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:
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.
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.
"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.