Those that play golf in the Orlando area are no doubt familiar with ChampionsGate and their two Greg Norman Golf Courses – The National and International. As resort courses go, these two can play pretty tough. There are a few long carries and some hidden “surprises” on a couple of holes. A third course (unaffiliated with the resort courses), ChampionsGate Country Club, opened earlier this year and had been getting some rave reviews.
The new club is part of a Lennar master planned community and was designed by George Clifton and his staff at CEC Golf Design Group. Although they are currently accepting public play, ChampionsGate Country Club will become a private course under the ownership of the homeowner’s association once the development is established. It will also be a “bundled” community, meaning that when you buy a home or lot, your initiation fees are automatically tacked on to the selling price. Currently, homebuyers do not have an initiation fee, which is a good incentive to buy now. Upkeep will be part of the monthly homeowner association fees, which currently run about $300 to $350. Nonresidents and renters can purchase an annual pass for between $2,500 – $3,500/yr.
ChampionsGate Country Club is not built on your typical Florida piece of real estate. Oh sure, it does have the expected wetlands, however they are framed by some noticeable sand hills. Florida lakes (aka ponds to northerners) dot the landscape of the course and come into play on about 15 of the 18 holes.
Once you arrive at the course – which in and of itself can be somewhat of a trick as many GPS systems will lead you astray – pay a visit to the aqua range which is unique and features several peninsular target greens on the peripheries. Then stop by the practice green and see how the ball is rolling on these speedy TifEagle greens. Now you’re ready to embark upon your journey!
There are four sets of tees here, so choosing the set best suited for your game will go a long way in adding to your enjoyment on this course. From the back/professional tees, ChampionsGate Country Club plays 7,058 yards with a rating of 74.4 and a slope of 134. The scorecard also lists a “Blended” set of tees that plays slightly more than 6,000 yards and are a combination of the Back and Member tee boxes. From the Ladies tees, the course play 4,923 yards with a rating of 69.4 and a slope of 121.
ChampionsGate Country Club offers great views of Orange County all around the course. 419 Bermuda grass adorns the fairway and subtle elevation changes will have you thinking before you make your final club selection. CEC Golf Design utilized as many natural features of the land as they could and the course follows these contours throughout. There are over 100 sand bunkers filled with arguably the whitest sand in all of Central Florida.
Memorable Holes – Yardage is from Blue Tees
Number 2: Par 3, 172 yards. This isn’t a long hole however choosing the right club is critical if you want to have a shot at par or better. You’re playing slightly uphill over some Florida wetlands. This is the most undulating green on the course, so even a solidly struck tee shot onto the green does not guarantee a par.
Number 4: Par 5, 512 yards. Accuracy off the tee is a must if you want to score well on this long par 5. Avoid the fairway bunkers on either side off the tee. The landing areas on both the tee shot and layup are framed by bunkers and are narrower than the rest of the hole. Playing your layup shot to your best distance for an approach shot is how to score well here. The green is surrounded by sand. Nice hole!
Number 10: Par 5, 497 yards. The lake on the left side is not reachable for most players so go ahead and give it all you got off the tee. Your layup shot is a little more tedious as you’ll be playing a blind shot uphill with water on the left and a bunker on the right. Be sure to choose the right club for your approach shot; anything short will be wet and anything long will be in the sand. This is a good hole to make up a shot on the rest of the field.
Number 15: Par 4, 310 yards. Don’t let the length of the hole fool you; it needs your full attention. If you try and fly the bunkers on either side of the landing area off the tee with a driver, there’s a good chance you’ll find the water. You’ll also need an accurate approach shot as the water on the left side and sand right and long catch any errant shots. The undulation and subtle breaks of the green have caused many three-putts. This hole is definitely not a pushover.
Number 17: Par 4, 352 yards. This is the hardest hole on this side, mainly due to the length off the back tees. It plays 442 yards from the Pro tees but only 352 from the Back and 315 from the Member tees. Fairway bunkers on either side present an accuracy challenge off the tee. The undulation in the fairway produces a lot of side hill lies as well. Your approach shot is to a green guarded by water and sand left and short and more sand long.
Number 18: Par 5, 503 yards. Regardless of your skill level or the tees you are playing from, this green is reachable in two. If you’re a longball hitter, challenge the water on the right and go for the narrow landing area left of the water. If you don’t think you can reach the water, playing at it and coming up short leaves a distance of just over 200 yards to the green. If you’re not playing to get home in two a tee shot short of the fairway bunker on the left, followed by a layup shot short of more bunkers on the left will leave an open approach that for the most part takes the water out of play. The key to going for the green in two here is to take enough club as all of the trouble is short rather than long. An excellent finishing hole that can be rewarded with a good score if you play it right.
Last Word: This private facility has more of a resort feel to it than either of the other two ChampionsGate resort courses. Many of the fairways are wide open allowing you to get away with errant tee shots. Where ChampionsGate Country Club makes up for this is on the approach shot. Greens are extremely well protected and require pinpoint precision to get the ball close. The course is not without its share of risk/reward holes either; specifically, the finishing holes on either side. Both of these par 5s are reachable in two with the proper tee shot, however be prepared to pay a penalty if you hit just an average approach.
ChampionsGate Country Club is a “must play at least twice” course if you’re in the Orlando area. I guarantee you’ll do better your second time around. For more information, give them a call at (407) 507-2756 or visit them online at www.championsgatecountryclub.com.