I was in Orlando to attend the Global Business Travel Association annual conference, held at the Orlando Convention Center. Pre-convention festivities included a madhouse scramble at ChampionsGate Golf Club as a guest of EVA Air. I teamed with EVA’s Gary Huang and Daryl Yu; Jack Jeremy of American Express joined us to complete the foursome.
ChampionsGate offers a choice of two golf courses, both designed by Greg Norman. The International Course features the windswept open layout Norman favors; the fairways are sprinkled with more than 130 pot bunkers, and the course boasts one of the highest ratings in Florida.
The National Course, where our “Team EVA” played, offers a more traditional parkland course rolling through 200 acres of woodlands, swamps and a former orange grove. It seems Norman added wall-to-wall fairway bunkers during one of his bad moods to challenge a player’s skills on holes 12 to 16. The course also includes three double doglegs, a sunken fairway on Hole 7 and a gigantic green oddly shared by holes 4 and 16 — did they run out of room?
The hotel, the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, is massive and could use a little tender loving care. Public rooms are vast caverns, and the bar seemed particularly hollow and huge; I would not call it cozy. Getting from the hotel to the course requires a shuttle, or you can drive your car and park at the club.
Hole 2 | 517 yards, par 5
This is an intimidating tee shot: The throat out of the gate is narrow, with trees on either side, and a peppering of bunkers on the fairway makes placement a crapshoot. It is recommended to carry the bunker on the left, which can be difficult due to the trees. After the rest of the group slammed their way into trouble, I landed the best ball short and right of the bunker. This allowed Gary to take one of his famous 3-woods to advance us to the green and away from the bunkers (there are eight on the fairway). Finally, a contribution from Daryl put us on the green. Jack was thinking more about the opening ceremony that night than the green.
Hole 4 | 323 yards, par 4
This tricky little hole rises slowly to the green, and you have to steer clear of the vast marsh that commands the left side and encroaches into the landing area. The play is to favor the right side without getting overcooked and rolling into the trees. Gary and I took to the task, sending one in the marsh and one too far right but still playable. Jack dribbled off the tee, scaring a few ducks trying to shade themselves in the marsh area. Daryl saved us with a shot to the center of the fairway, proving golf is an easy game. The long and narrow green did not stop us, and we trudged forward in the 90-degree heat.
Hole 13 | 389 yards, par 4
Thirteen is one of those “Norman doglegs” tossed in to test your skill. Here you want your drive to favor the right side, as many golfers find it easy to blow through the fairways and roll into the water occupying the inside elbow of the turn. Missing the green left may also cause a wet ball, and everything devilishly slopes from right to left. After stopping for refreshments kindly supplied by United Airlines, we took on 13 and made it lucky, all hitting decent drives followed by Jack taking the prize with a shot to the green. The three bunkers Greg Norman put on the far right of the dogleg were left clear for another day. Perhaps the groups behind us found them.
Hole 15 | 210 yards, par 3
By the time the team reached 15, the heat and humidity were extreme, and we were dragging to finish. But this was the challenge we needed to bring back our spirits. With 15 all marshy and wooded brush from tee to green, you have to make a clean shot to the green or you will fail. My shot was strong but landed just short of the green, though still chippable from the brush. Gary and Daryl made the green, and Jack’s ball vanished on the right side. Daryl’s ball landed closest to the pin, making for an easy birdie.
Hole 18 | 636 yards, par 5
From the tee box, favor the left side so you will have the best approach down the fairway for your second shot. A vast waste bunker runs from the tee boxes all the way to the beginning of the fairway — this can be a deceiving visual. Gary came out of his shoes sailing a drive to position “A,” leaving us speechless. As we were playing a scramble, we scattered like bees to pick up our less-than-stellar shots to join Gary’s premium placement. The second shot offered me a time to shine with my rental clubs, feathering a 3-wood down the fairway. The approach left us with scattered balls near the green and in the water that lines the left side of the fairway. Fortunately, Daryl was able to save the day with a shot to the green to save par. “Par won’t win the tournament,” I said, but we sure had a lot of fun!
ChampionsGate Golf Club
8575 White Shark Blvd.
ChampionsGate, FL 33896
tel 407 787 4653
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