Top 10 golf courses in and around Orlando, Florida

From the home of Arnold Palmer to top resort courses and hidden gems, Orlando is loaded with options.

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Bay Hill is a special place at any time of day. At sunrise, it's a little magical.

(UPDATED: November, 2023)

They call it "The Happiest Place on Earth," and for many golfers, let alone their Disney- and Universal-loving children, it can be hard to argue.

Orlando is full of possibility for golfers. It's easy to get to from anywhere - by plane or, for millions, by car - and once you're on Central-Florida terra firma, it's a choose-your-own-adventure town. GolfPass ranked Orlando and Central Florida 28th among the World Top 100 Golf Destinations earlier this year.

You can find cheap-and-cheerful motel accommodations and bop around to any number of equally budget-friendly courses for several days and fill up on decent golf. You can also go all-out and stay in the lap of the gods, playing pristine courses around town or on-site. There is, of course, a lot of middle ground.

Living 100 miles southeast in Vero Beach for the past seven-plus years, I have had the opportunity to play the majority of the Orlando area's best courses. Here is my personal top 10, plus some cut-missers/honorable mentions and a quick list of courses I've yet to get to.

(Note: For the purposes of this list, I'm excluding the courses of Streamsong Resort. If I were to include them, they would occupy the top three spots in the following order: Streamsong Blue, Streamsong Black, Streamsong Red.)

My top 10 Orlando golf courses

Drake Dunaway from GolfPass will take on the Winter Park 9 for his Youth on Course 100 Hole Hike.

1. Southern Dunes Golf & Country Club - Haines City
Millions of people visit Orlando every year with the desire to be transported to some fantasy realm at the likes of Disney World and Universal Studios. Here, Steve Smyers pulled off a similar trick on golfers, drawing inspiration from the golf courses of Australia with heaving bunkers guarding perched-up greens. A diverse mix of hole distances and elevation changes make this my favorite area layout. Max green fee: $135.

2. Winter Park Golf Course - Winter Park
Those in the know know this course as "Winter Park 9" or, simply, "WP9." Though rebuilt primarily for locals, its legend has grown quickly thanks to the efforts of architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, whose stars are rising in the course design industry as a result of the giggly-fun greens and bunkers they brought to this 2,400-yard neighborhood gem. At $20 to walk nine holes, it's one of the best deals in golf. $25 (9 holes).

3. Shingle Creek Golf Club
The movement on and around the putting surfaces here, courtesy of a 2016 renovation by Arnold Palmer Design's Thad Layton, turned the green complexes of a well-kept but otherwise straightforward resort course into something altogether unique and memorable, which is tough to do on an otherwise dead-flat piece of property. Kudos to the Rosen Resorts folks for letting Layton run wild, because the end result is an experience that is more memorable than that found at any of the other big-time resorts in town. $239.

4. Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Bay Hill is something of an enigma. Its annual TV exposure to millions of golf fans via the PGA Tour has made its closing holes iconic, but I actually favor the front nine, especially the terrific downhill par-3 second hole. The closing trio is good, but the awkwardness of the par-4 15th hole blunts it somewhat. Nevertheless, Bay Hill should always be seen as a bucket-list stop for serious golfers who want to pay homage to The King. The on-site lodge itself is one of my favorite places to stay because of the quiet contrast it offers to the nearby Orlando hustle and bustle. $300+, must stay on property.

5. Deltona Club - Deltona
If you're the type of golfer who requires immaculate conditions to love a course, you'll have to forgive me here. Deltona can be scruffy, but Bobby Weed's work here blending inventive sandscapes, exciting greens and some excellent elevation changes rewards a look beyond the surface level. There are very few golf courses you can play for less than $60 with this level of design sophistication. $54.

6. Grand Cypress Golf Club (Links)
This course's days are likely numbered as the former Grand Cypress gives way to the upscale Evermore Orlando resort, but until then, I will remain fond of the way Jack Nicklaus went all-in on shaping a faux-links that, in the dry spring time, actually kinda-sorta plays the way it looks, double-greens, pot bunkers and all. $170.

The New Course at Grand Cypress stands out among imitation-links, situated as it is in Central Florida.

7. Grand Cypress Golf Club (Cypress)
Open only to guests of the nearby Hyatt Regency resort until Evermore Orlando Resort debuts in early 2024, this is a total redo of the original Grand Cypress course. Nicklaus Design reduced that particular layout from 27 to 18 holes in order to make way for more than 1,500 rooms spread across a Hilton Conrad hotel and vacation rental houses of widely varying sizes. Gone are the old 1980s Nicklaus traits of tiny greens, long rough and tons of mounds. The new course has more of an Augusta-inspired look: all short grass, large and undulating greens, clam-shell bunkers and water on 14 holes. The front nine and final 3 weave through the overwhelming development, with several circuitous cart drives from greens to following tees. But the stretch from 10 through 15, on their own contiguous (and quiet!) paddock, across a busy road from the rest of the course, form the heart of the course, and fun as anything in town. One wishes the Nicklaus Design team had been allowed to route the other dozen holes in similar fashion. Oh well - it's still a solid upscale resort play practically next door to Disney.

8. Reunion Resort & Club (Nicklaus Course) - Kissimmee
Bobby Ginn's star burned hot in the pre-Great Recession years, and before his spectacular financial collapse, he developed Reunion, with three golf courses and hundreds of impressive villas and homes within arm's reach of Disney. The Nicklaus course here is typical of the Golden Bear's designs: long, challenging and grand enough to make you want to return and do a better job the next time around. $225, must stay on property.

9. Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Playable only by club members and guests of the upscale surrounding resort, this Tom Fazio redesign has a friendly feel accentuated by several greens with gathering features. That makes it particularly well-suited to higher handicappers and more occasional golfers. And, for those who are inspired by their round, the practice facility is tough to beat. $325, must stay on property.

10. Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grande Lakes
The annual host of the PNC Championship gets its turn on TV each year, which raises its profile, as does the fact that unlike many area courses, there are no houses bordering the holes. And while the Greg Norman design is pleasant enough, it takes low-profile shaping to the extent where one wonders if it's a little too quiet to be truly memorable, at least until the closing few holes. Still, it's always in terrific shape, and the on-site JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels are among the best around. $395.

Mission Inn's Old-Florida feel makes for a relaxing round.

My top 5 private Orlando golf courses

1. Lake Nona Golf & Country Club
This Tom Fazio gem benefits from being one of the courses where Mike Strantz was heavily involved. As a result, the shaping and bunkering are on another level. So too is the scenery and the club culture heavily influenced by resident PGA and LPGA Tour stars.

2. Country Club of Orlando
It's not really a Donald Ross original as many have thought, but Ron Forse's recent renovation solidifies its old-style bona fides anyway. As is the case with most clubs named after their home cities, it's a stately and welcoming place to play and sip a drink on the veranda.

Ron Forse infused the Country Club of Orlando with a healthy measure of Golden-Age charm.

3. Country Club of Winter Haven - Winter Haven
Bill Bergin is one of the more underrated architects working today. He and Rees Jones fashioned this Donald Ross homage out of some attractive lakefront acreage here at a relatively low-key club that may be receptive to requests for non-member access.

4. Isleworth Country Club - Windermere
Tiger Woods' former stomping grounds is one of the more relentless tests of golf you'll encounter, but the scenery as it weaves between several lakes and some of the biggest homes you've seen on a course makes up for some of the punishment.

5. Interlachen Country Club - Winter Park
Joe Lee provided a solid starting point in the '80s and in 2007, Steve Smyers added some muscle and fire to the bunkering and the green complexes here. It's a beefy golf course, but not without its charms.

Honorable Mention: 6 other recommended Orlando golf courses

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando is a pristine Rees Jones design.

(In alphabetical order)

Celebration Golf Club - Celebration
Billed as Robert Trent Jones, Sr.'s final design, I find the front nine here to be the stronger of the two sides. The integration with the surrounding community is interesting, too. $149.

ChampionsGate Golf Club (International) - ChampionsGate
Greg Norman's open-plan design has been refined over the years and remains a solid example of links imitation in a decidedly subtropical setting. $270.

Harmony Golf Preserve - Harmony
This long Johnny Miller design was toward the forefront of the recent movement to drastically reduce bunkering, both for playability and maintenance reasons. Conditioning can be uneven here, but catch it on a good day and it's an excellent value. $130.

Mission Inn Resort (El Campeon) - Howey-in-the-Hills
This Old-Florida mainstay is dripping with charm, and El Campeon is now in its second century of life, making it a rarity in Florida golf. Elevation changes throughout the course will remind northern visitors of home and while the 17th is an unfortunately awkward hole, the combination of value and enjoyable golf here makes it a worthy stop. $115.

Orange County National (Crooked Cat) - Winter Garden
Very long from the tips and typically in good shape, this is a pretty straightforward test that benefits greatly from the wetlands that come into play in the middle of the back nine. $199.

Waldorf Astoria Golf Club
The preponderance of flanking bunkering and straightaway holes here holds it back from cracking my top 10 in town, though the conditioning is typically pristine and the neighboring Waldorf Astoria hotel is luxurious. $275.

Wish List: 5 Orlando golf courses I'd like to see

1. Bella Collina Golf Club - Montverde - I'm fascinated by pre-Recession golf design, and Bella Collina, with its enormous clubhouse complex and epically bunkered course, seems like the pinnacle of that recently bygone era. It used to be more open to the public, but now reportedly only offers two non-member foursomes per day.

2. Reunion Resort & Club (Watson Course) - Kissimmee - I'm also keen to see the Palmer course here, but having enjoyed Watson's work at the Conservatory at Hammock Beach, I'm particularly eager to see what he and his team came up with at Reunion. $225, must stay on property.

3. Disney's Palm Golf Course - Arnold Palmer Design Company's Thad Layton, who led the redesign of Shingle Creek, also renovated this course in 2013. That makes it my top target at Disney. $155.

4. Hawk's Landing Golf Club - A recent renovation here by Robert Cupp, Jr. (son of the prolific late architect Bob Cupp) has been well-received. $139.

5. Victoria Hills Golf Club - DeLand - At about 45 minutes from town, it's on the border of what can fairly be considered "greater Orlando," but due to its reputation for fun land movement, I'm counting it. $54.

Experience Orlando's best

Planning a Florida vacation? Check out these Orlando golf packages
Golf Packages
ORLANDO, FL | Enjoy 3 nights' accommodation at The Fountains Resort Orlando and 4 rounds of golf at Celebration Golf Club, Orange County National, Shingle Creek Golf Club and Falcons Fire Golf Club.
Golf Packages
FROM $187 (USD)
Golf Packages
FROM $77 (USD)
Golf Packages
FROM $147 (USD)
Golf Packages
FROM $197 (USD)

Roundups
Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
7 Comments

Pretty good list -- would have liked to see Eagle Creek and OCN Panther Lake make the cut. How on the world did Deltona Club get mentioned? Deltona is a complete mess (and I'm being nice). You must be getting some kind of kickback 😏

I haven't played Eagle Creek or Panther Lake yet; will certainly re-evaluate the list when I do. As for Deltona, it was a little rough around the edges conditions-wise when I played it a few years ago, but it was also about $30 and design-wise it is head and shoulders above most Orlando-area golf courses, hence its spot in my ranking.

I always play Celebration when travelling to FL from merry olde England, it's a decent track and quite good value, only word of warning is pace of play, as the day goes on the pace seems to get slower and slower. I try to get out early (before 08:00).

Shingle creek is another decent course, as long as you dont get stuck behind a company or society day.

Played all the "disney" courses, and to use a well know English phrase.they are all a bit "Mickey Mouse" ( and rather expensive for what they are)

I like Chamions gate, picking the Country club course above National / International.

Victoria Hills was in poor shape when played. Meah.....

Gotta love panther lake and crooked cat!!

Tod, my impression of Crooked Cat is that it's a little uneven. The front nine didn't leave much of an impression on me. The back nine had some interesting holes and decent elevation changes. I hope to play Panther Lake sometime.

A few quick takes on your course list, which will make my next central-Florida trip better (Thanks!):

Mission Inn Resort (10): Elevation changes on Florida tracks are nearly as rare as double eagles (if not bald eagles in Florida). Looks like fun.
Ritz-Carlton GC (9): A generally boring Greg Norman course? Perhaps this view sounds simplistic, but it’s out of keeping with his personality. Hmmmm.
Reunion (8): Have been to Reunion–and drove by the course–which looks impressive, at very least.
Grand Cypress (7): Links golf seems incongruous for central Florida, and, having played this course, I found it to be a “kinda-sorta” links experience. But the layout is excellent from most any other standpoint.
Deltona (6): I’d definitely play it from your description. Conditioning is important but secondary to layout.
Shingle Creek (2): Just so happens that two golfers I played with last year mentioned this and Celebration as two great experiences for them.
Southern Dunes (1): Similar to Australia? I’m assuming it’s not all that far off in spirit from something like Royal Melbourne or Kingston Heath (?). For me that would mean a must-play.

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Top 10 golf courses in and around Orlando, Florida