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Grand Cypress villas: a place to meet and play Nicklaus-inspired golf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - Forget Disney World at the villas of Grand Cypress in Orlando. Think golf.

"Golf is big-time here," said Mark Cox, Grand Cypress director of sales and rooms. "Most of our groups here do not go to Disney or any of the theme parks, though some associations do. Our leisure business will use Disney in the summer. But, if it's a JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley, they're here to reward their clients for giving them an outstanding year."

When it comes to mixing meetings and golf, the villas offer a 14,000 square-foot meeting facility and 48 holes of golf designed by Jack Nicklaus.

The conference facility is within walking distance of the golf courses and the 146-unit villas. The event staff can handle groups up to 240 and there are also four separate meeting rooms totaling 7,200 square feet of meeting space, which can be further broken down into eight meeting and banquet rooms.

"We can do different types of meetings," said Cox. "We have smaller rooms, so they can do break-outs. We have the Muirfield room for larger meetings, with front and rear-screen projectors. A typical group would meet in the morning and golf in the afternoon."

The villas' meetings business has picked up in recent months.

"Since 9-11, groups went away and have trickled back," Cox said. "We were going more toward the transient end. Now, we're getting back to more of a 55-45 (percent) spread between groups and leisure. That's what drives the villas. It's mainly groups from mid-January to the end of April, depending on where Easter falls.

"The Fortune 500 groups, New York and Chicago, and a lot of the pharmaceutical groups will come, play golf, meet and enjoy some nice food. It's basically a weekend resort."

As in most Florida destinations, the villas' business is seasonal.

"The groups go away in the summer because those northern groups will go to some place cooler or closer to home, or some of the other courses they like to frequent are now open," Cox said. "Then, we fall back into late September, October and November and into the first two weeks of December. Then it picks up again in mid-January."

For groups wanting to reward clients and staff with golf, they couldn't do much better than Grand Cypress.

The New Course is an emulation of the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, one of Nicklaus' favorites, with 12-foot pot bunkers, stone walls and a wide-open, Scottish links feel.

The North, South and East nine-hole courses put more emphasis on accuracy over length. The original North-South 18 is target-style golf, with sharply ledged fairways, elevated greens, and tall, shaggy mounds. The East course is more wooded, but also more open, with less bunkering, especially in front of the greens. The three nines can be played in any combination.

Grand Cypress also offers an Academy of Golf, named one of the top 25 schools in the U.S. by Golf Magazine. It's a 21-acre facility with three Nicklaus-designed practice holes, a par-3. Par-4 and par-5, so that players can practice under playing conditions.

The academy offers "Model Golf," which combines biotechnology and computer science. Instructor Ralph Mann recorded the swings of more than 100 PGA and LPGA pros to create a computer model of the "perfect" swing.

Mann and his assistants compare the computer model with golfers' swings and brings out strengths and weaknesses. When you leave, you can call your lesson back up online.

The villas have club suites and one, two and three-bedroom Mediterranean style units with waterway and fairway views of the North course. The villas have twice-daily housekeeping, concierge and valet service, 24-hour room service, full kitchens, fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and private terraces.

There is plenty to do for the non-golfer: the villas have a renowned equestrian center, with scenic trail rides, lessons in dressage, a lighted, covered arena and riding instruction.

There are also 12 tennis courts - eight clay courts and four synthetic turf. The tennis facility features five lighted courts and daily clinics.

For non-tennis or golfers, there are exercise trails, swimming, hiking, biking, fishing and jogging on nature trails. The villas also provides transportation to nearby attractions.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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