by Bruce Vitner
ORLANDO, Florida – We started visiting Walt Disney World as a family in 1983. We’d pile our three kids in the car and drive the 1,200 miles down to Orlando. It was always one of our favorite trips. As we rode the monorail around the part, I would look longingly just outside the park at the beautifully manicured golf courses that were part of the complex. In our many visits I never brought my golf clubs.
All that changed in November when my golfing buddies and I flew down to Orlando to play golf at Disney World. Why not? It was the 50th anniversary of the park, right! Southwest had a direct flight from Providence to Orlando that got us there in less than three hours.
As we were flying down we thought back to the many professional tournaments held at Disney World that we had watched on television. Jack Nicklaus won three Walt Disney World Classic championships in the 1970’s. Ryan Palmer won the 2004 event by shooting a final round 62. Davis Love III won the event, but he also raved about staying right there next to the course and going to the park every day with his children.
Arnold Palmer played in the first event at Walt Disney Resort in 1971. In fact, he took a test ride on the new Disney Monorail. The Arnold Palmer Management Company took over the care and management of the four courses at the facility in 2011.
“We want to be accessible to everyone,” said Alex Forsyth, Director of Sales and Marketing for Walt Disney World Golf. “Our guests arrive daily from around the world, and we strive to provide them with a magical and memorable experience.”
The four courses on the property are the Palm Course, Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista and Oak Trail. We played the Palm and the Magnolia courses. Each course has unique characteristics and the central Florida landscape features shimmering lakes, tropical sands, palm trees, groomed fairways and sloping greens.
As you can see from the picture of Hole No. 1 on the Palm Course, the green is elevated, as they are on most of the holes. The back tees measure 6,870 yards, but there are many teeing options for you to choose from. There are nine holes with water in play. The greens are quite undulating and you have to remember that is not bentgrass like up north. The Palm served as the host course for the PGA Tour starting in 1971.
Magnolia Golf Course is adjacent to the Palm Course. It is a little bit wider, but also much longer. It can play over 7,500 yards for the pros. The Magnolia Course was home to the PGA Senior Tour for many years. This course has 97 bunkers and 11 holes with water. Mickey Mouse comes into play on the sixth hole with a bunker in the shape of Mickey’s iconic ears. The course was extensively renovated in 2015.
The last of the 18 holes courses is Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Course. It is much the easiest, as there are wide-open fairways, but there are still elevated greens and well-guarded. There is an island green on the seventh hole. The LPGA played an event on this course in 1996 and 1007.
With Walt Disney World being such an iconic family destination, it is only natural that one golf course should be well-suited for families. Disney’s Oak Trail Course is a nine-hole walking course that is perfect for families and casual golfers. The conditioning is excellent, and it can be played from a junior tee of 1,713 yards to close to 3,000 yards from the back. FootGolf is also played on the Oak Trail Course on certain afternoons.
As expected Walt Disney properties provides excellent customer service. At every turn our trip was filled with smiling faces and employees ready, willing and able to assist.
“We are continually trying to enhance the guest experience and heighten the overall enjoyment of our world-class facilities, not only through better golf course conditioning and renovations, but from an operations perspective,” added Alex Forsyth. “We at Arnold Palmer Golf Management believe we are at the point of being able to put our best foot forward, and the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort is a great time to celebrate that.”
Millions of dollars have gone into course upgrades and Golf Digest ranks Walt Disney World Golf among its top five destinations for a family golf trip. It’s also great for a buddies’ getaway as we can attest!
(Bruce Vittner is a member of the Golf Writers of America and the Golf Travel Writers of America and can be reached at email@example.com.)
PHOTO CREDITS: Nile Young