Before the recession hit, real estate entrepreneur Bobby Ginn created a golf paradise a few miles south of Orlando, Fla., off Interstate 4 where guests can play with one of the game’s most decorated foursomes -- Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam.
The Legacy Course, designed by seven-time major championship winner Palmer, is a par-72 layout created in 2004 that measures 6,916 yards from the back tees, with a USGA rating of 73.4 and a 137 slope from the back tees.
The Independence Course, designed by five-time British Open champion Watson, also opened in 2004 and plays 7,154 yards from the tips, with a rating of 74.7 and a slope of 140.
Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all-time at least until Tiger Woods’ career plays out, designed the Tradition Course, which opened in 2006. It stretches out to 7,244 yards from the back and plays to a par of 72, with a 76.7 rating and 147 slope.
Sorenstam, the 39-year-old Swede who is one of the greatest players in LPGA Tour history, realized a lifelong dream a few years ago when she opened the Annika Academy on the back end of the driving range at Reunion Resort.
Even if you are not staying on the property, book a lesson at the 5,400-square facility, which offers a fitness room, two large hitting booths, Callaway club-fitting, video training.
Sorenstam has retired as a touring pro, so you might be able to book a lesson with her because she is spending more time at the academy. If not, her sister Charlotta, herself a champion on the LPGA Tour, also is an instructor at the Annika Academy.
Reunion was host to the best women golfers in the world for three years in the Ginn Open, which was captured by Lorena Ochoa, No. 1 player in the Women’s World Golf Rankings, three years ago when she set a tournament record of 19-under-par. Brittany Lincicome and Myun Hyun Kim of South Korea were the first two winners of the tournament.
However, Ginn terminated its sponsorship of the tournament because of the loses it has enduring in the troubled housing market.
But amateurs still can play the tournament course, which consisted of the front nine of the Legacy Course and the first nine holes of the Independence Course, both located at the Reunion Grande, a luxury hotel and centerpiece of the resort.
The second hole of Palmer’s Legacy Course is a gorgeous par 3 that measures 162 yards from an elevated tee to a green surrounded by a stand of tall trees. But don’t lose your focus while admiring the view because the 50-foot drop in elevation requires careful consideration to select the right club for a shot to a green that slopes toward the bunker on the right.
The 13th hole measures 443 yards from the back tees, but from the resort tees it gives the high-handicapper a chance to go for the green in Arnie’s typical go-for-broke style.
The Independence Course, the first Tom Watson-signature course in Florida, is what the British would might a traditional parkland layout, but with sand traps scattered throughout the landscape. There are no water hazards, but 119 bunkers are strategically-placed on the course, which is enhanced by 15 varieties of native grasses, azaleas, hibiscus, camellias and other foliage.
Watson starts the course with a dramatic par 5, which measures 562 yards from the back tees. Big hitters can reach the green in two if they get past the bunkers on both sides of the fairway, but there is plenty of trouble waiting to turn an eagle or birdie opportunity into bogey or worse very quickly.
The fifth hole is rated No. 1 in the card, a 461-yard par-4 which gives the golfer a choice of right or left off the tee because a large bunker sits in the middle of the fairway. Play the right side to get a better angle of approach to a large green that runs away from right to left and is guarded by traps on either side of the hole, which plays through a scenic wooded area.
All three courses are playable for golfers of all abilities with five sets of tees, but the Tradition Course gives more of a challenge than most resort layouts, as the numbers indicate.
Best stretch of the Nicklaus-designed Tradition Course comes near the start, where the 440-yard, par-4 second -- No. 1 on the card -- is followed by a 585-yard par 5 and a 414-yard par 4, which play along the shores of a large lake. Be careful of the blind approach to the fourth hole, because another lake awaits below the green on the left.
When you are finished with a heated round, head across the street to cool off at Reunion’s water park.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Walt Disney World Resort in nearby Lake Buena Vista offers golfers five courses, including the Magnolia and Palm, where the PGA Tour’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic is played in November. Also at Disney are the Lake Buena Vista, Osprey Ridge and Oak Trail courses, the latter a nine-hole walking course tailor-made for families.
Celebration Golf Course is not on Disney Resort property, but is a nearby cousin designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr., in Celebration, a town built by the Disney Corporation.
Hawk’s Landing Golf Club in Orlando wraps around the World Center Marriott, the largest property owned and operated by the J.W. Marriott Corp.
Also in the neighborhood are Kissimmee Bay Country Club, Mystic Dunes Golf Club and Falcon’s Fire Golf Club in Kissimmee, the Crooked Cat and Panther Lake courses at Orange County National Golf Center, Royal St. Cloud Golf Links and 45 holes at the Grand Cypress Resort, all in Orlando.
Across Interstate 4 from Ginn Reunion Resort is ChampionsGate Golf Club, with a course designed by Greg Norman, and the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
WHERE TO STAY: Reunion resort sits on 2,300 rolling acres about six miles from Walt Disney World Resort to the southwest of Orlando and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
The resort offers guests more than 300 guest rooms, from luxury hotel accommodations to spacious townhouses and luxury villas scattered around its three magnificent golf courses.
All of the accommodations are equipped with luxurious furnishings, flat-screen televisions that include DVD players, high-speed Internet access and high-end kitchen appliances.
In addition to golf, the property includes the Tennis Centre at Centre Court Ridge, the Seven Eagles Pool Pavilion, a private water park, a full-service fitness center, biking and hiking trails, a convention center and a boutique spa.
The Kids Crew for children 4-12 and several playground areas around the property keep the youngsters occupied while the grownups are out on the golf course.
Dine at the Reunion Grande at Forte, an upscale chophouse, or Eleven, a rooftop lounge serving tapas and an eclectic fusion of new world and Asian cuisine.
Or grab a quick meal outside at the Clubhouse or poolside at the Seven Eagles Grill across the street, or simply enjoy a snack while watching the big-screen television at the Grand Lobby Bar.
Reunion is close to all of the Orlando tourist attractions and less than an hour’s drive from those near Tampa.
Guests at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Contemporary Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian Resort, Caribbean Resort, Beach Club Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk Inn and Yacht Club Resort receive vouchers for free cab rides to and from the Disney courses.
The Orlando World Center Marriott, built on 220 lush acres of tropical landscape, is only a mile and a half from Disney World and Orlando’s other tourist attractions, including Universal Studios, Sea World and Discovery Cove.
Also nearby are Palmer’s Bay Hill Resort and Lodge, the Celebration Hotel, the Wyndham Orlando Resort, the Renaissance Orlando Resort, the Omni Orlando Resort and Spa, the Grand Cypress Resort, the Grande Lakes Orlando and at Universal, the Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and the Royal Pacific Resort.Report Typo/Error