Why Orange Tree Golf Club is the best course you’ve never heard of

Orange Tree golf in Florida.

A view of Orange Tree Golf Club in Orlando.

Courtesy Photo

Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have played golf just about everywhere. Many of those courses you’ve probably heard of, but some are less renowned — at least for most golfers. In Best Course You’ve Never Heard Of, we celebrate those sneaky-good designs.

In our modern information age, it’s rare for a compelling golf course to escape notice. But there’s an under-the-radar property that exists in the golf hotbed of Orlando: Orange Tree Golf Club.

Orange Tree, a private club, is all about golf. It was designed by Joe Lee and opened in 1972. Lee worked for — and was later a partner of — Dick Wilson, a prominent designer of the 1950s and ’60s. Wilson learned the trade as a construction foreman for William Flynn of Shinnecock Hills and Cherry Hills fame. Though Lee’s work is not as grand in scale as Flynn’s — or as challenging as Wilson’s — he provided the kind of solid meat-and-potatoes golf that is rare in the game today. Lee’s courses almost always began with a par-5 to get you away from the clubhouse. He tended to place bunkers on one side of a fairway, which was the side that often left the ideal angle of approach. His greens were usually well bunkered but normally would leave an option to run the ball up the front.

Orange Tree has all of those traits. Though not a long course by today’s standards, it is a demanding test off the tee. At no point does Lee take the driver out of a player’s hand with forced layups, but you can play a shorter club off the tee and leave a longer approach. The greens, however, set Orange Tree apart. Redesigned by former Pete Dye shaper Ellis Brown in the late 1980s, they come in every shape and size and are imaginatively contoured. You can tell early in the round that the greens are going to be great, but they become simply outstanding through the back nine, with the 13th through 16th being especially worthy of study. There are a multitude of interesting hole locations that keep daily play challenging for even the strongest of players.

It’s the variety of holes, intriguing greens and outstanding presentation that makes Orange Tree Golf Club shine. It’s a great place to tee it up in the winter — or every day.

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