by MIKE BAILEY
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Florida – One of the most unique resorts in Florida is a little off the beaten path. It’s called Mission Resort + Club. There’s nothing like it really anywhere, much less the Sunshine State, and it has an interesting history.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Mission Resort + Club several times over the past decade or so, and this week, it’s the site of the Golf Writers Championship of America national championship on both courses. The two courses there are as unique as the resort, which goes back more than 100 years.
Formerly known as Mission Inn Resort, it’s located about 35 miles northwest of Orlando, in a town called Howey-in-the-Hills. The town was founded by William John Howey, whose dream was to create a citrus empire on the 60,000 acres he purchased back in the early 1900s. The name reflects the beautiful rolling hills and sparkling lakes. Howey called it the “Florida Alps.” He built a hotel and the Floridian Country Club in 1916, and hired George O’Neil to create the original golf course, now called El Campeon, which is still there at what is now Mission Resort + Club. Over the years, however, the citrus groves and Howey’s creations fell on hard times, including the Depression and a devastating freeze, and the club and the golf course fell in disrepairs.
Then, in 1964, a successful businessman named Nick Beucher purchased the distressed property. Beucher, who had spent a lot of time in Mexico, reimagined and created it in the image of Spanish Colonial architecture, which he loved. They added another golf course in 1992, this one designed by Floridian and former tour player Gary Koch, and the two complement each other perfectly. The old course, El Campeon, is hilly with a lot of unique holes and shapes, elevated tees and severe uphill and downhill approaches, while the Las Colinas Course isn’t nearly as hilly as El Campeon, but it’s longer, more than 7,200 yards with plenty of water, large bunkers and larger greens.
“There are not too many places where you can play two different courses at the same facility in one day, and they are unique because they are two very different layouts,” said Bryan Mulry, who was named PGA Director of Golf at Mission Resort last March. “So, on the same property, you have one course that is played on undulating landscape with water
on a lot of strategic holes, and then you have Las Colinas designed through the residences and the tree lines which gives you a very different look and character.
“It’s a unique place because when you drive here, you don’t feel the hustle and bustle. Once you arrive in Howey-in-the-Hills and our resort, it is very quiet and secluded like a ‘best kept secret.’ It’s a very special place.”
The courses are fairly difficult. El Campeon has a slope rating of 74.6/142; Las Colinas is 75.4/132. So, I and the rest of the field here for the GWAA tourney have our work cut out for us. Mulry said most players don’t talk about how tough it is, though, just how much they enjoyed the ride.
“Better-than-average players like the challenge of golf, and they don’t see the beauty. They just see the challenge, yet many love the scenery here,” Mulry said. “If you go to La Hacienda restaurant and sit on the back patio as the sun sets, I will put that up against a lot of other views, even an ocean view, because you are looking over the lake, the golf course, the 18th, the first hole and the clubhouse. It’s very picturesque. And if you go out to hole No. 7 late in the evening and watch the sunset from there, it’s incredible.”
You just have to be there to get it.
“It’s in the middle of an area that has terrain that’s unnoticeable until you actually go see it. Playing here is an experience that everyone is going to have a different feel for,” he said.
In January 2023, the 500-acre development was purchased by Mississippi-based and family-owned MMI Hospitality Group, bringing this historic escape into a new era. And the resort was recently inducted into Historic Hotels of America, the focal program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“We will work to preserve the natural beauty and history of Mission Resort + Club, paying homage to its storied past while working toward future growth,” said Cindy Staley, general manager of Mission Resort + Club.
While the golf might be the main attraction for us golfers, the rest of the resort has lots to offer, too. There are 176 guest rooms and suites, villas, four restaurants, two lounges and a poolside bar. The three-bedroom villas are perfect for families or buddies trips, and most of the rooms feature golf course, tennis court or water views.
Speaking of racquet sports, Mission Resort has six har-tru clay courts and two Laykold all-weather courts, all under the direction of Cesar Villerroel, a Level One certified USPTA and USPTR teacher. So this is a great spot to get a lesson or take part in a cardio-tennis clinic. The facility, which also offers pickleball, has been recognized among the “Top 25 Resort and Tennis Programs” by Tennis Magazine.
Additionally, there’s the Spa Marbella, a 6,200-square foot sanctuary located next to the golf clubhouse. It has five treatment rooms, two steam rooms, private men’s and women’s lounges, and a deluxe couples suite. There’s also an excellent fitness center.
And if you’re into water sports, the resort’s nautical center, Marina del Rey, offers everything from power boating, sailing, and fishing to a lakeside pavilion with a sand volleyball court and nature walk. So whether you play golf or not, Mission Resort + Club is a great escape, and it’s certainly different from anything else you’ll see in the Orlando area.
(Mike Bailey is a Travel Editor for Pro Golf Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com)