Volcano Island Miniature Golf’s 18 holes wind through an immersive landscape of volcanic crags and life-size dinosaur statues. A towering brachiosaurus welcomes visitors to the complex, its neck extending far above a canopy of palm trees that casts shadows on the course’s emerald corridors, tropical tiki huts, and camped-out dinosaur-rights activists. As golfers putt through the jungle, course-side plaques aim prehistoric factoids into their brains to fill holes in dinosaur trivia. A dazzling eruption spews from a volcano to celebrate holes in one on the final green, sending golfers and stranded hot air balloons on their way home.
Faldo Golf Institute’s 27-hole, resort-style golf complex, practice green, and driving range serve as a haven for duffers and a training ground dedicated to the teaching principles of six-time major champion Sir Nick Faldo. Designed by Faldo and golf architect Steve Smyers, the institute’s 18-hole Grande Pines course invites golf balls to wrap around groves of natural timbers, settle into pillowy bunkers, and practice splash-free dives into water hazards across a challenging, 7,012-yard layout. The adjacent nine-hole course was designed to foster the development of novice golfers, although the water-kissed, 2,300-yard layout still packs enough challenges to keep aces interested. A staff of Faldo-certified instructors roams the stately grounds, imparting advice in lessons while helping each unique swing find its titanium soulmate with Trackman club-fitting technology. Partnered with Marriott’s Grande Vista Resort, the Faldo Golf Institute offers overnight stay-and-play packages for dedicated duffers or those hoping for a romantic getaway with their 9-iron.
Since 1986, Windermere has welcomed sultans of swing to relax and hone their skills with friends and family in a sophisticated, yet relaxed country-club atmosphere. The course recently finished a complete cosmetic makeover, renovating the greens, bunkers, driving range, and clubhouse with fresh bermuda-grass seed. Originally designed by Ward Northrup, the 18-hole, par 72 championship course caters to handicaps of all levels with 6,558 yards of meticulously manicured fairways, making it one of the newest and most handsome semiprivate clubs in the area. Thirteen holes border lakes, and 63 strategically placed bunkers challenge experienced golfers and give amateurs multiple chances to supplement their income with hidden sand dollars.
If one were flying over the driving range at Orange County National Golf Center, they might think it's a crop circle. Rather than a conventional line of hitting bays, the range's driving stalls form a complete circle around a massive target zone. The practice facility serves as the training ground for Transition Golf Academy, and while it may turn a full 360 degrees, the academy's instructors are committed to honing a golf swing that produces arrow-straight shots.
Transition Golf Academy teaches the BPT golf swing, a simple, repeatable motion that is reliable on the course or while crushing drives at battalions of invading golf carts. Instructors help clubbers perfect their swing and gain distance and accuracy by also incorporating video analysis to provide clear, visual feedback. Golfers of all abilities can see improvement with the help of these instructors.
During a round of golf in this region, it’s not uncommon for players to see the occasional alligator sunning itself on the banks of a fairway pond. The same, however, cannot be said for miniature-golf courses, unless you’re playing at Congo River Golf, where the civilized sinking of putts coexists with the visceral carnage of live-alligator feedings. More than 25 alligators wait for patrons to feed them morsels of gator food in an exhibit beside the course. Though the course offers no chance for an encounter with the ancient, scaly species, it enchants players with waterfalls, safari-themed artifacts, and towering rock faces. In addition, Congo River Golf encompasses an indoor arcade and a gemstone-mining station, where guests dig through dirt for fossils, arrowheads, and Neanderthal’s kindergarten time capsules.
Ventura Country Club unfurls its par 70, 5,659-yard course around the edge of a meandering body of water, challenging golfers with narrow fairways and sporadic trees engulfing projectile easements. On the seventh hole, an honor guard of water hazards and bunkers allows only the most precise shots to enter its elevated green, followed by the 467-yard 13th hole, an imposing gauntlet encompassing a sharp dogleg left dotted with palm trees that yearn to swat down careless strokes. Three sets of tees ensure that players of every skill level can thoroughly enjoy the course's intricacies. Before circumnavigating the links, golfers can warm up on the driving range with a bag of range balls apiece, practicing long-range shots or revealing their mannequin-leg sand wedge. Two bottles of water replenish sweat lost during intense putts, and a pair of hot dogs either cures postgame hunger or acts as meaty makeshift tees.
Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player and Karl Litten designed Kissimmee Oaks Golf Club's 18-hole, par 72 course, carving a 6,886-yard path through intersecting waterways and the century-old oak trees from which the club derives its name. Water hazards come into play on all but four holes, impeding golfers' passage while attracting wild turkey and thirsty golf carts. Golfers will need sound course management and accurate shotmaking to keep the ball in play on the sloping fairways and small greens that snake through the hazards. Before taking the course, players can warm up swings at a 20-stall driving range or at two separate greens for chipping and putting.
Course at Glance: