ORLANDO, Fla. - It's one thing to have one of the world's best-known golf course architects on hand for the opening - or, as the case has often been over the last decade, reopening - of a golf course.
But when someone of Tom Fazio's stature shows up to cut the ribbon on a new practice facility at an existing golf course, certain expectations come along with the occasion. To be blunt, it had better be one heck of an awesome practice facility.
In the case of Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando, the extra hoopla was justified.
"We had a very nice practice facility," Fazio said of the previous iteration of Tranquilo's range and short-game area at the PGA Show Week event, "but we more than doubled that."
"Very nice" is often "good enough" at most courses' practice facilities. For others, "very nice" is a pipe dream. But after a comprehensive renovation, led by Fazio's son Logan, Tranquilo boasts perhaps the finest spot to hone one's golf game in the Orlando area. The main driving range has a huge, wide, pancake flat field of turf from which to practice all length of shots. There are half a dozen target greens, contoured in typical Fazio fashion and well-bunkered, which at certain hours of the day turn into a par-3 course, adding another type of use to the huge space.
Technology is another factor in Tranquilo's reimagined practice facility. There are fiber-optic cable outlets at strategic points around the facility, which will enable the Golf Channel to conduct live broadcasts and shoot new series from the site without the need for a satellite truck.
The renovation of Tranquilo's practice facility signals a change in philosophy behind the management of the course. Whereas the course had been open to public play since Fazio renovated it in 2014, this year, Tranquilo is transitioning into a private club, where the only non-member play - and practice - will come from guests of the upscale Four Seasons Resort Orlando.
That means that if you want to work on your game at one of the best practice facilities you've ever seen, you'll no longer be able to do so without staying at the Four Seasons. But if a world-class practice facility is on your wish list as you assess accommodations in Orlando ahead of a visit, the latest efforts by Logan and Tom Fazio might just put Tranquilo over the top for you.
Other great Orlando-area golf practice facilities
If you want the most comprehensive practice facility in the area, with little regard as to location, head to Orange County National Golf Center & Lodge in Winter Garden a little west of town. With 45 holes, OCN is home to one of the largest on-site practice facilities in the world at 42 acres. It's (barely) big enough for the PGA Merchandise Show's annual Demo Day every January, when some 10,000 industry professionals make orbits of the massive, 360-degree practice range to sample the businesses newest clubs, shafts, golf balls and more. Rank-and-file golfers love the range, massive putting green and multiple short-game greens along the edges of the range, as well as a lighted putting green (you'll have to bring the daughter of the Dean separately). What's more, the nine-hole, executive length Tooth Course is perfect for putting your hours of work into play. Reasonable prices make OCN a particularly popular office for aspiring professional players and visiting college teams looking to take their games to the next level. That's as ringing an endorsement as any.
Depending on where you're staying in Orlando, though, it could take 45 minutes or more to get to Orange County National. Luckily, there are other fine options at several other Orlando golf resorts. One of them is Grand Cypress, also home to 45 holes and some of Central Florida's best practice facilities. Grand Cypress boasts not one but two ranges, as well as three practice holes as part of its 21-acre Academy of Golf domain.
Marriott's Grande Vista's primary golf focus is on practice and game improvement. Home to one of two Marriott Golf Academy locations, Grande Vista's practice facilities comprise an impressive 35 acres, complimented by a par-32, 2,300-yard golf course. This is a similar situation to Orange County National's Tooth Course, where players can mix grind-sessions on the range and practice green with some real course diagnostic play.
The competition generated by the sheer volume of golf courses in Orlando works in golfers' favor, as course operators know that a high-quality practice facility can help set a property apart from the rest, especially in the winter, when many visitors will be playing their first rounds in many weeks or months and will be working the kinks out of their swings in earnest. Among the higher-end resorts, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Grande Lakes, Rosen Shingle Creek and PGA Tour host Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge are all fine places to hone one's game. The practice facility at ChampionsGate Golf Club, adjacent to the on-site Leadbetter Golf Academy, is favored by professional players who work with the legendary teacher and his proteges. And Gary Gilchrist runs his junior academy out of Mission Inn Resort & Club, which also has an expansive practice facility.
Just a few miles from ChampionsGate, Reunion Resort & Club has two full practice facilities between its three golf courses - one shared by the Palmer Course and Watson Course, and then a full practice facility at the Nicklaus Course, whose clubhouse is under construction and expected to open later this year.
Many of Orlando's standalone public golf courses have serviceable practice facilities as well. Eagle Creek Golf Club, south and east of Orlando International Airport, has a spacious driving range and multiple greens. North and west of town, Bella Collina, the would-be upscale private enclave whose exclusive intentions were kiboshed by the recession, has a spacious driving range and short-game greens guarded by a deep bunker of the sort players are bound to encounter on the course.
Last but not least, Orlando is home to one of the newest locations of Topgolf. Open since last October and situated near the Orange County Convention Center, Topgolf Orlando has given both avid golfers and those who have never swung a club a fun option in a place where entertainment is practically a religion. Drive Shack, a competitor of Topgolf's just opened its own Orlando-area location near Lake Nona, a few weeks ago. A more down-home lighted driving range option, Bad Dog Driving Range, is located on the east side of town, due north of the airport.
What are your favorite places to practice in and around the Orlando area? Be sure to share your favorites in the comments below!