By now, it’s highly likely that you have heard about Central Florida’s most lovable golf course: the Winter Park 9. If you haven’t, you may want to drop what you're doing and go study up on this unique golf experience. I consider the course to be one of the most important in America today and a place that should be on any golfer's must-play list. The reasons for this are numerous, but at the top of the list is that the course is a model for how to create a laid-back and fun environment for golf that resonates with the masses.
WP9, as the course is affectionately known, is a charming and memorable golf hang located only minutes from downtown Orlando. The City of Winter Park owns and operates the course and recent renovations have made it a favored destination for local golfers. Beyond the everyday residents who support the course so fervently, there is a steady stream of visitor traffic that now comes to play the course year round. It has built a reputation as being one of the friendliest golf courses in the country.
In Winter Park, the golf is affordable, architecturally interesting and open to all variety of golfers. The holes weave through the streets of the city and every golfer who plays there is treated to a buffet for the senses. The sights and sounds of the city that surrounds the Winter Park 9 create a fabulous setting for golf and the low cost to play has created a growing base of regular customers.
The best part about playing at WP9 is the wide variety of ways to enjoy the game. When architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns renovated the golf course, they envisioned a place where all kinds of golf can be enjoyed by anyone who loves the game. Today, the City of Winter Park is the steward of this reality and as the new course matures the community around it is showing the rest of the country what the future of golf in America could look like.
If you make your way to play at Winter Park, I would encourage you to consider mixing up your normal game. There are many ways to play and enjoy golf and the WP9 is a perfect place to try something outside of the norms of most American clubs and courses. Here are a few of my favorite examples of how folks play the game in Winter Park:
1. Play with your family
Golf can be one of the most family-friendly ways to recreate together with loved ones. Some courses are more conducive to this than others and in Winter Park you’ll find an ideal environment for playing with family. The course is not long at only 2,500 yards in length; golfers of every generation can easily find a comfortable distance to play from. The WP9 is a park-like setting and children will feel right at home roaming the fairways with adults. Central Florida is one of America’s favorite family travel destinations and should you visit the area with yours, golf at WP9 is a perfect addition to the itinerary.
2. Play with your dog
For some strange reason, many American golf courses don’t allow Man’s Best Friend to join in for golf, but at the WP9, four-legged friends are encouraged. Dogs and golf are perfect playing partners and the places that embrace such pairings hold a special place in my heart. Dogs don’t judge you for wayward shots or missed putts and they always make for good company. If your dog has decent manners and doesn’t mind making new acquaintances, I would strongly recommend bringing them along for a nice walk at Winter Park.
3. Play with vintage equipment
Golf equipment is always changing as technology offers new methods for game improvement to the masses, but vintage equipment still offers a great deal of enjoyment too. Some folks may be hesitant to try throwback clubs at their home club for fear that they may lose distance. There is no worry of that at Winter Park. With a short golf course that is made for fun, there aren’t many places as perfect for playing some persimmon woods or hickory-shafted clubs. I’ve played the course with my persimmons a few times and had a blast. Playing with old-school clubs and balls makes for a fabulous experience and offers a new appreciation for older courses and past generations of players. The Winter Park 9 is a window to the past and an invitation to explore the equipment of days gone by.
4. Play unique formats
There are many different formats of golf and Winter Park is a wonderful place to experiment with various manners of playing the game. Because the WP9 can be played in a short amount of time and for low cost, it’s a great place to try some different formats while out for a quick game. When is the last time you played alternate shot? How about joining in a skins game with players you’ve never met? Another great method is to have a four club match against a friend as a way of testing each other’s creativity around the course. The WP9 is all about having fun, so why not try something new?
5. Play with a large group
A foursome is universally accepted as the ideal golf group size and many clubs and courses are quick to make sure no group larger than that gets on the course. Winter Park is different. Large groups are par for the course and on any given day it’s likely you’ll find a caravan of walking golfers making their way around the course in large numbers. Make no mistake, the ability to play in large groups is not an invitation to slow play. Instead it’s an opportunity to learn how to keep your game moving quickly while respecting the proper flow of golf traffic. Large groups are great for inspiring added competition and strong camaraderie and that’s a good thing.
The Winter Park 9 is one of America’s most flexible golf courses. This Central Florida community has created a golf experience that is at the forefront of changing attitudes in golf. The WP9 has garnered national attention because the course allows its patrons to enjoy golf in such a wide variety of ways and in a user friendly environment. Golfers are flocking to play Winter Park and the course is proving that interesting golf offered in diverse ways is not only attractive but also a successful business model for the game. If you are headed to Central Florida I would highly recommend spending some time at the Winter Park 9 and discovering some fun new ways to play at a course that is changing how many people experience golf.