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Mickey got all your money? Here are some good, relatively cheap golf courses in Orlando

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORLANDO, Fla. - Envision a scenario in which you're in Orlando to golf and the kids are running amok at Disney World spending money on everything Disney throws at them while the wife is burning up your credit score at the Mall at Millenia. Not hard to imagine, is it?

Orlando Skyline
Once you've experienced Orlando's other attractions, it's time to golf.
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Orlando SkylineRidgewood LakesEagle Creek Golf ClubSouthern Dunes
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There's precious little money left over for green fees. The only thing left to do is go cheapo. Don't sweat it: Orlando doesn't just offer high-priced resort and upscale daily-fee golf courses.

You can play golf in Orlando on the relative cheap and still have a challenging and fun time. Here is our guide to some of the better-value courses in the Orlando area.

Must plays for the money

Ridgewood Lakes is an excellent alternative to the higher-priced golf courses of Orlando. Green fees are in the $45 range, though you can play as cheaply as $25.

For the money, this is an excellent bargain. The conditioning and service won't remind you of, say, the Marriott courses, but both are fine. The maintenance crew overseeds the entire course.

The semiprivate course is a Ted McAnlis design that opened in 1994 and has become extremely popular for locals and visitors, hosting nearly 50,000 rounds a year.

It's a fairly open course, with only a few holes on which trees dramatically affect your play - No. 7 comes to mind, with its big oaks both side of the fairway.

There is a good practice area, with a driving range, large bunker and chipping area and a practice putting green.

The greens fees at Southern Dunes vary greatly according to the season, ranging from $55 to $115. For that, you get to play golf in Florida as it is seldom played here.

The course is a work of art by designer Steve Smyers, and it's no surprise his primary influences were the legendary golf architects of the 1920s and '30s, those who emphasized risk/reward strategy, creative shot-making and bold design features.

The most striking design features of Southern Dunes are its bunkers, all 180 of them. They immediately catch your eye. They have red sand and are of every imaginable shape and size, yet never seem to be an overstatement.

"We put our bunkers in so that they hit you basically right in the face, where you see them," Smyers said in an interview with Golf Club Atlas. "I've seen a lot of courses built within the last 10 years that probably have more square footage of bunkers - big waste areas, but they are off to the side and don't have the visual or psychological appeal that our bunkers have. We always provide a route around the bunkers."

The course is more than 7,200 yards from the back tees, with more than 100 feet of elevation changes. Southern Dunes sits atop a high, sandy ride that juts across this part of the state, offering what views there are of this part of central Florida.

Eagle Creek Golf Club, set in the east Orlando master-planned community of the same name, is an odd combination of American and British golf architecture that turned out extremely well.

The idea was to combine elements of both styles, and, to that end, the designers put in the wide fairways of America and the bunkering of Europe, among other characteristics.

Lest you be confused by this strange merger, the designers make it easy on you, with wide fairways and generous landing areas and not too much trouble in front of you. The course plays 7,198 yards from the back tees and has a leisurely slope rating of 128.

The owners clearly wanted something that would make this course stand out among the myriad of Orlando golf courses, and so they built five par-5s. The closing hole was converted from a par-4 to a par-5 shortly after the initial work, thus making Eagle Creek the only par-73 in central Florida.

Eagle Creek is a good play for the green fees, which range from $72 to $120. However, twilight rates are $29-55 and the course also offers a multiday pass program. Service here is top-notch, a step above most courses with similar rates.

Diamondback Golf Club is the place to go if you're having trouble with your driver.

It's a parkland course out in the wide, windy spaces of rural golf-happy Polk County, but designers act like they were tight on space, with narrow tree-lined fairways and tiny hard-to-hit landing areas.

"This is a course-management course," said Brian Whitaker, a regular. "It's not a smack-it-as-far-as-you-can-and-go-get-it course."

The Joe Lee design is laid out around natural swampy areas and sandy hills and measures 6,805 yards from the back tees. Lee installed risk/reward doglegs and multi-level greens.

This is another good bargain, with greens fees of $37-62 weekdays depending on the season and $42-69 weekends, but add on an $18 cart fee. There is a price break for 36 holes, and guests of members get better rates.

Eagle Dunes is in Sorrento and opened in 2003 from a Mike Dasher design. For greens fees of $50 weekends and $40 weekdays, including cart, you get a 7,024-yard layout with walkable routing and broad fairways.

"Tee to green, the course is a joy to play, keeping the golfer entertained and off balance, especially when the wind is up," Derek Duncan wrote in a TravelGolf.com review of the course. "For sportiness, it's difficult to beat. Orlando is rife with pricey immaculately serviced courses, and Eagle Dunes fits splendidly into a growing counterculture, one of a handful of courses surrounding Orlando that stress affordability, walker accessibility and no-frills naturalistic golf."

Orlando solid seconds

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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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