In this blog post we explore some of the best golf courses in Orlando, both public and private. This is a city renowned as the theme park capital of the world, famous with adults and children alike.
It is home to nearly all the major resorts; Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLand. Within Walt Disney World alone you will find the likes of the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood studios, the Animal Kingdom….and the list goes on.
The most central city in the Sunshine State of Florida, Orlando is closer to the Atlantic Ocean than it is the Gulf of Mexico. But like many of the cities in Florida, it has the same sub-tropical climate, so essentially warm and humid conditions for most of the year.
This is why it is such a popular tourist destination with so many days of sun whilst even cooler days are mild. But without any further delay, let’s jump into the best golf courses in Orlando.
The best public golf courses in Orlando, Florida
Bay Hill (Challenger & Champion)
Many people will recognise Bay Hill Club & Lodge as being the eternal home to the great Arnold Palmer. It is also home to the PGA Tour event of the same name, the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is a fabulous resort open to members and guests staying at the Lodge.
Just south of Orlando, the course was originally designed by Dick Wilson when the resort first opened in 1961 fronted by a group of investors, and in the late 70s was purchased by Arnold Palmer after an exhibition match there.
Over the intervening years, Palmer made many changes to the course and today what is there is far more Palmer than Wilson. There are three 9 holes of which the main 18 hole championship course is made up of the Champion & Challenger nines, which from the back tees can be extended to nearly 7,400 yards.
Granted it depends which tees you’re playing off, but on the whole it is difficult to score well here. Decent drives, long irons, meticulous approach play to avoid water or bunkers, fast greens…this is definitely championship golf Palmer would be proud of.
Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge (Panther Lake)
Orange County National Golf Centre is a pretty exceptional place and without doubt Orlando’s own golfing mecca.
Panther Lake is one of two 18-hole championship golf courses onsite, the other being the Crooked Cat. They also have a 9-hole short course, a golf academy and the largest driving range in the United States.
Panther Lake has often been called pinpoint adrenaline golf. It is played over rolling meadows, through vast wetlands and native pines. Whilst it also includes elevation changes of up to 60-feet, something unique in the Sunshine State.
Although there are water hazards in play, there aren’t half as many as can be experienced in other Florida courses.
With no residential developments around the course, this is just golf and nature. Many of the elevated tees offer an unabridged view of the hole so you know what is coming.
It is the approach play where many a scorecard is ruined, with elevated greens being well-guarded and immensely contoured. Do yourself a favor and spend the day here, you won’t regret it.
Grand Cypress Golf (Links)
I’ve included Grand Cypress on this list but with so many changes happening at the club, I feel I could be wasting my time.
Long story short, the resort is being completely renovated to the tune of over a billion dollars, with every aspect of the resort being updated and improved.
The old North/South/East course is already having its own multi-million dollar redevelopment so I won’t waste any time writing about that course. As for the Jack Nicklaus Links course, formerly the New Course, it is rumored this will also be completely redeveloped in the next couple of years.
So uncertainty reigns here, but one must remain positive and optimistic about what the future may hold. This may well turn into one of Florida’s top golf resorts…who knows.
As for today, the Links course remains and it is Nicklaus’ tribute to the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland. As the name suggests, it is links in style with very few trees, double greens, stone bridges, pot bunkers (of which there are over 150 on the course), gorse mounds and burns.
There is very little water in play except for on a few occasions, requiring accurate approach shots to deceivingly large greens. This unique course in Florida should be enjoyed whilst it’s still here.
Tranquilo Golf Club
Tranquilo Golf Club is one of many golf courses owned by Walt Disney World and located onsite at the luxury Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.
A golf course being owned by Walt Disney World for some reason seems to lose some credibility or authenticity. Why?
Instinctively you might think it would have been designed and built quickly and without much thought to design and playability with the pure objective of adding a golf offering as part of their overall proposition.
Which is completely unfair and how wrong could we be with Tranquilo Golf Club.
Tom Fazio, a man who has been the inspiration behind many of the top golf courses in Florida, was commissioned to design Tranquilo. This is now rightly considered as one of Florida’s top 50 golf courses.
A traditional out and back course, you start at the resort but don’t revisit it until you finish your round. The course takes you on a journey, right out into the heart of scrub and protected wetlands.
There is an abundance of wildlife as the fairways wind through this dense natural wilderness. It really doesn’t feel like you are so close to one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world.
A Fazio design feature is his extensive use of bunkers, and at Tranquilo it is no different. The tee shots are true, but stray shots will be lost. The greens are in great condition and fair. A top class golf course and one of the best golf courses in Orlando, Florida.
See also: What are the best Disney golf courses?
Waldorf Astoria Golf
A relative newbie having only opened in 2009, Waldorf Astoria Golf is a blast. It is also one I guarantee will continue to receive further praise and acclaim as the years go on. And to top it all off, it is a course open to the public.
Waldorf Astoria was designed by the acclaimed Rees Jones. This is a man whose CV includes renovating many great golf courses. Unsurprisingly, the layout harks back to many of the characteristics and features of some of these great golf courses. So much so, many of the holes here pull in elements of some of the world’s classic courses.
Visually stunning, it feels like the course has been here far longer than it actually has. There is a lot of water which comes into play. And in the rare moments water isn’t in play, it is replaced instead with majestic cypress trees.
Most tee shots are ‘what you see is what you get’ with only a couple of doglegs.
The course is playable for all levels of golfers with the choice of five tees on every hole. This is a great addition to the Florida golfing scene.
Reunion Golf (Watson)
This is a special place. Why? It is the only golf destination worldwide to feature three signature golf courses from Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. And what is more, this is another club open to guests with no restrictions.
All three courses here are top class and as you would imagine have been kept in great condition. However, it is the Watson course I want to highlight and considered the most challenging of the three.
The first thing to get right here is tee selection. Feeling confident at the start of your round and opting for one of the longer tees could set you up for a long day.
There are plenty of undulations in the fairways as even well hit tee shots could leave you in some bother. Likewise, finding one of the 170 bunkers on the course could slow you up.
Strategy, patience and conservative play are all essential. Again, depending on your tee choice, having chosen the back tees it stretches to just shy of 7,200 yards.
That said, if you don’t take your golf too seriously, this is great fun. It is also well worth trying to get 36-holes in, playing one of the other two courses onsite.
The best private golf courses in Orlando
Country Club of Orlando
Not far from downtown Orlando is the sumptuous private golf course of the Country Club of Orlando. This is one of the oldest golf courses in Florida having originally opened for play right back in 1911.
There is much debate online as to who actually designed this course, with the official club website claiming Donald Ross the creative visionary behind it. But there are many voices who claim the course was actually routed and overseen by Tom Bendelow.
He was certainly involved to some degree but regardless of who was the inspiration behind the original design, it is a very different proposition now than what it was back then having been the recipient of numerous design tweaks and changes.
Robert Trent Jones Sr is just one of the many names who over the years laid his marker here with the addition of three new holes. But the most recent renovation completed in 2017 was under the supervision of Ron Forse and it’s fair to say the course has changed quite significantly from the original design.
The underlying character of the course is relatively flat. It’s at the beautifully contoured greens, all of which were completely updated in 2017, that the main challenge comes to play. To score well your approach play must be on fire. This is a delightful course in the Orlando area.
Isleworth Golf Club
This wonderful golf course is located in an even more wonderful location to the south west of Orlando.
Literally surrounded by six, yes, six different lakes, the course is right in the heart of one of Florida’s most exclusive private residential communities. There are some pretty impressive homes which line the fairways, many of which are owned by golfers.
The championship course was originally designed by Arnold Palmer and in 2003 it was upgraded by the highly respected Steve Smyers. Built on pristine rolling terrain, this is immensely pleasing on the eye. So much so, this picturesque course is regularly ranked as one the best golf courses in Orlando, Florida.
Clearly, with six lakes surrounding the course, water is a consistent hazard to contend with. There is water to carry off tees, water lining fairways and water defending greens. From the back tees it can be extended to over 7,500 yards, a ‘treat’ for any visiting pro golfer.
Lake Nona Golf & Country Club
Set within a secluded 600 acre private community bordering the lake of the same name, is the strictly private Lake Nona golf club.
Designed by Tom Fazio, Lake Nona welcomes numerous top golf pros as well as countless other world-class athletes. All come to enjoy the exclusive surroundings of this luxury club.
Many of you may recognise the name. This is because over the years it has hosted a handful of high-draw golf tournaments. These include numerous US Open Qualifiers, the 1993 World Cup of Golf, the US Amateur Championship and last but certainly not least, the 1990 Solheim Cup.
It also plays host to the Tavistock Cup, a team golf event where the top-ranked professionals from six exclusive clubs compete over a two-day event. No wonder it is home to dozens of PGA and LPGA tour players as well as NFL, NBA and NHL players past and present!
The front nine is far more tree-lined featuring dense groves of tall trees. On the back nine, water comes far more into play with stunning views across the lake. There really are some delightful holes and long bunkers feature prominently.
This is pure golf luxury we can just aspire to play.
Bella Collina Golf
Tucked up next to the scenic Lake Apopka near Monteverde, is Bella Colina Golf. It is a stunning exclusive golf club half an hour’s drive west of Orlando.
The course is part of an uber-exclusive gated community offering luxury lakefront estate homes and upscale condos. And of course like all gated communities of this ilk, it offers top-class resort-style amenities and leisure.
Unique for a Florida course, Bella Colina is anything but flat and instead has dramatic elevation changes. It was designed by Nick Faldo and Steve Smyers and they’ve built without question one of best golf courses in Orlando.
There are stunning views across the lake. Add to that huge rolling fairways lined with vast sandy wastelands and bunkers. And lastly, the undulating greens are lightning-fast.
The conditioning here is also second to none, as you would expect. From the back tees the course measures just short of 7,700 yards. But with a number of different tee options, it can be played by all levels, assuming you can get on.
The site has a slight Tuscan feel to it with pointed cypress trees and rolling hills. This is all the more impressive being it’s just a short drive from downtown Orlando.
What is the best golf course in Orlando?
In my opinion, the best golf course in Orlando, Florida, is the Challenger & Champion course at Bay Hill Golf Club. The course is home to the annual PGA Tour event, The Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is an event which attracts some of the world’s greatest players.
The course was originally designed by Dick Wilson. But after Arnold Palmer acquired the course in the 70s, he oversaw many changes to make it into the challenge it is today.