ORLANDO, Fla. -- With nearly 200 golf courses, there is certainly no shortage of quality golf in the Orlando area. The only problem is that during peak season, most of them, it seems, are at resorts, and the green fees aren't exactly on the economical side. Come back and the summer, and there are bargains to be had for sure, and the courses are in usually in excellent shape then.
But if you're coming from up North, for example, or in town to visit one of the theme parks in early or late winter and are looking for some affordable golf, it does exist. You just have to know where to look. There are a couple of munis that are quality and reasonably priced, as well as several daily fees that won't disappoint. And you don't have to drive all the way to Tampa to find them.
Here is a look at some of the Orlando area's better values, in peak season or offseason:
Dubsdread Golf Course
Located just minutes from downtown, municipal Dubsdread Golf Course is the oldest in Orlando, dating back to 1923. It's extremely popular not only with the locals, who get to play this 6,200-yard classic for next to nothing, but also outsiders who have to pay the $50 rate (not including cart) on the weekend in prime season. Site of the Orlando City Amateur Championship and professional events decades ago, the course has plenty of interesting doglegs, bunkers and water hazards to navigate en route to finding its small greens. As an added bonus, Dubsdread has added a fleet of GolfBoards that golfers can use instead of golf carts, but call ahead to reserve them.
Winter Park Country Club
At $16 to play and $5 for a replay, you may not find a better deal in the Orlando area than Winter Park Country Club, the second-oldest golf course in the Orlando area. Located in the heart of beautiful Winter Park just north of downtown Orlando, this nine-hole municipal isn't long at just less than 2,500 yards, but it will test your skill. With fairly narrow corridors, you can try to drive a couple of the short par 4s at your peril, but you're probably better off managing your game here with the small greens. Overall, the course is a great test for your irons and short game.
Orange Lake Country Club
Not as affordable as the above municipals, Orange Lake Country Club near Disney has four different golf options, including two championship courses. It's a deal when you factor in the triple-digit green fees of all the resort courses in the area. The Legends Course is an Arnold Palmer design that has sort of a Scottish look with its rolling fairways and large contoured greens. The Reserve Course is Joe Lee design renovated in 2005. There's also a lighted par-3 course called Legends Walk and a very pretty nine-hole par-30 executive course called Crane's Bend. Green fees range from $25 for the par 3 to $119 for the championship courses, but there are deals to be had on the Internet and twilight rates are half price.
Orange County National
At first glance, Orange County National might not seem like affordable golf. After all, rates in season for nonresidents are $120 on the two championship courses -- Panther Lake and Crooked Cat. But when you consider that Orange County National is a perennial site of PGA Tour School finals and the $200 green fees at other prime courses in the area, it seems like a pretty good deal. Plus, twilight rates are half that, and the third course, the nine-hole short course called the Tooth Course, can be played for $20. You'll also love the practice facilities at Orange County National, which are among the best in the country. The facility also offers nice stay-and-play packages.
Windermere Country Club
Formerly private, Windermere Country Club offers limited public play and it's not that expensive, especially considering the high-end private clubs in the area. For around $50, including cart, you can tackle this player-friendly 6,800-yard Ward Northrup design that was recently renovated. With 13 holes that feature water hazards and more than 60 bunkers and greens that putt as well as any in the area, this is one of the better deals in all of Orlando.
Timacuan Golf & Country Club
About 15-20 minutes north of downtown Orlando in Lake Mary is Timacuan Golf & Country Club. Designed by Ron Garl and Bobby Weed (1996 renovation), the course got new Mini-Verde greens in 2013. The front nine of this 7,049-yard course has a Scottish feel with open fairways, mounding, sprawling bunkers and large greens. The back nine has more of a Carolinas Low Country feel featuring stately oaks, tall pines and several water hazards that demand precision off the tee and to the green. Green fees online can be had for $60 or less in season.
MetroWest Golf Club
A local favorite, MetroWest Golf Club is a Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course that opened in 1982 and was recently renovated. The project included resurfacing and enlargement of all 18 greens, re-grassed with TifEagle Bermuda grass, along with a bunker renovation. Tee boxes were also enlarged, and the practice area was expanded with new putting and chipping greens. At more than 7,000 yards from the back tees, it's all the challenge you want with plenty of water hazards, some elevation change and plenty of large bunkers. Best of all, it's moderately priced, with rates from $40-$80, depending on the time of day and week.
Hunter's Creek Golf Club
Not too far from the Orlando International Airport is Hunter's Creek Golf Club, a championship test that can be stretched to more than 7,400 yards. Designed by Lloyd Clifton, the course has dive sets of tees. Holes meander around 13 lakes to expansive greens well protected by bunkers. The course regularly hosts tournaments, such as U.S. Open and PGA Tour qualifiers, as well as the 2008 Florida State Public Links Championship. Green fees for nonresidents top out at $59 and drop to half that in the afternoon.
Celebration Golf Club
Opened in 1996, Celebration Golf Club was the final collaboration between Robert Trent Jones Sr., and son Robert Trent Jones II. Their philosophy was that "every hole should be a hard par and an easy bogey," and the result is a challenging championship test that takes advantage of the natural pine forests and Florida wetlands. Located just minutes from Disney World, the course was actually first developed by Disney, so it very much has a resort feel. The course has hosted U.S. Senior Open qualifiers, Robert Gamez Celebrity Invitational, Florida State Public Links Championship, Buick Scramble National Championships and The Golf Channel's Drive, Chip and Putt Finals. Green fees run $129 for nonresidents in the morning during peak season, but drop significantly in the afternoon, as low as $59 after 2 p.m.
After-golf eats and drinks
Of course, if you save a little money on green fees, that leaves a little more for going out for dinner and drinks. One great place to start would be the Tap Room @ Dubsdread, which is independently owned and one of the most popular spots to eat and drink in Orlando. As one local said, "They have the best hamburgers in Orlando," a terrific brunch, and the deck overlooking the golf course is a great place to relax.
Not far from Dubsdread is the famous Church Street area near downtown Orlando, where there are plenty of terrific eateries. One of the best is the Rusty Spoon, which features an amazing lamb sandwich and something called the "Dirty South," which features Key West pink shrimp, snapper and claims in a shrimp-peanut broth, greens and grits. If you head over to N. Mills Avenue in Little Vietnam, and you like Asian food, be sure to check out Hawker's Asian Street Fare, named in honor of the food vendors who hawk their goods in the streets of Asia. The menu includes soups, small plates as well as great pad Thai, noodle stir-fry dishes and an unusual selection of beers, all very reasonably priced.
Winter Park also has its share of great places to eat. For example, Hillstone, on S. Orlando Avenue, has a nice bar and menu that includes ribs, swordfish, veggie burgers, smoked salmon and Thai steak and noodles. Prato restaurant on Park Avenue not only has great Italian food and wines, but it's also a great spot for people watching. Or check out 310 Park South, which offers an eclectic menu of New American fare or Hannibal's on New England Street or Hannibal's on the Square, a refined, urban cocktail bar and lounge offering small plates and live music on weekends.
If you head out to MetroWest, Restaurant Row on Sand Lake Road about five minutes from the Orange County Convention Center. There you'll find a number of chain restaurants, but that's not all bad. One is Roy's, which serves the Polynesian-fusion menu of Roy Yamaguchi and Season's 52, which started in Orlando and now has locations throughout the United States. Seasons 52 is reasonably priced and its menu of fresh fare (less than 450 calories) changes with each season. There's also a Vine's Grille and Wine Bar, Dewey's Indoor Golf & Sports Grille and Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi among the dozens of other establishments on Restaurant Row.
And finally, if you're looking for a quick bite, there are a couple of local chains worth mentioning. Winghouse sports bars (founded by former Florida Gator and NFL player Crawford Ker) are located throughout Orlando. Winghouse is sort of like Hooters, except the wings are really, really good. And for terrific barbecue, check out Orlando's 4 Rivers Smokehouse, which specialized in tasty brisket as well as terrific sides that include baked cheese grits.