Traveler: Chasing Big-Name Golf in Orlando
If you think the competition between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus is over, you haven’t played golf in Orlando, now served nonstop from Indy on Allegiant Airlines.
Just as the city’s theme parks, hotels, and restaurants are in fierce competition for you (and your money), so are more than 170 golf courses and 20 golf academies. And when it comes to luring guests, it’s all about the big names.
The star-power boom started with The King. In 1970, Palmer took a five-year lease on the Bay Hill course with an option to buy. Today, it’s Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge (from $325/night; 888-422-9445, bayhill.com); golfers can take their swings on the same fairways that host the PGA Tour every March.
Stay-and-play golf resorts have multiplied in the years since, with Jack Nicklaus’s main presence at the venerable Villas at Grand Cypress (from $130/night; 877-330-7370, grandcypress.com). Golf is the venue’s calling card, with 45 holes designed by the 18-time major champion, but the luxury villas are not to be overlooked; the multi-jet showers are so relaxing, you could almost miss a tee time.
Palmer and Nicklaus are rivals in town but allies at one destination—Reunion Resort (from $240/night; 866-880-8563, reunionresort.com), the only property in the world with courses designed by those champs and Tom Watson. The resort also boasts the Annika Academy, named for LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam. Three-day “Soren-Slam” clinics featuring the Swede herself can be had if your vacation budget runs close to $10,000. Less-pricey packages are available with her sister Charlotta (also an LPGA winner) and other members of Annika’s inner circle, ready to help golfers from beginners to aspiring pros looking to become the next big name.
Flight Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Budget: Greens fees vary greatly depending on the calendar, with peak season running January through March. Though Orlando crowds pick up in summer with kids, it can be a great time for cheap golf—if you don’t mind the heat.
Teach: Kids can golf at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, where the Greg Norman course includes a nine-hole, par-3 pitch-and-putt (800-843-6664, championsgategolf.com).