Interstate-4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach is one of the most traveled thoroughfares in Florida. Visitors and residents in their cars packed with coolers, surfboards and beach toys head to one of Central Florida's most popular beaches, Daytona Beach, in droves.
What these beach lovers and some golfers may not realize are the significant number of excellent courses they're missing along the way. Best of all, if you decide to hit the links, you don't have to stray more than a few minutes off I-4 to tee off.
Here's a menu of places to play:
This area about a 20-minute drive southwest of downtown Orlando has a tourism infrastructure second to none with theme parks, attractions, restaurants, hotels and golf courses. Just off I-4 is a wide selection of courses that are easily accessible.
If you like the ambiance and amenities prevalent at resort courses, you're in luck. Among the high-profile resort golf complexes a couple of minutes or so off the exit ramps are:
Hawk's Landing Golf Club is a lush, well maintained layout designed by Robert Cupp Jr. that surrounds the towering Orlando World Center Marriott Resort hotel. Falcons Fire Golf Club is a Rees Jones Signature Design with lots of white sand bunkers, creative mounding and natural water hazards. Marriott's Grande Pines Golf Club is a course Steve Smyers designed in partnership with Sir Nick Faldo that features contoured fairways and several multi-tiered greens.
Three miles north of downtown in the College Park neighborhood, which is peppered with mature oak trees, Dubsdread Golf Course has been a popular, affordable place to tee up since its opening in 1924. Three years ago, Dubsdread underwent an extensive enhancement program that dramatically modernized and elevated the entire facility.
About a 10-minute drive away is Lake Orlando Golf Club, an economically priced layout designed by Lloyd Clifton in 1971 just off Lee Road. Dominated by tall cypress trees, dense native foliage and lakes, Lake Orlando has a defined Central Florida character.
Farther north, about a 15-minute drive, are some of the Orlando area's most popular suburb towns, such as Longwood, which has lots of restaurant and shopping options once the last putt has been holed for the day.
The upscale Longwood -- with its tree-lined streets, landscaped yards and palm-dotted golf course communities -- is home to the RDV Sportsplex, where the NBA's Orlando Magic practices.
The community has an excellent selection of golf courses for one its size, including: Sweetwater Golf & Country Club, a Lloyd Clifton design with beautiful oak trees and fairly tight fairways. Watch out for the "Loch Ness Monster." No, not that one. Sweetwater's, which has the same name, comes in the form of a mammoth, 625-yard par 5 that double-doglegs around a picturesque lake.
Wekiva Golf Club is a Ward Northrup design with moss-draped oaks and lakes that has the feel of a nature preserve with golf holes.
For a private club experience, the Gary Player/Karl Litten-designed Alaqua Country Club has some spectacular elevated tees, towering trees, wildlife such as deer and wild turkeys, and exceptional maintenance standards.
Located 18 miles north of Orlando, Lake Mary, with its many high-tech and communications companies, is one of Florida's fastest growing suburban areas. Among the celebrities who live in Lake Mary are PGA Tour golfer Chris DiMarco, ESPN sports broadcaster Lee Corso and former head coach of the Orlando Magic, Stan Van Gundy.
You might see the celebs on local popular layouts such as Timacuan Golf Club -- a Ron Garl/Bobby Weed design that opened in 1987 with impressive mounding and innovative bunkering -- and Magnolia Plantation Golf Club, a lush course designed by Dave Harmon bordering the Wekiva River wilderness area.
Back on I-4 driving north, don't miss the Debary Golf and Country Club in the small town of Debary. Often chosen as a U.S. Open Qualifying site, this Lloyd Clifton layout has just one water hazard, rolling fairways and most of the holes are set away from homes by a buffer of woods and vegetation.
Five miles away in Deltona, the Deltona Club, which opened in 2008, is a Bobby Weed design with sweeping waste areas and strategic mounding throughout the layout.
In Deland, the tree-laden college town that's home to Stetson University, Victoria Hills Golf Club, designed by Ron Garl, is aptly named. It's un-Florida-like elevation changes and rolling hills set it apart from most other courses in the central part of the state, and the hundreds of Augusta pines and oak hammocks and lakes give it beauty and challenge.
November 6, 2012