your tee shot down the left side as the trees tend to block out shots from the right side. The green has some good undulation to it and is protected by several bunkers. Finishing with the same ball you teed off with on Number 1 is somewhat of an accomplishment at the Legacy Club!
Mayfair Country Club in Sanford is one of the oldest golf clubs in the area, dating back to 1922. It’s famous for being the site of Arnold Palmer’s first professional victory. There is a lot of speculation as to whether or not Mayfair is a Donald Ross design, the consensus seems to be that it is. Mayfair did host a professional tour event from 1958 to 1961 and attracted some of the top players of the day, including Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Julius Boros, Don January, Doug Ford, Tony Lema, Moe Norman, and Gene Littler. The great Moe Norman has been quoted as saying that “Hole #7 was the best par 3 in Central Florida.” At only 6,403 yards from the back tees, Mayfair isn’t going to overwhelm a lot of players and for the most part, the fairways off the tee are generous. Where Mayfair gets tough is on the approach shots into small, sometimes crowned greens – another Ross trademark. You’re sure to enjoy your round out here. Numbers 2 & 12 are short par 5s if you’re playing from the back tees; 443 and 430 yards respectfully.
Timacuan Golf Club in Lake Mary Florida is another special Ron Garl design. This semi-private, championship layout has been recognized as one of the purest and most enjoyable tests of golf in Central Florida. Both The USGA and The PGA TOUR have used Timacuan for their US Open and Tour School qualifiers. Well-known Florida golf course architect Ron Garl designed the original course which opened in 1987; it was renovated by Bobby Weed in 1996, primarily to deal with some drainage issues. Even after all these years, Timacuan remains true to Garl’s original goal: “To design and build a memorable course that challenges players to excel and that everyone can enjoy.” Number 2 (par 4, 389 yards) is by far the course’s most challenging hole and understandably the #1 handicap. Your tee shot plays over water to an island fairway. Your tee shot is everything on this hole; finding the fairway – or at least your golf ball – is a win on this hole. You’ll need to contend with the water on your approach shot as well and an extra club is recommended as the shot plays longer than you think. Island greens are a Ron Garl signature; however, Number 7 is a little different. This 216-yard par 3 features a green surrounded by sand. Hit it short and at least you’ll get your ball back!
All four of these venues offer up some good food after your round although Mayfair is currently operating out of a trailer while the new clubhouse is being built. We were able to grab lunch before our rounds at both Heathrow and The Legacy Club. The menus are almost identical which simply means great food is available at both! Both Heathrow and The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes are managed by Concert Golf Properties. Becoming a member at one of these clubs not only gives you membership at both Heathrow and Legacy Club but also gives you reciprocity at all 21 properties around the country.
These are just a few of the courses you can play in Seminole County; there are several more listed under the golf tab on their website. You’ll also find that the greens fees at the public-accessible courses tend to be considerably less than what you’ll find at courses out near the theme parks.
When you’re not on one of Seminole County’s fine golf courses, there is plenty to do in the area without hitting one of the nearby theme parks! Eat, drink, and shop in Historic Sanford, visit the Central Florida Zoo, go kayaking in search of manatees or just sit outside and soak up that Florida sun. Seminole County is flush with restaurants too, offering just about every cuisine imaginable.
For more information on the great golf opportunities and a lot of other activities in Seminole County, Florida, visit the tourism department’s website at www.doorlandonorth.com.