Golf-centered vacations are a cinch to plan and enjoy in Kissimmee.
Standing on the Old Course, the grass is a brilliant, surprising green, the ground itself ancient and almost sacred, and wind whips off the North Sea until it feels like your face might freeze.
I'm talking about the oldest venue in Scotland, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, famous since the 18th century. This combination of multiple bunkers, hazards and water is a particular favorite of golf pro and architect Greg Norman's - he calls the 14th "quite possibly my favorite hole in the world" - and the lessons learned in St. Andrews show in his design for the International Course at ChampionsGate Golf Resort in Kissimmee. The International, one of two Norman-designed courses at ChampionsGate, owes its character to the Old Course, as well as the links at the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands.
Having recently walked across the stone Swilcan Burn Bridge at the Royal & Ancient, I can reliably compare old and new, 1754 and 2000 (when ChampionsGate opened).
The International is much warmer, even in December. And St. Andrews, an expansive landscape tucked around an ancient town, could fit neatly within the massive acres afforded the International and National courses. But any Scottish golfer would recognize the contours on the fairways and greens and bunkers looking like they had been carved out of the landscape by rough North winds.
Accurate target shooting helps get onto the greens of the Great White Shark's design, but the hard, fast surface demands both power and consistency, particularly on holes like #7... if you misjudge your first shot, forget about finding an easy second. Norman has built the highest-rated course in Florida, with some of the most dramatic and challenging play in the country. And that's just the first.
The National is the second 18-hole course at ChampionsGate, meandering through more than 200 acres of scrub, wetlands, orange groves and old-growth timber, a truly American and uniquely Floridian course.
More Ways to Stay & Play in Kissimmee
Families can be families for a stay in Kissimmee, whether everyone tees up or not. The International is home of the Father/Son Challenge, symbolically celebrating golf and family ties. The Omni Orlando Resort, which overlooks the courses, offers the par-3 Champions 9 course. The Omni Kids Club lets tykes spend the afternoon in supervised play while Mom and Dad stride the links.
An online visit to the Kissimmee Golf website will open up a wide range of possibilities for the family vacation. Plan a trip around packages such as a three-night stay at the Omni ChampionsGate, with full access to their two courses plus Mystic Dunes, a challenging par-71 at Wyndham Palms Resort designed by Gary Koch.
A gloriously golf-centric six-night stay at the Radisson Worldgate Resort Orlando offers rounds of golf on the courses at Celebration, ChampionsGate, Falcon's Fire, Harmony Golf Preserve and The Legends. The "Southern Comfort" special at Comfort Suites Maingate East features three nights' accommodations and three rounds of golf at Celebration, ChampionsGate and Falcon's Fire.
Baymont Inn & Suites offers a special golf package for a slightly shorter visit with a two-night stay and two rounds of golf at Falcon's Fire and Stonegate - Oaks.
You might say that Kissimmee has a surprising assortment of golf riches. Here are some more available choices:
Celebration Golf Club: 18 holes, par-72, 6,257 yards. Designers, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Jr. There is also a 3-hole Junior Course suited for 5 - 9 year olds.
Crystalbrook Golf Club: 9 holes, par-27, 1,350 yards.
Falcon's Fire Golf Club: The only way to the green at #8 is over water, a lot of it. 18 holes, par-72, 6,901 yards. Designer, Rees Jones.
Harmony Golf Preserve, Osceola County: 18 holes, par-72, 7,428 yards. Designer, Johnny Miller.
Kissimmee Bay Country Club: 18 holes, par-71, 6,846 yards. Designer, Lloyd Clifton.
Kissimmee Golf Club: Recently updated. 18 holes, par-72, 6,000 yards. Designers, Bill Bulmer and Reed Berlinsky.
Kissimmee Oaks Golf Club: 18 holes, par-72, 6,884 yards. Designer, Karl Litten.
Mystic Dunes Golf Club: 18 holes, par 71, 7,012 yards. Designer, Gary Koch.
Remington Golf Course: A Golf Digest magazine four-star course. 18 holes, par-72, 7,111 yards. Designers, Lloyd Clifton, George Clifton and Ken Ezell.
Reunion Resort & Club: Two courses on site with a third opening 2006. The Legacy is an Arnold Palmer design; 18 holes, par-72, 6,916 yards. The Independence is 18 holes, par-72, 7,154 yards. Designer, Tom Watson. The Tradition is a Jack Nicklaus design scheduled to open this year. (Courses are open only to Reunion guests and property owners.)
Royal St. Cloud Golf Club: Play the hole called "Hell." 18 holes, par-72, 7,111 yards. Designer, Chip Powell.
Stonegate Golf Club At Solivita: 18 holes, par-72, 7,011 yards. Designer, Ron Garl.