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Offical Course Review: Orange County National Golf Center And Lodge

Orange County National Golf Center And Lodge

by Elaine Gallant

For the public golfer not privy to the exclusive amenities of a private club, things just keep getting bigger and better. And, while most players find one-on-one training and personalized video analysis from a respected golf academy available only to country club members or resort guests, it's simply no longer true.

Today, Orlando's public golfer can indulge in an 871-acre wonderland of golf and personal training without paying large, annual membership fees or being the guest of a five-star resort. Orange County National Golf Center that opened in 1997 with only an 18-hole championship golf course called Panther Lake and the Phil Ritson Golf Institute has matured into a world-class facility and a "must play" destination in Central Florida.

With its two-tiered, 42-acre circular practice range capable of handling over 600 players, the facility's recent expansion includes: a second championship 18-hole golf course called Crooked Cat; a 9-hole, par 29 executive course known as Tooth; and a 36-hole putting course named Whiskers. Also added is a 33,000-square-foot, fully equipped clubhouse featuring men's and ladies locker rooms, an indoor/outdoor restaurant and lounge, and a 7,000-square-foot, fully stocked pro shop. Additionally, there's ample meeting space and a 50-room guest lodge for overnight academy members or golfers simply wanting to immerse themselves in a weekend of total golf decadence.

"We're kind of like Disney World for golfers," says Bruce Gerlander, president of Orange County National. "You can really spend all day here doing different things…"

Which is absolutely true. So, if you have a day…or two…or three, you might want to give this a try: start your morning with chipping, driving, and iron play at the practice facility. Then take in the 65-foot elevation changes of Panther Lake, designed in 1994 by Dave Harmon, Phil Ritson, and Isao Aoki. Still the pride of Orange County National, Panther Lake plays 7,295 yards from the tournament tees (championship - 6,816) and 5,073 yards from the forwards. It's course and slope ratings are 75.7 /137 (73.2 /132) and 71.5 / 125, respectively.

On Panther, you'll find an uphill, opening hole inviting you onto a tree-framed green. Downhill takes you around lakes and over creeks, then past marshlands, woodlands, and fairways bordered by natural pasture. The course opens wide then winds its way onto the elevated tee box of hole number 11 where a heavily bunkered green waits below. From here, the topography changes once again and the course meanders through Carolina-like pine and oak forests. Then, on the signature, par 5, 622-yard, hole of number 14, you'll slip curiously around the right side of a hill and find the beauty of Panther Lake sparkling behind a cypress-treed green. The four remaining holes will take you along the lake, through pine, over water, and finish on a long, 570-yard, par 5 leaving you wanting for more.

So, if there's time still left in your day, you might want to work on those newly discovered swing flaws with half-hour or longer lessons at the Phil Ritson Golf Institute. You can have your swing videotaped and computer analyzed, your equipment evaluated, or take advantage of Phil Ritson's Teaching Methodology.

Then again, you might just want to take on the par 29, 9-hole executive course of Tooth. It plays 1,563 yards from the blues and 1,386 from the whites.

For the aggressive player who can't get enough, you might want to come back the next day and warm-up once again on the practice facility before facing the more configured 18-championship holes of Crooked Cat.

Although the same design team of Harmon, Ritson and Aoki was used, Crooked Cat has more of a links feel. It plays 7,277 yards from the tournament tees (championship - 6,768) and 5,262 from the forwards. Course and slope ratings are 75.4 / 140 (72.9 / 134) and 70.3 / 120.

Plateau tees and generous landing areas emerge from "red-top," grassland thickets. Non-continuous fairways dogleg left and right around trees and marshland up to elevated greens or down to large, undulating putting areas heavily bunkered by sand or grass. There are only a few holes where water actually comes into play and probably the most significant is the 210-yard, par 3, hole number 13. The water carry is a must for each of the four tees. The slightly downhill, finishing hole of number 18 barrels toward the clubhouse, but this 458-yard, par 4, is no easy finish. Its mounds and hollows are guaranteed to alter your routing to the flag. Once there, and after a brief stop at Phil's 19th hole for refreshments, you might want to go on for an afternoon putting match on the 36-hole Whiskers putting course. Go, ahead. Challenge yourself and you'll never miss that birdie putt again.

Of course, for those the likes of Michael Jordan who was known to play 63 holes in one day at Orange County National, playing all the courses in one day is a possibility. Go ahead, if you think you can handle it. It's all yours. As a matter of fact, now's the time to plan that all-day outing especially if you don't want the feel of being crowded, pushed, or pressured. Expansion at Orange County National has far exceeded present attendance. However, it won't be that way for long, for recognition is close at hand.

Nike recently filmed a series of commercials at Orange County National including the controversial ball-bouncing one featuring Tiger Woods. And, according to Gerlander, almost all the Orlando-based, touring pros have either visited or played here. Additionally, every now and then, several celebrities have been known to show up. Lastly, given its proximity to Orlando, the future expansion of the Western Beltway, and a major, 8-village planned community called Horizon's West, Orange County National stands on the threshold of a promising future.

So what are you waiting for? The completion of the "yet to be determined" 18-holes of Wild Run or the building of the Center's Golf Villas? You'll find Orange County National Golf Center at 16301 Phil Ritson Way off CR 545 (a.k.a. Avalon Road) within a 9.5-mile drive south of Highway 50 in Winter Garden or a 15-mile drive northwest of Walt Disney World. For directions, information, or tee times call (888)-PAR-3672 or (407)-656-2626.

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