ORANGE COUNTY NATIONAL - Golf Center and Lodge (407-656-2626)
Florida Golf Course Review
Orange County National is the creation of Dave Harman, Isao Aoki and Phil Ritson, a guru and mentor to countless top golf instructors and professionals
and Disney's Director of Golf for several years in the 1980s. The sprawling complex covers 911 acres and includes two 18-hole championship golf courses
, and 9-hole short course, a 46-room lodge, and a clubhouse the features locker rooms with showers, a 5,000 square foot pro shop, Whiskers Restaurant
and lounge (open 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM), and outing/special events facilities. The 42-acre practice facility includes a 360 degree grass range with 600 total
spaces and 8 chipping greens, and also houses the Phil Ritson Golf Studio. Two large putting greens are also on property. For more information on the resort click here.
Panther Lake was opened for public play in 1997, and Crooked Cat in late 1998, with the clubhouse becoming part of the complex in 1999. Tooth, the 9
-hole executive layout, is a great addition as it provides a place for beginners to hone their skills, and is frequented by many parent-sibling couplings - with
juniors 17 and under playing for free when accompanied by a paying adult (the fee is inexpensive and walking is complimentary with range/practice
programs).One of Orange County's claims to fame is that Tiger Woods performed his famous balancing act (Nike commercial in which he bounced a ball
off his iron several times then crushed it 200 yards in mid-air) on the practice range. Additionally, the late Payne Stewart once called Orange County
National "the best public golf course I've ever seen in the U.S."
What draws top golfers to this facility? Well for one thing there is plenty of length. Crooked Cat measures 7277 yards and Panther Lake 7295. Each
course has its notable features, with formidable challenges in the form of marsh lands and water hazards, plentiful fairway and green-side bunkering and
mounding, and not-so-subtle elevation changes that create many uphill and downhill tee shots. Mostly however - it is the beauty of the layouts.
Just as importantly, OCN provides a range of tees on each course, that provides a significant challenge from the tour tees and back sets, while also
stroking the comfort zone for mid to high handicappers (and women) from the two forward sets. Average golfers will find the green tees to their liking
(Crooked Cat 6035, Panther Lake 6298). The courses are extremely well marked, with 100,150 and 200 yards blocks on the cart paths, as well as in the
middle of the fairways. There are 150-yard stakes on the par fours and fives, strategically located to double as directional aids. Each tee area also
provides measurement information to the center of the green. The GPS that is standard on all carts provides accurate yardage information from tee to pin.
The course conditions were extremely enjoyable on our early October visit. Fairways, tees and sand bunkers are finely sculpted, and the sloping greens
were large and true rolling. When dry, these putting surfaces (TifDwarf) were quite quick.
REVIEW - CROOKED CAT
Crooked Cat has earned 4 1/2 stars from Golf Digest, and has hosted the 2003 Final stage of the PGA Qualifier, 2002 PGA Tour Qualifier 2nd stage,
2000-2001 U.S. Amateur Qualifier and 2000-01-02 Oldsmobile Scramble Finals. The five sets of tees here measure between 7,493 yards (139 slope rating
), and 5,112 yards (slope rating 123). As a 13/14 handicapper, I elected to play the blues tees on the front (3273 yards) and the greens on the back
(3108). There is quite a discrepancy between the two nines, with the back side playing over 200 yards longer and a whopping 3475 from the blues - with 5
par fours ranging from 415-432 yards from these tees. The whites are the Tour Tees and play to 3757 on the back side! Frequently, the tees are elevated
or depressed on the back nine, a real change of pace from the front - which presents a more score-able environment. The green complexes throughout
are defined by mounding and bunkering, demanding accuracy on approach.
Crooked Cat has a distinct links flavor, with wide terraced fairways, plus native red-top heather grass providing a Scottish feel. Over 1000 trees have been
added to this layout since 2005.The opening hole is a score-able par five that bends to the left with a large bunker complex running pretty much the entire
length of the right side. The second is a testy par four that bends right and plays downhill off the tee. The approach must clear the rough, mounding and
bunkers that replace the fairway from 100 yards in. Number three bends to the left past the 150, with sand bunkers forming a triangle around the green.
Four is the # 1 handicap, with a fairway that narrows 150 yards out due to trees on either side. Mounding and swales protect the green. The generous
fairway on five leads to a raised green, again guarded by bunkers and mounding. The first par three of the day follows, featuring an uphill tee shot to a
putting surface situated behind considerable bunkering, with room long behind the green. The seventh is a score-able par four, presenting a wide fairway
and simple approach, and precedes a long par three called "The Pit" - protected by grass swales, mounds and bunkers. As the number 5 handicap, this is
a tough proposition as a 3-par. The finishing hole on the front is the last relatively short par four you will encounter on The Cat (400/375/324/279 yards).
It is a beautiful dogleg left that invites a tee shot aimed at the 150 yard stake. The approach is a tough one, but there is room long.
If you are playing from the white or blue tees, stretch out and be prepared to grip it and rip it on the back. The first three holes are four pars that measure
426, 415 and 417 from the blues (459, 446 & 461 from the Tour tees)! The tenth presents a wide fairway, with the approach demanding an extra club due
to the uphill nature of this hole. Eleven plays straight away and with just one sand trap to the left of the green, is the most score-able of these 3 holes.
Twelve demands a formidable carry over a marsh off the tee and another shot over water on the approach, with some bail out room in the mounds to the
left.The par three 13th handicaps at # 4 and demands a tee shot that is pretty much all carry over a swamp. Long is better than short here. The fairway on
14 is extremely undulating, and plays uphill all the way. Hole number 15 is a pretty par three from an elevated tee area, with bunkers short and gator
country long. The pampas pictured here can be found in bunkers and lining the fairways throughout the layout. A daunting par four follows with a right to
left shot shape to a raised fairway leaving the best lie. Grip it and rip one here. Seventeen doglegs severely right, with the line left of the trees setting up
for the best approach. Though bunkers and mounding guard the green, this is a very score-able par five. The left side of the fairway leaves the most
desirable approach on the 458 yard par four 18th, which is a long but a reasonable finishing hole.
Great golf course! And with 36 holes of top quality championship golf, a 9-hole short course layout, 43 acre practice facility, Phil Ritson Golf Institute, 22
,000 square foot clubhouse, 200 seat restaurant and 50 room lodge - this is a golfers paradise. Corporate outings, meetings, banquets and receptions
can be comfortably facilitated here. Orange County National is conveniently located on Highway 545, just northwest of the Disney complex.
Click here to visit the Two Guys Who Golf Detailed Information page with a link to this course's web page (if available).