Personally, I preferred the Blue course – it’s generous (to put it lightly) off the tee, fun and playable, although some might question the extreme, slopey, quick greens. But the Red course would likely be seen by most as the stronger of the two. (In my case, with my 15 index, it was too strong – far more demanding, far more penal.) The smart visitor would not make a choice – just play both. They have a similar feel but are different enough to offer different golf experiences.
WINTER GARDEN: As much as I enjoy a coffee break and book browsing at a Barnes & Noble, or a dinner at the Outback Steakhouse, there is something to be said for a more, well, authentic travel experience.
I saw a different side of the Orlando area when Lorne and I made a quick side trip to the nearby quaint city of Winter Garden.
With its bricked streets, well-preserved heritage buildings and residents who are more likely to ride bikes than drive, it is quintessential small-town America. Socially-conscious Axum Coffee of W. Plant Street (the main street) is a must-visit.
INNISBROOK: With just a few days remaining at the tail end of my trip, I headed to the Tampa area to decompress. I “checked into” the trailer where my parents spend their winters. Not quite the Hilton or Bay Hill, but still comfortable.
Not planning to play golf, I settled into snowbird living – a barbecued dinner, a nice bottle of red, some cable TV. I even took a yoga class at Karma Yoga & Fitness in Valico, south of Tampa near Brandon.
But then, realizing I’d be heading back soon to Canada and another two months of winter, golf started calling my name.
A couple of e-mails later, and I was booked onto the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, just north of Tampa.
It’s a course I had played before, maybe six or seven years ago, while I was on vacation with my family. I remembered absolutely loving the course and was eager to see if the magic was still here.
Happy to report: Yes. Copperhead, one of four courses at Innisbrook, is the venue for the PGA Tour’s Tampa Bay Championship so it has big-league chops. (It’s among the tour players’ favourite regular stops.) What I really like, and remember, is that the Copperhead course is atypical of many Florida courses in that it features surprising elevation changes and tree-lined fairways.
Minus the palm trees and Bermuda turf, it’s easy to imagine the course in the northeastern United States.
Despite the six-plus years since my last visit, all the holes were fresh in my mind as I went around again. I always figure that’s the sign of a good course.
As much I enjoyed the Streamsong courses and Bay Hill, not to mention iconic tracks such as Seminole on previous trips to Florida, I’d have to rate Copperheard as my favourite in Florida. Good holes, everything in front of you, good vibe, demanding, but still fair and fun.
OUTSIDE THE ROPES: Can one go to Orlando without visiting Disney World? I think not. It was our first visit in 10 years but its magic is timeless. (Differences include a new Fantasyland.) Our group, however, was just as turned on by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new section of Universal’s Islands of Adventure park. Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are meticulously recreated. My little muggles, who adored the Harry Potter book and movie series, were in their element and are still raving about the ride inside the Hogwarts castle. Must admit, that ride was unlike I’ve ever experienced before.
Jeff Brooke has written about golf for The Globe and Mail since his first assignment at the 2007 Masters.
Some of the accommodations on this trip were provided by Hilton Hotels and Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge.