Category: Orlando

November 03, 2013

Ask Travelin' Joe: From Ragin' Cajuns to Mickey Mouse

Posted at 12:40 PM by Pete Madden

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Gray Plantation
Gray Plantation, Credit: Aidan Bradley


Dear Joe: I'll be taking a trip to Lake Charles, La., to visit family. I plan on playing at least one day while there. What area courses would you recommend? -- Mike Haig, Chicago, Ill.

I've got two top choices for you in Cajun country, one of my favorite places to play in the USA. First, a value-favorite: Gray Plantation ($35-$59; 337-562-1663, is a handsome, well-treed track that features water, water everywhere. Bring an extra sleeve or two; you can lose ammo on 12 holes, including the tough par-3 sixth, which demands a shot over the Calcasieu Ship Channel to a peninsula green. If you want to roll the dice after rolling the rock, try Tom Fazio's Contraband Bayou at nearby L'Auberge Casino Resort ($39-$109; 337-395-7220, This 7,077-yard par 71 features superb Bermuda greens, Fazio's striking bunkers and eight lakes throughout the layout.

Bulle Rock
Bulle Rock, Credit: Evan Schiller


Hi Joe: I'll be in Annapolis for one day, flying into Baltimore, with time for a quick round. I prefer a quality layout with great conditioning. Where should I play? -- Ed Cadenas, via e-mail

Ed, cracking blue crabs is my first priority when I'm down Chesapeake way, with golf being a (very) close second. Bulle Rock ($79-$130; 888-285-5375, in Havre de Grace is my first choice. True, it's an hour north of the airport, but with a ranking of No. 41 on our 2012-'13 Top 100 Courses You Can Play list, it's worth the journey. Bulle is a true bully (and it's pronounced that way, too). This danger-laden Pete Dye stunner has hosted the LPGA Championship five times, with Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Suzann Pettersen among those hoisting the trophy. Conditioning? It's kept in tournament shape all year round. If you prefer something closer to Baltimore, try Waverly Woods ($54-$84; 410-313-9182, an Arthur Hills course just a 20-minute drive from Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Hi Joe: While my kids are at Disney World, I have time for some peace and quiet on the course. I've already played Grand Cypress, a great pick. What's next? -- Luis M. Rivera, via e-mail

I don't blame you for resisting the siren call of the Mouse -- there's plenty of golf to play. I agree with Tiger, who once called the greens at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes ($60-$180; 407-393-4900, some of the best he's ever putted. Although this Greg Norman design is runway wide and flat, it's also truly tranquil, offering just the serenity you're seeking. You might also consider Rees Jones's Waldorf Astoria Golf Club ($50-$170; 407-597-3780, Hewn from pristine woodlands, it's only about three miles from Disney and offers strategic resort golf at its best. Right at the park, consider Disney's Magnolia Course ($104-$165; 407-939-4653, Don't let the hokey, mouse-ear-shaped bunker fool you—for 40 years, this track was tough enough to be a PGA Tour stop. At 7,500 yards, it's hardly child's play.

Sedona Golf Resort
Sedona Golf Resort, Credit: Evan Schiller


Dear Joe: I'm planning a trip to Scottsdale this November, but lots of courses will be overseeding. Any way around that? -- Scott Gentry, Tulsa, Okla.

If they're overseeding, head north over the hills to Sedona. The town has quaint charms that dear old Scottsdale can't match, and at 4,500 feet of elevation, there's no need to overseed; the courses have cool-season grasses. Both Sedona Golf Resort ($69-$99; 928-284-9355, and Oakcreek ($79-$99; 928-284-1660, will dazzle you with red-rock landscapes. Seven Canyons ($100-$150; 928-203-2000, is beautiful, too, but it's only open to guests of Enchantment Resort.

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

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February 16, 2012

Ask Travelin' Joe: Orlando, Tucson and Riviera's best and worst holes

Posted at 12:32 PM by Joe Passov

Ocn_600If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hey Joe,
A friend and I are planning a trip to the Orlando area in late February, and we’re considering the Orange County Golf Resort. We’re looking for a moderately priced deal for three to four days of golf. Should we consider a local hotel and play individual courses or go with a package deal at one of the resorts?
Sam Coppola
Via email

I’ll leave the Disney-flavored puns out of this answer—much as it pains me—because if you’re considering Orange County National, you’re likely a no-nonsense golfer who wants straightforward info.

Orlando boasts so many terrific golf properties that it’s hard to choose just one. Bay Hill has its Arnie aura, Disney has its PGA Tour pedigree, the Waldorf-Astoria has tranquility, Reunion has variety, and the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes has those greens—well, you get the point.

However, if you’re into golf—and value—book a package at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge. Its unwieldy name manages to say it all. Its two championship courses, Crooked Cat and Panther Lake, both have served as PGA Tour Qualifying School tests and comprise two of the best bargains in the area.

If you book an Orange County National package, you’ll have access to both courses, plus free golf (cart fee extra) at Tooth, their nine-hole executive course, pre-round range balls, locker, club storage, bag tag, and discounted extra rounds. (February rates from $302 per person, based on double occupancy and a two-night minimum; 407-656-2626,

Toss in one of the three best public-access practice ranges and short-game areas in the country and superior instruction, and you’ve got a winner. If there’s a drawback to OCN, is that it’s a tad remote, away from Orlando’s plethora of attractions and restaurants. Still, to some, that’s a plus.

Dear Joe,
I read your suggestions about places to play in Tucson. Can you recommend any condo-type accommodations similar to what I find in the Myrtle Beach area? We’re looking for a one-stop place where the group has a roof over their heads and a bunch of tee times.
Ken Gardiner
Philadelphia, PA

If Phoenix/Scottsdale were your destination, Zona Resort Suites (888-222-1059, would be exactly what you’re looking for. Tucson’s a different animal. It offers neither the quantity nor variety of prices available in the Valley of the Sun, and it cannot touch Myrtle Beach for maximum options—but then, no destination can.

I’ve got two solid outfits to recommend in the Old Pueblo, as Tucson is often called. First is Sonoran Suites (888-786-7848, Though based in Phoenix, they have covered Tucson since 1997 and operate in every desert destination. February packages start at $129 per person per night, but they offer an array of options that include 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units as well as choices ranging from value courses such as Del Lago, El Conquistador and Canoa Hills, to ultra-premiums like Ventana Canyon, Omni Tucson Nation and La Paloma.

My other pick in Tucson is the Golf Villas at Oro Valley (888-904-9158, This is pure, perfect desert, in one of Tucson’s most desirable locales, right around the corner from top tracks such as Arizona National, Vistoso and Ventana Canyon. You’re surrounded by excellent restaurants, nightlife and the towering mountains and cactus-covered slopes that brought you to the desert in the first place. February rates for two-bedroom villas start at $239.

Riviera Country Club: the Best Hole and the Worst Hole
When the PGA Tour pros renew their love affair with Riviera Country Club this week in suburban Los Angeles, they will encounter the design skills of George Thomas, a golden age architect who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and A.W. Tillinghast. As proof of Thomas’s magical skills, check out Riviera’s 10th hole. For years, I considered Augusta National’s par-5 13th to be the ultimate risk/reward hole that the pros see every year, but these days, that honor goes to the 315-yard, slight dogleg-to-the-right 10th at “the Riv.”

Any self-respecting pro can drive the green, but the penalties for missing are so severe, thanks to the ingenious positioning of both bunkers and putting surface, that 5s and 6s are much more common than 2s.

Jack Nicklaus has stated that the 10th presents more options than any other short hole in the world. Few have the discipline to approach the green from the proper angle, which calls for a lay-up drive to the far left side of the fairway—especially when the hole location is back-right on this shallow, diagonal green corseted by bunkers. When the pin is on the left, unprotected by a fronting bunker, the temptation is to go straight at it—even if you fall short. However, that open portion of the green slopes away to the back, making a straight-on approach that much exquisitely tougher. No matter where you approach from, the shot is an extreme test of nerve. That’s what makes it a superior short hole. There’s no water to set the pulse racing or chasm to carry, just the knowledge that you’ve got to hit two perfect shots on such a tiny hole.

The worst hole at Riviera? Some might argue that the second is suspect because it’s a par 5 converted to a par 4, with a green complex much more receptive to a short approach than a long one. Others point to the shot values lacking at the par-5 first. With its exhilarating hill-top tee box, the short par 5 really plays like a par 4. For one great player, however, the dubious distinction belongs to the 236-yard, par-3 fourth. That player is not Ben Hogan, who labeled it “the greatest par 3 in America.” No, the dissenter is another supreme shotmaker, Lee Trevino, who stated in 1985, “One famous (course) with a flaw is Riviera. You could go to Communist China and say ‘Riviera Country Club’ and some guy would say ‘It’s in Los Angeles, California.’ It’s known worldwide, but Riviera is a 17-hole golf course.

“The clinker is No. 4, the par 3. A monkey’s as good as a man playing it. It slopes away from you. It plays against the prevailing wind because the play is toward Santa Monica and the ocean, and the hole plays about 240 yards against the wind. Hell, you have to hit a driver on it. They should plow that damn hole up and start building a legitimate par 3.”

No small wonder that the Merry Mex never won at Riviera, or even finished runner-up.

(Photo: Orange County National)

June 03, 2011

Ask Travelin' Joe: Park City, Utah; Orlando and Scottsdale in late June

Posted at 12:10 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Grayhawk_talon_372x248 Dear Joe,
What courses are still going to be in good shape in greater Scottsdale in late June?
M. Kneck
Via email

Courses in the hot box that is Scottsdale in late June are generally in surprisingly good shape. The Bermuda that came in during the spring is good-looking and plays great. The wilting comes as the nights get hotter and when the monsoons arrive in mid- to late July. Golf in Arizona can be hellish for some at that time of year, but for others, it’s heaven, thanks to the bargain basement prices at five-star properties. Here are a few suggestions:

I have to tip my hat the TPC Scottsdale (480-585-4334, for some innovative marketing. Start with their 36-hole Summer Special, good for the month of June, where $99 will get you a morning round over the recently re-designed Champions course and an afternoon romp on the famous Stadium, home to the rowdiest galleries in golf every January when the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open stops by. If you can’t stand the heat—well, that much heat—you can sign up for a $120 deal where you have five days to play both courses.

I’m also a fan of Grayhawk’s (480-502-1800, Penguin promotion, where $55 gets you golf at one of two Tour-tested courses, cart, practice balls and lunch or dinner at Phil’s Grill, Quill Creek Café or on the course. The Tom Fazio-designed Raptor has a superb finish, but the Graham-Panks-designed Talon is equally memorable.

Finally, for a short, one-hour road trip that delivers you into the kind of Wild West you remember from John Wayne movies, try Rancho de los Caballeros (928-684-5484, in Wickenburg. It’s just $49 for golf, cart and lunch and the rollicking ride through the desert will test both clubs and camera. Horseback riding gets equal billing with the golf at this wonderful small resort, so saddle up and enjoy.

Dear Joe,
My wife and I are headed to Park City, Utah in June. Where should I play? The only price restriction is that it cannot cost more than the two massages that my wife is getting. Thanks for your input.
Winston-Salem, N.C.

The miniscule price for great golf in the Park City area will loosen up those neck and back muscles for certain. For your splurge, tee it up at Victory Ranch ($150; 435-735-5030,, a 7,599-yard, 2009 Rees Jones creation that is a wall-to-wall thrill ride from start to finish. Opened as a private club, Victory Ranch’s real estate and private memberships faced a tough economy out of the blocks, so recently, they’ve moved to a “club guest” program, where members for a day can pay the green fee and play.

New manager OB Sports has smoothed out the rough edges and has it in tip-top shape, the better to enjoy this mostly treeless mountain track that meanders atop rock ridges, plunges through canyons and serves up panoramas of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains, streams and the Jordanelle Reservoir. Is it worth one and a half Franklins? Yes, if you want scenic overload and shotmaking memories for a lifetime.

Almost tragically, the vast majority of Park City golf is strictly private. Among the superb set-ups are Promontory, Glenwild, Red Ledges and Talisker at Tuhaye. Nevertheless, you’re in luck. Within 11 miles of Park City are four of the best public bargains in the U.S., the Lake and Mountain courses at Wasatch Mountain State Park (435-654-0532, and Soldier Hollow's (435-654-7442, two tracks, the Gold and Silver. Each is only $40 to play and that includes the cart. In particular, the Gene Bates-designed Gold at Soldier Hollow, which plays host to the USGA’s Amateur Public Links Championship in 2012, is a stunner at 7,598 elevated yards, with incredible views of Heber Valley and Mt. Timpanogos.

Dear Joe,
In June, I will be in Orlando, Florida for a week. What do you suggest for a 15-year-old with a 15 handicap? $20-$60 is my price range.
Andrew A.

Florida golf prices are at lowest ebb during summer, so go be a 15-year-old and play all day! Start with Falcon’s Fire (407-239-5445,, a totally fun, Marriott-managed, Rees Jones design that was refurbished in 2010. Mounds, water hazards (memorably at the banana-shaped, 379-yard, par-4 13th) and fast, intriguingly contoured greens are highlights. Best of all, Falcon Fire’s Junior (16-and under) rate is a smokin’ $35.

A second reasonably priced favorite in O-Town is MetroWest ($49-$59; 407-299-1099,, another Marriott Golf property, which sits just minutes from Universal Studios Orlando. There’s something about this 1984 Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that just agrees with me, from the Master’s familiar hazard-guarded, elevated greens, to the unusual rolling (for Florida) terrain to, well, the price tag.

Finally, you can’t be a kid in Orlando and not pay your respects to Mickey, so let’s get you over to Disney World (407-939-4653, for a summer golf buffet. During June, all four of Disney’s championship tests are $59 to play between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and $49 after 3. As a 15-handicap, you’ve definitely got enough game to handle the Magnolia, which hosts the final round of a PGA Tour event every year. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have both won here, but Magnolia is best known for its watery finish and for its bunker at the par-3 6th, shaped in the image of Mickey Mouse’s ears.

Many contend that the Palm is every bit as good—or better—than Magnolia, while I’m of the opinion that the Tom Fazio-designed Osprey Ridge is best of the bunch. However, if you’re playing alone, call ahead for walking policies. Most courses aren’t in the habit of renting golf carts to 15-year-olds.

For a pure muni experience where you can walk and pretty much wear what you want, try Dubsdread ($25-$61; 407-246-2551,, a former Tour site that dates to 1924. Juniors (17 and under) pay $16 to walk during the week, $20 on the weekend and another $8 bucks for a cart—but you’ve got to show a valid driver’s license to get one. Try a $6 pullcart instead.

May 20, 2009

The Orlando Experience

Posted at 11:59 AM by Ryan Reiterman

If you've been to Orlando share your experience with us here in the Trips Blog. Tell readers like you about the golf courses, hotels and nightlife in Orlando. Need help planning your trip? Visit our Orlando guide here.

March 21, 2009

Best Golf Travel Deals: April Values Reign

Posted at 12:56 PM by

Save $180
Westin La Paloma
Tucson, Arizona

If mountains, cacti and 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus target golf sounds good, check out the Guys' Power Golf Weekend Package, which includes a welcome amenity of beer and chips for two, $50 off a round of golf (one per room) and a 4 p.m. late checkout, based on availability. Rates start at $319 per night, prepaid, based on double occupancy.

Save $160
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate
Orlando, Florida

The home to the Del Webb Father/Son Challenge offers family and friends their own brand of fun via the Unlimited Golf Experience, which features room, breakfast at Trevi's, transportation to Disney attractions and unlimited golf on two Greg Norman designs and the lighted par-3 course. April rates start at $602.10, based on double occupancy.

Save $190
Amelia Island Plantation
Amelia Island, Florida

Swing into spring with Amelia's Unlimited Golf Package. Included are lodging, unlimited golf on three courses and a bag tag and ball-mark tool. Rates start at $371 per person, per night, based on double occupancy and a two-night minimum stay.

February 07, 2009

Best Deals: March Madness on Prices

Posted at 10:40 AM by Ryan Reiterman

Save $160
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate
Orlando, Florida

The Unlimited Golf Stay & Play Package features room, breakfast at Trevi's, transportation to Disney attractions and unlimited golf on two Greg Norman designs as well as the lighted par-3 course.

Rates start at $386.86 based on double occupancy.

Save $190
Amelia Island Plantation
Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia's Guilt-Free Golf Package features lodging, one round per day on Oak Marsh, Ocean Links or Amelia River, 25 percent off recreation, including green fees, a golf amenity upon arrival, pizza and beer on the second night, a complimentary drink at Falcon's Nest and a Guilt Gift to take home to that special someone for letting you take the trip.

Rates start at $247.50 per person, per night, based on two adults per bedroom and a two-night minimum stay.

January 08, 2009

Ask Joe: Las Vegas, Orlando and Portugal

Posted at 11:30 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
I’m going to Las Vegas in January and wanted to get a round in. I live in Tennessee but really like desert courses. Wolf Creek in Mesquite seems like a good alternative, but it seems like a hike from Vegas. I know you’ve been asked a million times, but let me know your thoughts.

Brock Sturdivant

You’re right — I get asked this a lot — and for golf in the raw desert, I’ve been recommending Badlands ($70-$150; 702-363-0754,, a 27-hole Johnny Miller target course that merges the spectacular with the unplayable and Rio Secco ($115-$225; 702-889-2400,, a Rees Jones design with holes that plunge through scrub-filled canyons. Also, watch for glimpses of Natalie Gulbis on the lesson tee with Butch Harmon.

Two other worthy choices are any of the three Pete Dye courses at Las Vegas Paiute Resort ($79-$159;, 800-711-2833) and The Chase at PGA Golf Club Coyote Springs ($140;, 877-PGA-VILL). Both require 45- to 55-minute drives from the Strip through barren desert. I like the Wolf course at Paiute, though I don’t know that it’s $30 better than its siblings. The good news is that each is under $100 after 12 noon. The Chase is a superb new Jack Nicklaus track that earned a No. 4 ranking in our 2008 Top 10 New Courses You Can Play. It’s worth the drive.

Hi Joe,
I’m looking for a couple of easy courses in the Orlando, Florida area. I don’t want to pay good money and have a bad score. My handicap is 18.

Steve Smith
Via email

Since most of us equate “easy” with “boring,” what I’m guessing you’re looking for are some fun, interesting layouts that won’t beat the stuffing out of you.

Two that I have in mind are MetroWest Golf Club ($80-$129;, 407-299-1099) and Hawk’s Landing Golf Club ($169;, 800-567-2623). From the tips, MetroWest actually is far from easy, but this 1987 Robert Trent Jones Sr. creation is traditional golf, with no gimmicks. There are elevated greens and bunkers galore, yet plenty of fairway room and only a handful of lakes make it playable for all. The 6,104-yard middle tees (the tips go 7,051 yards) check in at a comfortable 68.8 rating and 123 slope.

Hawk’s Landing is a Bob Cupp redesign of a mid-‘80s Joe Lee course that stretches only 6,600 yards, with a slope of 131, and features shorter tees of 6,165/5,601/4,746 yards. It’s pricey, but couldn’t be more centrally located, right at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort.

Dear Joe,
I’ll be in Lisbon, Portugal and I’m looking for courses to play. I have two days set aside for golf. Would you have any suggestions and contact numbers?

Dave Oravets
Via email

Absolutely worth the splurge is Oitavos Dunes (60-150 Euros--$75-$195;, 011-351-214860600), 20 minutes from Lisbon in Cascais, on the Estoril Coast. With holes edged by umbrella pines and scrub-covered dunes, this Arthur Hills-designed seaside layout is annual host to the European Tour’s Portuguese Open.

A shorter, hillier, more traditional parkland test is Golf do Estoril (65-71 Euros--$85-$95;, 011-351-289300680), one of Portugal’s oldest courses, a semi-private club that’s affiliated with the Palacio Estoril Hotel.    

November 13, 2008

Ask Travelin' Joe: Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando's best

Posted at 11:45 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hi Joe,
I'm heading to Las Vegas in November and I'd like to know what you recommend for a true "desert golf" experience. I want to play a type of course I can't get here in Georgia. I'm even willing to drive up to Mesquite while I'm there.

Paul Allmon
Atlanta, Ga.

Hey, this is Vegas-you can get anything your heart (or wallet) desires here. If you're willing to splurge, you'll be captivated by the back nine at Butch Harmon's haunt, Rio Secco ($115-$225; 702-889-2400,, where the holes dip into and out of scrub-filled canyons. A worthy alternative is the Badlands ($70-$150); 702-363-0754,, a 27-hole Johnny Miller desert target design that has plenty of quirky touches and a nice "wow" factor.

Hey Joe,
I'm headed to Phoenix with my wife in December and want to play somewhere scenic, but one that won't beat us up, if you know what I mean.

George Kent
Richmond, Va.

Say "Hi" if you see me strolling the fairways of my hometown! Try any of the three nines at The Phoenician ($115-$175; 480-423-2449, The Oasis loop offers a touch of Florida thanks to the landscaping and lakes, while the Desert and Canyon nines embrace cactus and mountain themes. All three nines are pretty short but eye-catching.

Hi Joe,
I'm a Spanish pro and going to Orlando next winter. Which are, in your opinion, the top 10 golf courses to play in Orlando?

Mario Fernandez Cobo

Travelin' Joe hasn't played them all, but taking in the feedback I've received, plus my own subjective whims, here's your Orlando area Top 10.

1. Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club, Orlando (private-resort)
2. Sugarloaf Mountain Golf & Town Club, Clermont (private-resort)
3. Southern Dunes, Haines City (public)
4. Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, Orlando (private)
5. Isleworth Country Club, Windermere (private)
6. Ginn Reunion Resort (Independence), Orlando (private-resort)
7. Grand Cypress Golf Club (New), Orlando (public-resort)
8. Walt Disney World (Osprey Ridge), Lake Buena Vista (public-resort)
9. Orange County National (Panther Lake), Winter Garden (public-resort)
10. Orange County National (Crooked Cat), Winter Garden (public-resort)

Many private courses are receptive to allowing play from visiting professionals, on a space-available basis, so call or write ahead of time. If that doesn't work, mention Sergio's name.

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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