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Omni at Champions Gate: the best of both worlds for meetings crowd and leisure travelers

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - The mammoth Omni Hotel at Champions Gate casts a shadow in the early morning sun that falls across its two golf courses and almost into the next county.

Business meetings merge almost seamlessly with golf, but not typically with Mickey Mouse, and that's where the Omni figures it has an advantage The 700-plus room Omni was designed and built as a place for meetings, both small and large corporate meetings, near the land of Disney, but not of it.

"I think we offer that product that's different from what has normally been in Orlando," said Omni director of marketing Paul Pebley. "With our location, we do kind of provide that retreat environment that's away from groups that want the Disney thing. They're not wanting to come here, but corporate groups that want the destination/resort environment and maybe go to Disney one night during their program, there really aren't that many options for that in Central Florida."

The Omni is located less than five miles to the entrance of Disney World and 16 miles to Universal Studios, two attractions that draw hordes of tourists to the area, especially in the winter.

But, the Omni was designed and built to attract the meetings crowd, an industrythat has had its ups and downs since the terrorist attacks of 2001, while alsooffering the leisure options of a resort.

"About 65 percent of our business is meeting and about 70 percent of that iscorporate meetings, so from a numbers standpoint it really is the most significantportion of our business," Pebley said. "We have all the meeting space at one end ofthe resort and all the food and beverage and leisure at the other end of the resort.So we can really cater to both the meetings groups and the leisure traveler at thesame time and not have them in conflict with each other."

God forbid businessmen should collide with the family of four from Ohio out forsun and fun in Florida.

There is plenty to do for the leisure traveler at the Omni, but the businessmenget by far the most amenities.

There is more than 70,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 25,000square foot National Ballroom with 20-foot ceilings, and the 20,000 square footInternational Ballroom.

There are two separate 5,500 square foot, pre-function areas, plenty of outdoorfunction space, 27 meeting rooms and two permanent board rooms.

The Omni also has a 24-hour business center offering free wireless, high-speedInternet access, secretarial services and a Notary public.

"We have the ability and the location to do 'cart staging' right outside of the ballroom areas," Pebley said. "So groups that have a golf event can meet in the morning and actually walk right out of the meeting space, pick up a box lunch, get in their golf cart and they're right at the course."

Oh yes, the golf courses. The Omni offers two Greg Norman designed courses, theNational and the International.

The National is the weaker of the two, a 7,128-yard layout is set amidst 200 acresof former citrus groves. The National does have its attributes; water comes into playon a half dozen holes and all four par-3s are challenging: each plays more than 200yards from the tips.

And there are some holes that will frustrate the distance-challenged among us: twopar-5s on the back nine average 630 yards.

Whereas the National is a bit bland, the International is somewhat grand. It opened to a great deal of acclaim in 2000, and though it has received mixed reviews that dampened the anticipation somewhat, there are many who say it's a top-of-the-line round of golf, despite the relatively high green fees.

Both courses opened for play in 2000 and the International won an honorable mention in Golf Magazine's "Top 10 new upscale courses" for 2001.

The International has the highest course rating in Florida at 76.3 with a slope rating of 143 from the back tees, and even the blue tees sport a 137 slope rating.

It's 7,363 yards from the tips, and if you miss the wide fairways - which is infinitely possible when the wind whips over the tree-less grounds - chances are you'll find yourself and your ball in a deep pot bunker lined with thick Bermuda grass.

The goal of the Omni, official say, is to give meetings planners of quality golf while not missing stride when it comes to business.

"We're set up to give them that resort environment, but also give them the ability to continue to conduct their regular business," Pebley said. "In today's world, we've seen some of those corporate meetings that like to incorporate golf shrink a little because companies are so conscious about maximizing productivity."

Since the Omni opened this past year, its approach seems to be working, even when considering the effects of the terrorist strikes.

"Beginning about last spring, we think that the meetings industry has pretty much come back feverishly," Pebley said. "Of course the first quarter is always the busiest time of year for Orlando, and in January, February and March, we were pretty much at 95 percent capacity with corporate meetings week in and week out. We don't really see an effect (from 9-11) to be honest with you."

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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