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).