A starter’s life has to be interesting.
It’s usually an old guy, typically friendly and chatty at the best places. Occasionally too much of both. The good ones are almost like tour guides, full of jokes and “I thought I’d seen everything” stories, adept at taking first-tee pictures for golfers of varying skill and sobriety levels. The veteran starter has seen it all.
“This hole was first played in the early 1400s,” our starter said. “But this course was built some 588 years later.”
He cheerfully added those two morsels to the crowd of jitters and swing thoughts already in my head. I heard my playing partner laugh, but I was too preoccupied with the guy ahead of us trying to fish his fifth shot out of the burn. I watched him almost fall in as the starter’s words sank in.
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This course is the New Course, Jack Nicklaus’ tribute to the Old Course — where he won three of his record 18 majors. So what? This first hole is the same as that first hole. That’s what. This is what Scotland looks like — even if Scotland wouldn’t be this warm if it were on fire. This isn’t just another golf round in a state full of those kind of rounds. This is imitation history. Jack’s imitation, his flattery, is today’s opportunity for you. Best not mess this up.
So now I’m nervous. Though of course I have no reason to be. You suck if you miss the first fairway at The New Course. I can’t blame you if you thought you’d never read that in a golf story because I certainly never thought I’d write it. But how often is a par-4 fairway wider than it is long? Add to that the fact you’re teeing off from the fairway and I think you’re pretty safe. You can’t miss it if you try. Just relax and inhale the ambiance. If this is as close as you ever get to Scotland, make the most of every moment. Just don’t take over four hours of moments.
Not that you could anyway. The starter claimed we could play three rounds here for the same cost — and in the same amount of time — as a round at Pebble Beach. He’s exaggerating a little, of course, on the time aspect. The New Course is certainly a quick loop -- and a fun one at that. It’s a “no matter where you hit it you’re safe” kind of round. Well, except in the burns. A round on the New Course oddly resembles playing golf on a pool table, albeit a deceptively undulated pool table. It looks so flat, but plays so not. More like bumper pool.
The New Course is a replica course by lazy description. Truthfully, only the No. 1 and No. 18 holes are intended as similar to their inspiration. The rest is pretty original. And in a state with literally 1,500 golf courses, it’s a hefty compliment to say “this course is unique.”
First of all, you’re in Orlando and there are virtually no houses — no buildings at all. In fact, if you saw how wide-open this specific course is, you would be hard pressed not to be impressed with the aura of privacy. Secondly, there are 27 other Jack Nicklaus holes on this sprawling landscape, and not one of them is like any of these 18. That’s certainly half the strength of appeal at Grand Cypress Resort.
The other half of the appeal is the lodging. The Villas at Grand Cypress are incredible — for lack of a more effusive descriptor. If your “perfect world” involves up to 45 holes of golf, on-site dining, a lakeside multi-bedroom retreat with a grill, patio, kitchen and decked-out entertainment room, followed by another 45 holes of golf the next day … then you’re easy to please at Grand Cypress. Plus you’re just down the street from Disney World, Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs') many shops and restaurants and the world’s most overpriced miniature golf. But you really don’t have to leave — not for anything — if all you’re looking for is peace and golf.
As retreats go in Orlando, the Villas have to be near the top. They are the “yes” to the question “can you get away from the madness in the Magic Kingdom?” Grand Cypress Resort is a private gated property — a landscape of lakes and lush green with a clubhouse and mini-homes where the biggest nuisances are golfers. Let the world go crazy outside the gates — there could be a zombie apocalypse out there and you’d never know it at Grand Cypress. It feels that remote. It feels that safe. And everyone knows zombies don’t golf — even if you might feel like one after 45 holes of golf.
Where It’s At: 1 N. Jacaranda St. in the heat of southwest Orlando, close to all the theme parks.
Ideal Stay & Play: 3-5 nights. 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus golf on-site.
What It’s About: The enormous private compound is about getting away from it all in the middle of it all. The villas provide laundry, kitchens, grills, patios and space to spread out that you don’t often find at most hotels.
Family Focus: More a rest-and-relaxation environment than it is an activity center. However, with two waterfall pools (one with slides), a rock-climbing wall, racquet club, babysitting service and a nine-hole pitch-n-putt course, there’s enough fun for everyone.
Local Food & Drinks: (High-End) Bull & Bear at the Waldorf Astoria; (Social) California Grill – a Top 3 Disney Fireworks viewing restaurant; (Casual) The Ravenous Pig; and (Hot Spot) Korean BBQ Taco Box Food Truck.
Day GolfGetaway: If you’ve already tried nearby Shingle Creek and Orange Lake, consider Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club — one of central Florida’s best values, it’s only an uncongested 25 miles south in Haines City.
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Eric N Hart is the GolfGetaways Course Ratings Editor for GolfNewsNet.com and freelance golf journalist writing for multiple regional and national publications — and specializes in exploring the world with his wife and children in tow. This story is part of his ongoing series exploring Family Fun Golf Resorts in Florida. Follow his adventures on Instagram @MobileGolfer.