Florida: All to play for in the Sunshine State

Golf at Reunion with the Reunion Grande in the background

Golf at Reunion with the Reunion Grande in the background - Credit: Steven Martine Photography

With everything that is happening in the Euro Zone, golfing holidays in Spain are becoming increasingly unattractive for groups of Britons who want to play in the sun. Logic dictates that green fees should be falling as proprietors attempt to keep the Brits coming to their courses. Is it happening? What do you think?

Let’s be clear – if you want to play golf in Spain at this time of year, the chances are you will be able to find affordable green fees. But who wants to go during the winter, when the weather is little better than our own and the courses are generally in poor condition?

And while the green fees may be reduced, they can never be described as cheap.

To prove the point, here are some examples. San Roque is £80 per person in December – it will cost a two-ball £175 (including a buggy). Real Sotogrande is £130; La Reserva Sotogrande is £94. And what about Valderrama, scene of the 1997 Ryder Cup? That will be just the £220. This is off-season, so those fees are as low as they are ever going to be.

There are cheap golf courses, where it will cost you £20 or £30 for 18 holes, but you can guess what you get for that price; and why would you want to fly to Spain to play a bad course? So perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere. Turkey is already making serious inroads into the Spanish market, but there are doubts about the long-term health of the Turkish economy, and that brings Florida into play.

Yes, there is the question of an eight- or nine-hour flight, but have you ever considered what might be waiting for you at the other end?

For a start, the courses you play will not be surrounded by half-built apartment blocks and villas, so you will not feel like you are playing in the middle of an abandoned town or village with tumbleweed blowing down the fairways.

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But the real reason to consider Florida is the quality of the courses and outstanding levels of service and value for money you will receive.

Let’s look at a few examples, starting with Falcon’s Fire, at 3200 Seralago Boulevard, Kissimmee. The first surprise is the valet parking. They will even take your clubs to the driving range or first tee while you pay your green fee.

Americans don’t like playing golf from May-September because they say it is too hot, and class those months as their low season. No, really, they do. So for the equivalent of about £32, you get a pyramid of balls (proper golf balls; not those lumps of stone we get in Britain) on the practice ground, 18 holes, a buggy with sat nav providing full details of every hole, along with the distance you have left to the green, a bucket full of ice and a couple of bottles of water. The course is designed by Rees Jones and has won numerous awards, including being named as one of Golf Digest’s best courses to play in Florida.

Its sister course is MetroWest. You may have heard of it. Designed by the one and only Robert Trent Jones Sr, it has been voted Orlando’s top public golf course and is a qualifying venue for the US Open and the Champions Tour.

Or you may prefer to stay at a golf resort, where the courses are on hand. There are few better than Reunion Resort, which features three courses – The Tradition by Jack Nicklaus, The Independence by Tom Watson and The Legacy by Arnold Palmer – as well as the Annika Academy, set up by Annika Sorenstam and run by her sister, Charlotta, herself a former LPGA Tour star.

These are three fabulous golf courses, presenting a challenge to golfers of all standards, on the perimeter of which are luxury homes available for rental.

We are put to shame by America in many ways, not least in how courses such as these are kept in shape using recycled water. Golfers used to putting on slow greens back home will be surprised by the speed of the surfaces in Florida. They will be struck by the quality of the sand in the bunkers, which is just as well because there are an awful lot of them.

Another bonus is that golf balls sit up better on these lush fairways, but you may want to keep away from the water hazards as some contain alligators, who will not be keen to give you your ball back.

Reunion features fabulous accommodation, along with an award-winning restaurant, Eleven, which overlooks the golf courses and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. One of the bonuses for guests is that each night they are treated to a free fireworks display, courtesy of Disney.

Speaking of Disney, it has its own nine-hole course. You could be forgiven for thinking they might regard it as an after-thought, but you would be wrong. The Oak Trail course is a par 36, featuring some of the best greens you will ever experience. It is set amid towering pines and is, quite frankly, a thing of beauty.

The same applies to the “proper” courses – Magnolia, Palm, Osprey Ridge and Lake Buena Vista – all of which present a terrific challenge. Depending on the time of day you play, green fees range from about £28 to £70.

Magnolia hosts The Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic on the PGA Tour, so we are talking about a thoroughbred championship layout.

Accommodating your every need

It is not unusual for Brits to return from Florida relating tales of terrible motels. But we need to understand that there is a difference between what we and the Americans regard as a motel. Our mental image has been formed on the basis of Crossroads, Meg Richardson et al. Where Meg’s walls moved (on account of the scenery budget being £1.15), we were at least led to believe that we would get a comfortable room, a decent meal and a drink at a quiet, well-stocked bar.

Think of the American motel and it is an unfortunate fact that a certain Norman Bates and his “mother” come to mind; with that comes the expectation that your accommodation will be pretty grotty and that it could well be you on the menu. Nothing could be further from the truth, although the Americans will be the first to admit that their motels have been designed, first and foremost, to provide their guests with a place to rest their heads. No more, no less.

If you want that, I guess there is nothing wrong with it, but most of us expect more. And when we checked into Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa, located just off Orlando’s International Drive, I can tell you that we got more – a lot more.

Talk about a home from home. Located on the 13th floor, our accommodation comprised two giant bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a fully-fitted luxury kitchen, lounge and dining room. The quality of fittings was of the very highest order and, this being Florida, there was a flat-screen television in every room. Oh yes, and a Jacuzzi bath in the main bathroom.

The private balcony overlooked the main swimming pool, complete with pirate’s ship and water slide for children of all ages. There is also a second pool, designed for those who want to sit quietly and read a book.

The resort features a convenience store, fully-equipped games room, spa (where assorted beauty treatments are available), complimentary transportation to Disney, Universal and Seaworld, a host of designer outlets and Frankie Farrell’s Irish Pub and Grille, where you will find a selection of beers that includes Guinness, Magners and Boddingtons. The food is all prepared on the premises and is both wholesome and reasonably priced.

If you want to eat elsewhere, a short drive in any direction will take you to a host of first-class steakhouses, Italian, Chinese and Indian restaurants, burger bars, fish restaurants – in fact, you name it and you will find it.

Be warned, however – you will need to impose plenty of self-discipline because most restaurants feature “all-you-can-eat” salad bars and suchlike, and when you look at the shape and size of many of the locals it should provide a stark warning as to what could happen if you don’t exercise restraint. It was quite shocking to see entire families waddle in, mother, father and offspring all hugely overweight, only to insist that their drinks must be “Diet Coke”. The damage appeared to have been done long before they ever got to the Coke.

The point is that there is plenty of healthy food on offer, and it isn’t obligatory to go back for seconds and thirds, or to accept the offer of boxing up your leftovers to take home.

There is also much confusion over tipping. Generally, waiters and waitresses expect to be given 10-20% of the total bill, but here’s the thing – many restaurants already include a service charge within your bill, and staff still expect to be tipped. Thankfully, it is not a huge issue because eating out in Florida is not expensive, but it is something you need to be aware of.

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