A hint of light peaks from around the curtains of my villa at the Reunion Resort, as I'm slowly awakened by the familiar sound of clicking metal. My iPhone reads 6:20am, meaning there is at least another half an hour before the sun makes its debut. The insanely comfortable bed holds me hostage for a few more minutes, however the "clink...clink...clink" eventually forces me up to investigate. I pull open the curtains to find a half dozen golfers, banging away on the driving range below, practically in the dark.
Golfers are by nature a bit fanatical, so it's of little surprise that a place like Reunion brings out the "hit the driving range before daylight" crowd. With three championship courses designed by legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson, Reunion offers even casual players a round-trip ticket to golfing nirvana.
There was an additional layer of complexity for my round on Reunion's Palmer course, which came in the form of a little sibling rivalry. I was set to go 18 rounds with my brother - RJ - and as you may recall from my "friendly" competition in Sandestin, I'm not a big fan of losing. In the days leading up to our grudge match, it was clear we were both a little concerned about what lay ahead. The word "brutal" was tossed around regularly in our conversations about the course.
I decided it was best to get some professional advice to help me take down my brother, and since it was too late to book a session at Reunion's Annika Academy, I went with the next best thing...Twitter. Who better to consult than a champion of the resort's former LPGA Tour event...
I got off to a good start, but on the 3rd tee Brittany's advice went right out the window. Thankfully, the drive I clanked off someone's home didn't go through a window. And that's how it seemed to go most of the day...a couple good holes, immediately offset by moments of amateur stupidity.
In contrast to my game, the Palmer course was consistently great from tee to green. While I was told the fairways here were generous in size, it certainly doesn't mean one can simply "grip it and rip it." Trouble comes into play off of nearly every tee, be it in the form or waste bunkers, water hazards, or as I learned on the 3rd hole, someone's backyard.
If you were skilled enough to hit the fairway, your job was still far from over. The fairways on the Palmer course were some of the hilliest I've seen, often leaving one with an awkward stance even after putting it "down the middle."
|The mighty 9th|
As one would expect at a course of Palmer's caliber, the greens were also in pristine condition. A little bit of course knowledge certainly helps here, because if you were on the wrong side of several greens you may as well take your 3-putt and move on.
Perhaps what was most striking about the Palmer was the contrast between the front and back 9's. The front was a typical resort course, winding through the grounds of the complex, and in my opinion was the easier of the pair. Once you make the turn, however, there's a dramatic change in scenery. The back 9 is mostly set in a swampy preserve, and was far more challenging than the front, especially off the tee. Not to mention the back plays nearly 200 yards longer than its counterpart.
|The preserve of the back 9.|
True to the playing style of its designer, the Palmer course incorporates many risk-reward opportunities into the layout. For example, the short par four 7th measures 300 yards, rewarding longer hitters with an opportunity to drive the green, or leave a very short chip. The risk side of this equation comes in the form of water, which lines the hole on both sides. I took the risk, and paid the price...
|You'll notice my feet pointing to the water on the right...|
Finally, the award for "Most Daunting Hole" goes to the 15th. This long par 5 is actually pretty easy, if you manage to negotiate the 200+ yard carry over swamp and trees to find the fairway. After questioning Mr. Palmer's sanity for several minutes on the tee, I'm proud to say we both found dry land.
|Really Mr. Palmer?...Really?|
The Scorer's Tent
There's a reason why golf is the centerpiece of Reunion Resort. The beauty and excellence of the property carries through to the course, where golfers of all skill levels will find a difficult, yet entirely fair, test of the game.
The shot of the day came on the par 3 second, when I plunked a 7 iron to within ten feet of the hole. There was a huge downward elevation change from tee to green which made guessing the yardage more difficult. I negotiated that part just fine, but the birdie putt was another story.
|Sad the only flash of brilliance came on the 2nd hole...|
There was only one blemish in our experience - aside from the scorecard - and even that was small in nature. The resort is currently in the process of replacing their golf cart fleet, meaning detailed GPS units are not available. While I am not really a fan of using GPS in the first place, there was no way to tell pin location on the greens without it. Using a different colored flag to signify front, middle, or back, would be helpful, and a relatively cheap solution to this problem.
|The 18th and Villas|
As for the brotherly grudge match, well I'm sad to say that ignoring Brittany's advice wound up costing me the trophy. I lost by two - 82 to 84 - and sustained 4 penalty strokes during the round, all of which came from a failure to put it in the fairway. While I despise losing, it's hard for me to be too terribly disappointed in the outcome, because I didn't play that poorly. Besides, I have a feeling a rematch is right around the corner...
|Still a great day...even after a loss...|
Perhaps the bigger reason I could stomach the loss came from the course itself. Mr. Palmer's design is a true gem of Central Florida golf. As I walked back to the villa, I couldn't help but wonder how the Watson and Nicklaus courses stacked up to that of The King. For that answer, I guess there's always next time...
~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~
Thank you to the Reunion Resort for hosting Deej's Florida Swing. As always, all opinions are my own.