Orlando golf guide: The best courses to play on a buddies trip

The 9-hole course at Winter Park

Winter Park’s 9-hole course, WP9, was born in 1914 and refreshed in 2016.


The PGA Tour is in Orlando this week, just down the road from Disney’s Magic Kingdom, playing at the kingdom of the King. Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge, host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is a members’ club, but it’s “resort private,” meaning you can play there if you stay there. And in an area filled with exclusive courses, it’s not the only worthy place that allows public access.

Where else might you peg it on a buddies trip?

The first two names that come to mind — Streamsong Resort and Cabot Citrus Farms — aren’t in Orlando proper, but you can get to either in roughly 90 minutes. Both offer world-class courses in the modern-minimalist style: firm, fast and fun. But if you’re bent on staying closer to to the city center, here are more ideas.

For starters, run, don’t walk, to Winter Park Golf Course, but once you arrive, start walking again. You’re going to want to hoof it. Winter Park’s 9-hole course, WP9, which was born in 1914 and refreshed in 2016, threads through a neighborhood, flanked by train tracks, churches and a cemetery, with great Golden-Age bones and updated irrigation that make it a first-rate modern throwback. At 2,480 yards, it’s the kind of routing that you’ll want to loop twice, though the other course on site, an 18-holer called, you guessed it, WP18, is a sweet walk, too.

While playing in Arnie’s event is out of the question, you can can peg it at another course that Palmer used to frequent. A quick skip south from Winter Park is semi-private Rio Pinar Country Club, which was once an annual stop on both the PGA and LPGA tours. Unlike so many Tour venues today, Rio Pinar is not a rear-back-and-blast-it kind of place. Its tree-lined fairways ask for smart positioning, and its small greens are defended by deep bunkers. Built in the 1950s, it tips out at just under 7,000 yards, with a classic, walker-friendly routing. No need for a long cart ride from green to tee.

To call a layout “Mickey Mouse” is usually an insult. But we’re not throwing stones when we say that Walt Disney Resort has four courses. The Magnolia and the Palm would be our two top choices. Both are beefy former Tour stops. If you’re looking for something more snackable, Disney’s 9-hole Oak Trail course is a leisurely walk. 

Elsewhere in Orlando, you’ll find all the resort golf you can eat. At Omni Orlando ChampionsGate, two 18-hole designs by Greg Norman. the National and International, provide a study in contrasts. The latter is longer, with sandy features that call to mind a links, while the latter winds through trees and wetlands (ChampionsGate also just cut the ribbon on Eagles Edge, a new training-and-entertainment facility that features 30 hitting bays equipped with Toptracer Range technology) . Reunion Resort has three courses by three big names: Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

And then there’s the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, home to a Greg Norman course that you might recognize from TV. It’s the host of the PNC Championship, where Tiger Woods has partnered in recent years with his son, Charlie. You know, that kid who might win Arnie’s event someday. 

Josh Sens

Golf.com Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.