Orlando has no such thing as an "off-season." In the United States, only Las Vegas has more hotel rooms than Orlando, and only Phoenix-Scottsdale has more course reviews on Golf Advisor.
Central Florida locals jostle with droves of visitors over coveted tee times at top public and resort courses near Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or the Orange County Convention Center. Or, they ditch the crowds and resort green fees and head off the beaten path towards Clermont or Ocala or Lakeland.
It would be easy to simply say the peak golf season in Orlando is in the winter. After all, the PGA Merchandise Show attracts tens of thousands of golf industry insiders in late-January.
But I wanted to look a little deeper and see when golf courses are truly at their peak in The City Beautiful.
This isn't my first data dive for Golf Advisor, but I felt Orlando represented a unique dynamic, so I looked at our ratings a little differently. Central Florida has so many resident golfers that I don't feel that they have the same expectations a tourist would. Locals can usually slide under the peak tourist rates and are also generally more tolerant of the region's muggy summers.
With this in mind, I took a sample of a dozen resort and higher-end public courses — courses that would be great picks when visiting the area — and filtered their averages by month. I decided to separate reviews by in-state and out-of-state golfers.
Since you're probably reading this as a golf traveler considering an Orlando golf trip (or a family vacation with golf on the side), let's start with the non-resident averages month-to-month:
As courses enter the meat of peak season in February, it's clear to see that courses struggle to maintain strong value scores.
On the contrary, summertime is a very busy tourist season in Orlando since school is out, but that doesn't stop out-of-state golfers from playing. And surprisingly, ratings are pretty high.
You'll notice one of the biggest differences between Phoenix and Orlando is the conditioning swings of the desert are far greater month to month. Desert courses often bake out their turf in the month leading up to overseeding and then their transition periods are much longer (you couldn't bake out the fairways if you tried in precipitous Florida). In the desert climate of Phoenix, conditioning ratings nose dive in June and October. Yet in Orlando, conditioning scores never really crater. Courses normally only close for a week or so in the fall, not 3-4 weeks like Arizona resort courses.
As for whether summer golf is more pleasant in a "dry heat" vs. the central Florida's slow-cooker, I suppose that's a matter of personal taste.
How Florida residents' ratings differ from non-residents
I wanted to include Pace of Play ratings in this chart because busy winter golf destinations can struggle with pace of play, especially in the winter months when they're trying to cram in as many tee times as they can during a small daylight window.
That dynamic is certainly in effect in Orlando. Clearly, with daylight at a premium and tourist play at its highest, residents are no fan of pace of play in February and March.
The verdict on when to take a golf trip to Orlando
For snowbirds, the data tells us that Orlando golf is more favorable in December and January than February-April. Even though summer ratings are quite good (thanks mainly to great value), we're not about to tell you that August is the best month for a golf trip to Orlando. But clearly, golfers love the idea of lower green fees and fewer foursomes on the course, as is reflected in August's pace-of-play ratings as well as value. (Maybe golfers are also trying to play as fast as possible so they can and zip over to the pool.)
From a golf course operator perspective, management might benefit golfers by stepping up their course marshaling efforts in the winter. They could theoretically attract a lot more play if they earn a reputation as a course where you can get around in four hours.
I had one final question: If pace of play is such a sore spot in Orlando, which facilities are managing their tee sheet during peak season the best? I looked at pace of play average ratings of championship, 18-hole courses from December-March to find out, and there is a clear-cut favorite:
Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons has a stellar score for primetime pace at 4.6/5. There are no other 18-hole championship courses that come remotely close to this average. Next in line is Crooked Cat at Orange County National (4.2), followed by the relatively new Championsgate Country Club, Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and the National Course at Omni Championsgate and both courses at Mission Inn Resort & Club, all of which are 4.1/5.
So, how do the averages stack up compared to your personal experiences in Orlando? When is your favorite time to play golf there? Let us know in the comments below.