If there's anything that Orlando does better than theme parks and tourist traps it's golf. In a landscape littered with more great golf courses than McDonald's, the difficult task for every resort is to find a way to stand out in the crowd. A challenging layout, big name designer, and exquisite conditions might guarantee success anywhere else, but in Orlando these are the bare minimum requirements just to open up shop. Through their partnership with the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, along with two unique course designs, the Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate have worked hard to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.
|The resort and #17 on the International course.|
I spent the better part of a full day in a state of golfer's nirvana. It all started from the moment I checked in to the Omni Orlando and discovered the sea of green which lay just beyond my hotel room balcony. The resort is home to a pair of Greg Norman designed golf courses, both of which I was slated to experience later in the day. First on the itinerary, however, was a visit to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, where I had high hopes they could help with my atrocious putting.
|The David Leadbetter Golf Academy|
For the non-golfers in the bunch, David Leadbetter is one of the game's most renowned instructors. He has a stable of tour pros for students, and is perhaps best known for his work with Nick Faldo and Greg Norman. Today, he lends his name to a chain of golf academies across the globe, where certified instructors trained in his swing philosophy help reduce the misery of the ordinary hacker.
As I stood in the lobby of the golf academy, there was simply no denying its namesake. Instructional videos played on the monitors, various Callaway equipment was on display - one of his sponsors - and the gadgets and gizmos for which he is best known...well, they were a plenty. In a nutshell, the place was a giant toy store for golfers.
|The students working on their game.|
The facilities at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy are second to none, especially in the way of technology. My first stop was the indoor putting green, which at first I confused for something out of The Matrix. Putting is a part of the game where the smallest of adjustments in technique can have a huge impact, so the academy uses numerous slow motion cameras and other monitors to analyize the minutia of a player's stroke. They do everything short of a CT scan to help improve your putting, although that could probably be arranged for extreme cases of the yips.
|If this can't help your putting, nothing will...|
Next up was the indoor driving range, where similar technology is put to use on the golf swing. In addition to the wide array of slow motion cameras, sensors positioned in the driving range transmit a slew of data on the flight of each shot. I'm actually sort of surprised Mr. Leadbetter hasn't figured out how to put sensors and a camera actually inside the golf ball. Something tells me it's in the works...
|Wouldn't mind having this at home...|
There are no shortage of teaching facilities across the country bearing the name of big-time instructors. Before investing a sizable chunk of money on a weekend of golf instruction, however, I would want to know how involved the boss really is in the operation. Do they actually visit the facility on a regular basis, or are they simply a name on the building used to draw customers? My answer came a short while later, when I spotted the trademark straw hat giving a lesson on the driving range.
|The Wall of Fame at the indoor range.|
From Teacher to Student
It was appropriate that the next stop on my visit to golf paradise were two courses designed by one of David Leadbetter's most famous pupils: The Shark. In forming his vision for the International and National courses, Greg Norman sought to offer golfers two unique challenges during their visit to ChampionsGate. Naturally, I took on both...
|Apparently Mr. Norman likes sand.|
The National course is a more traditional Florida style layout. Like many classic resort courses, the fairways are wide and forgiving, but The Shark added plenty bite in other ways. Several of the holes require a blind or lengthy tee shot over marshland, while a few others feature a deceptively small target for the green. The National also makes brilliant use of my favorite type of hole - the short Par 4 - challenging the player with a high risk, high reward proposition. I took the risk, but as usual, I'm still waiting on that reward.
|Somewhere out there is a fairway.|
The International course at ChampionsGate is not only unique when compared to its sibling next door, but also to Central Florida as a whole. The course is a classic links design, which could easily have been transplanted from the shores of Scotland, or Norman's home of Australia. The International demands a fair amount of strategy from tee to green, and punishes those who are loose off the tee with hundreds of pesky pot bunkers throughout the course. In fact, there are over twenty of these little beauties on #18 alone. I happen to know, because I visited most of them.
It's safe to say that Greg Norman was successful in his attempt to design two unique courses at ChampionsGate. For me to choose a favorite, however, is sort of a toss up. I scored better on the National - which always leaves a good impression - but I enjoyed the unique challenge of the International. I also found the International to be in a little better condition, but that was no doubt due to the Senior PGA Tour qualifier which had taken place the same morning as my round. No matter how you shape it, the unique designs of the ChampionsGate golf courses will surely have something for everyone.
|Not exactly how I drew this one up.|
With a little help from the David Leadbetter Golf Academy and The Great White Shark, the ChampionsGate resort has done a brilliant job of standing out in the overcrowded Orlando golf market. The resort is a true golfer's paradise, and should find itself included in the itinerary of any Orlando golf vacation. Just remember to play it safe on the short Par 4's and steer clear of the pesky pot bunkers. Sadly, Mr. Leadbetter doesn't have a gadget to help correct a golfer's brain. Yet....
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to ChampionsGate for hosting my visit to golf paradise. All opinions and disparagement of pot bunkers are entirely my own.