My Town: David Leadbetter
The par-3 course at the Omni Orlando Resort.
Orlando is definitely one of those touristy cities where if you don't know what you're doing, you can easily end up playing golf next to a 25-foot purple dinosaur and eating dinner at "Bob's House o' Lobster." David Leadbetter's first tip: "Avoid any place with a big neon sign out front."
Kidding aside, Leadbetter knows the area well, having first moved to Central Florida in 1982 -- to open a golf school at the now defunct Grenelefe Resort in Haines City -- before moving his operation to Lake Nona GC in Orlando in 1988. There, he worked with Nick Price and Nick Faldo, among other tour greats as he built his David Leadbetter Golf Academy into a world-renowned operation. Leadbetter has since moved to Bradenton on the West Coast of Florida, but he still makes the couple-of-hour trek to his teaching headquarters at ChampionsGate GC, just south of Walt Disney World. Here's his guide to the area.
Two in particular stand out in my mind. The first shouldn't be a surprise: the International Course at ChampionsGate. It's Greg Norman's version of an Australian links and in my mind is one of Orlando's toughest tests. The other is Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Everyone knows it hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which draws one of the top fields of any stop on the PGA Tour. If you're a true golf fan, you've just gotta play the 'King's' home course, don't you?
WHERE TO STAY
Again, I'm biased, but the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate has it all. There's a second Norman design, the National Course, a relaxing pool and waterpark, three restaurants and a nine- hole par-3 course. Oh, and if you want to work on your game, there's a fairly good instructor whose headquarters is only a 7-iron away. The neat thing, too, about the par-3 course is it's lighted (1) so you can work on your wedge game after dinner.
Being it is Orlando, there's no shortage of things to do with your family, particularly if you're coming with your kids. Walt Disney World is obvious. Can't go wrong with Sea World or Universal Studios Orlando either. If I had to choose one, I think Universal is pretty good. Check out the Dueling Dragons roller coaster.
If you get hit with a rainy day, consider Disney Quest. It's an indoor, interactive theme park. It's great for kids but also a lot of fun for adults. Right next door is Cirque Du Soleil's La Nouba show. If you haven't seen a Cirque show, you'll be mesmerized. The athleticism and artistry are simply amazing.