After my round in Georgia on New Years Day it rained pretty much the entire drive to Central Florida and most of the day on Thursday. A friend and I made plans to golf on Friday and while it was clear, it was chilly. I think it was about 45 degrees when we went off around 10:30am and it felt colder as it was windy. On the plus side, the cold weather kept away the usual number of golfers and we didn’t have anyone to bother us during our round.
I lived in Central Florida for three years from 2004 to 2007 for college and while I got play quite a few different courses in the area I didn’t play many of the attraction courses in the Orlando area. I had access to my golf team’s home course almost anytime I wanted and I didn’t have a bunch of disposable income being a college student so it didn’t make financial sense to venture an hour away and pay $40 to $70. Plus, I wasn’t set on playing as many different courses as possible at that time. Now that I am at a different spot in life, I am enjoying still having ties to the area and Grande Pines was on my list of courses to play. We found a time on EZ Links for $50 on a Friday morning which was a good deal compared to the prices on Golfnow or the insane $100+ fee if booked directly through the course website.
The course is associated with the Marriott and because of that I was expecting a friendly, resort course. I was expecting one of those resort courses with fairways large enough to land a jet on, some water hazards with the fountains in the middle, some nice flowers, and impeccable maintenance. Instead, what I got was a course with a split personality, some very challenging shots, and a course that would smack me in the face if I made a mistake in the wrong spot. Some holes were open where I could get away with some garbage but others were much tighter. I would string a few good holes together on the scorecard, but then blow up without much change in the way I was playing. The course is well bunkered off the tee and around the greens. Not only do the bunkers look nice, they serve their purpose and add difficulty. Like many courses in the area Grande Pines is flat so the designers created some interest through mounding and very difficult green complexes. The bunkers around the greens were deep and some of the greens were elevated which resulted in chips that had to be clipped perfectly with the correct spin and trajectory to get it close to the hole. I was near one par 5 in two shots but had a chip from the fairway over the edge of a bunker and ended up making a bogey. Once on the greens it didn’t get any easier as they have lots of slope.
The routing of the course isn’t spectacular but at the same time it isn’t horrible either considering that it is in a very developed area. The course works its way through pine trees (hence the name of the course) with some condos that are set back behind trees on maybe half of the holes. The distractions from the condos were not noticeable when we played, but it was a cool and windy winter day so I am not sure how that would change with some warmer temperatures. The course did have some of the expected domestic vegetation that can be found at many of the resort courses. We played the Green Tees which play 71.8/135/6612. The 1st hole is a 375 yard par 4 that is a bit of a tester to being the round. There is water down the right so straight is rewarded early on. The course has some good short holes from the tees that I played and the 3rd, a 340 yard par 4, is one of those. The green is blind from the tee, but after a tee shot finds the fairway distance control is important get to an approach close on the deep green. The 6th, a 404 yard par 4 with a daunting approach, is the signature hole. There is some room to miss the tee shot right but it leads to a longer second shot into a green that is guarded by water on the left. The 7th, a 319 yard par 4, is another fun, short par 4 to play. It doglegs hard left and gives someone a chance to get it close to the green off the tee. I did just that but had to scramble for a par because of the tough green complex and thick bermuda rough. The 11th is a 532 yard par 5 that has some water in play near the green to grab a poorly hit shot before the other par 5 on the back, the 13th allows for a chance to get a stroke back. The 17th is a 151 yard par 3 where the green is the outstanding feature. The green is very large and shaped like an upside down “L” with the pin tucked over the bunker on the right. The green slopes from left to right so that made it easier to get at the flag behind the bunker.
The course was in good, but not great shape. I think the recent rain may have kept the mowers off parts of the course as I found some of the fairways and tees a little long. It also looked like the course gets a lot of play as there were noticeable divots on the tees and ballmarks on the greens. Obviously, this is the peak time of the year for golf and the course is near Disney so it isn’t a surprise that it sees a lot of play. The greens rolled well and had some speed but I had trouble reading them. It seemed the greens only took the break with the perfect speed. Overall, I’d recommend the course as it was fun to play, challenging, and in good shape considering the $50 that we payed.
#18 green looking back: