The Golf Channel team (from left: Matt Ginella, Gary Williams, Paige Mackenzie, Stephanie Kenoyer, Damon Hack and Rex Hoggard), love Winter Park C.C. for casual rounds of golf. (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor) Bay Hill: There's no competition for a resort that offers a course that hosts a tour event and a good chance to bump into an American icon.  (Courtesy of Bay Hill) Orange County National's two 18-hole courses -- Panther Lake (shown here) and  Crooked Cat -- both offer a fun and slightly undulating trip through meadows and pine trees. (Courtesy of Orange County National) The Rees Jones-designed Waldorf Astoria Golf Club: A thrill ride through the Bonnet Creek nature preserve. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria G.C.) Morning Drive's Damon Hack takes a swing in a bunker at Winter Park C.C.  (Matt Ginella/GolfAdvisor)

A Florida local's guide to good golf and great food in Orlando



Now that I've lived in Orlando for more than a year, I'm getting a better sense of the public golf options, of which there are more than 150 choices.

From Bay Hill, host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, to Winter Park Country Club, the nine-holer that weaves through the middle of town ($8 green fee), there's something for a variety of skill-sets and budgets.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Bay Hill Club & Lodge

I wrote a recent review of the King's Castle, in which I say there's no competition for a resort that offers a course that hosts a tour event and a good chance that you'll bump into an American icon.

You have to stay at Bay Hill to play the course, and it's one of the more expensive rounds in town. But from October through March, if you look out to the right side of the driving range and recognize a familiar corkscrew follow-through, the only thing you'll be thinking about is a camera.

Panther Lake and Crooked Cat at Orange County National

The best combination of quality and price are the two courses at Orange County National. Panther Lake is a better test than Crooked Cat, but both are a fun and slightly undulating trip through meadows and pine trees.

There's some buddy-trip lodging, a serviceable restaurant, a 360-degree driving range and the Tooth short course, which is perfect for a late-afternoon skins game. I send a lot of buddies on trips to Orange County National, especially if they're on a budget, and I've yet to receive a complaint.

Waldorf Astoria Golf Club

Surrounded by Disney World, Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, a Rees Jones design, is yet another thrill ride through the Bonnet Creek nature preserve. Move up a set of tees and note that accuracy is essential to playing to your handicap as you'll pay the price for any errant shots.

That being said, the conditioning is consistently some of the best in town, which can also be said for the setting, service and food on the back patio, overlooking a small but serene all-grass driving range. You're going to pay a premium for all that I just described, but for client golf, or a spare-no-expense buddies trip, you'll want to include this course in your Orlando golf itinerary.

Dubsdread Golf Course

I also recently posted a review for Dubsdread. My new downtown apartment makes this affordable course an easy get for a late-afternoon round and/or practice session.

Described as short and narrow, you'll hit every club in your bag, just not a lot of drivers. Conditioning is good, and the price is right. It's less than $50 during the week, which includes a cart, and $61 on weekends. The 19th hole serves a delicious burger, arguably one of the best in town. And the back patio setting is popular for more than just golfers.

New Course at Grand Cypress

Most buddies trips or couples trips run the gamut of handicaps, which is why, when asked, I always recommend the New Course at Grand Cypress.

Like Crooked Cat at Orange County National, the New Course -- built by Jack Nicklaus with some winks at the Old Course of St. Andrews -- is open off the tee and features big, user-friendly greens. With a higher price-point than Orange County National, Grand Cypress also delivers a significant upgrade in lodging options, food and general aesthetics.

Morning Drive team on where to eat around Orlando

As for food recommendations, I have a few meals a month at Hillstone, near Winter Park. Great steaks and seafood, the artichoke appetizer is my Kryptonite, and their kale salad is one of the most popular items on the menu.

I watch a lot of sports and eat thin-crust pizza at Sonoma Draught House in downtown Orlando. Happy hour at Shari Sushi Lounge, with $4.25 rolls (seven days a week from 5 to 7 p.m.), seems too good to be true.

In addition to my thoughts on golf and food in and around Orlando, I also queried some of my colleagues on Morning Drive:

Gary Williams can often be found carrying his bag at Winter Park Country Club, taking money from Damon Hack, or teaching his daughters the finer points of getting up and down from a cemetery. For post-round refreshments or meals, Williams recommends Prato in Winter Park, and Nona Blue near the airport.

Charlie Rymer is also a big fan of Orange County National. "The biggest driving range in the country and great overall practice area attracts good players," Rymer said. "That creates a good vibe. Enjoy both golf courses. Champion Bermuda greens are always in nice shape."

As for a post-round meal, Rymer loves Rocco's Tacos. He's especially fond of the table-made guacamole. He suggests getting it extra spicy.

Both Holly Sonders and Damon Hack recommend the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Orlando, Grande Lakes. So does Jeff Neubarth, Morning Drive's coordinating producer.

"You can't beat the service. It feels like walking into a five-star hotel every time you pull up to the club," Neubarth said. He also suggests moving up a set of tees if the wind is blowing.

Neubarth offers a local tip: "Fairways Pub in the clubhouse serves the same amazing food you will find at the resort's other award-winning restaurants. Not your average post-round bar food. Some of the best grouper in town."

Hack recommends Dragonfly Sushi, which is off of Sand Lake Boulevard. Sonders suggests Big Fin for seafood or Eddie V's, which has live jazz.

Mar 18, 2014



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Matt Ginella

Special Contributor

Matt Ginella is Golf Channel's resident travel insider. He writes for GolfChannel.com and appears weekly on "Morning Drive." Before Golf Channel, Ginella was senior travel editor for Golf Digest and Golf World from 2007-2012 and covered courses, resorts and the avid amateur golfer's annual buddies trips to over 60 destinations around the country. Ginella graduated from St. Mary's College (Calif.) in 1995 and earned a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. Follow Matt on Twitter at @mattginellagc and on Instagram at @Matt_Ginella.


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