ORLANDO, Florida – Reunion Resort & Golf Club has been on the western edge of Orlando long enough to be no longer classified as “new,’’ but there is a plenty new happening here at the 2,300-acre resort and club that features golf courses by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
Let’s begin with the ownership. One year ago, Atlanta-based Kingwood International Resorts purchased Reunion from Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds, which had let the resort fray around the edges a bit. Since then, Kingwood International has invested more than $2.5 million on improvements at Reunion, including $1.5 million on the three golf courses. It also officially added “Golf Club’’ to Reunion’s name, which has helped separate it from its Orlando competition.
A new sushi bar has been added in the hotel lobby and the Honma Golf Fitting Experience opened this past January.
Still to come: An 18-hole miniature golf course that replicates some of the greens on the big courses; enhancements to the water park; and a new 400-room hotel with convention and meeting facilities. In addition, approximately 50 to 75 new stand-alone homes are being added annually.
Reunion was at the vanguard of Orlando’s western expansion along the Osceola and Polk County lines some 20 years ago, and indeed, featuring estate homes with as many as 13 bedrooms, it’s still a major drawing card for vacationers (Disney World is 20 minutes away) and locals looking for that Central Florida lifestyle without all of the distractions.
“The nice thing about Reunion is that the new owner wants us to focus on the ‘club’ part of the resort,’’ said General Manager Kevin Baker, who has been on property for 18 years. “We switched the name because the club component is critical to the longevity of the property. We now have 1,100 (social and golf) members. Our goal is to double that.
“But you still get the feeling of a resort. We have members from the UK and New England who come here on vacation and feel like they’re at a resort because of the atmosphere and energy.’’
That atmosphere and energy is present throughout the property – from each individually owned condo and villa to the tennis courts and walking trails to the hotel rooftop with its terrific “Eleven’’ restaurant (go for the Brown Butter Bread Pudding for dessert), which has nightly views of the Disney World fireworks displays. In addition to shuttle service, Reunion now allows private, outside golf cars for its members and guests, which makes it easy to traverse the property from the hotel all the way to the new Nicklaus clubhouse.
“People feel they don’t have leave here,’’ Baker said.
The three golf courses at Reunion Resort & Golf Club certainly are outstanding reasons to stay. And the best part is, whereas many Central Florida golf courses tend to look alike, each course at Reunion is different from the other.
“Three different levels of playability,’’ Baker said.
Each course has at least five sets of tee boxes to help with that playability, and each also has hybrid tee boxes to give players a good mix-and-match of holes with skill levels.
The Palmer Course (6,916 yards, par 72) is designed in the King’s swashbuckling, go-for-broke style, with wide fairways and large greens. The first hole (421 yards from the tips), in fact, swings with a heavy dogleg left – Palmer’s favorite shot off the tee.
Watson, a five-time Open Champion, laid out his course (7,154 yards, par 72) in more a links-style, with 186 bunkers, rolling fairways and no water.
The Nicklaus Course (7,219 yards, par 72) requires accurate tee shots and high approach shots into small greens – just the way the Golden Bear played. Although the Nicklaus Course was final of the three to open – in 2007 – it really is a bit a throwback to Nicklaus’ designs from the late 1980s and ‘90s.
Some of the aforementioned $1.5 million in course work was spent on downsizing several of the bunkers on the Nicklaus Course, but the course still plays as the most difficult of the three – a good “members’’ course while the Palmer and Watson each are excellent resort courses.
That “members’’ feel is even more evident at the Nicklaus Course thank to the recent opening of the 12,000 square-foot Nicklaus Clubhouse. The centerpiece of Reunion’s “club’’ experience, the clubhouse features Traditions restaurant that overlooks the 18th fairway and green. Traditions is a great spot to begin the day with breakfast and offers all-day dining. Don’t pass on the Pecan-Smoked Chicken Wings.
And don’t pass on Reunion Resort & Golf Club. It’s all the best Central Florida has to offer without ever having to leave the gates.