The city of Winter Garden offers some of the finest golf in Central Florida. The trio of Orange County National, West Orange Country Club, and Stoneybrook West offers three very different styles of golf.
Orange County National offers two championship layouts with Panther Lake and Crooked Cat. Both courses have played host to the final stage of the PGA Q School numerous times. Most people say that they like Panther Lake better but I tend to like Crooked Cat more. Perhaps, it’s because I’m not that good of a golfer. I normally shoot in the 80’s and occasionally make it in the 70’s so a good golfer may mean different things to different people. At the very least, I’m not a hack.
The conditions here are superb most of the time and the best time to play these courses is during the winter months when the windswept conditions play a factor as the courses were designed. The layout is wide open but very long so they both play a lot like a links layout. There’s a lot of great golf holes here but the ones that come to mind are the par 5 seventh on Panther Lake and the par 4 twelfth on Crooked Cat.
The tee shot on the seventh hole at Panther Lake requires a long drive between rows of huge oaks on both sides of the fairway and then the second shot usually measuring between 220 and 260 yards for most golfers require a decision to go for the green or laying up to the right. If you go for the green then you bring in the wetlands that lie between you and the green and there’s also out of bounds if you go over the green. The berm and bunkers behind the green will stop most balls from going out of bounds but I’ve definitely spent some time looking for balls in the out of bounds area. It’s a great opportunity to a make an eagle but I’ve witnessed a lot of big numbers here. One competitor in a recent Q School tournament made a 12 on this hole. Really the play is to lay to a comfortable yardage here. If you decide to lay up to the right, then the slew of bunkers come into play but it is the right play.
The twelfth hole on Crooked Cat is also a joy and terror to play. The tee shot is played from a tee that’s elevated by about a 100 yards with wetlands short and lining the entire right side of the fairway. The tee shot plays into the wind most of the time and really windy days, I’ve seen competitors at Q School lay up to the lady’s tee box and trying to make par the hard way. The second shot on this hole plays between 120 and 200 yards depending on the golfer with the green flanked by wetlands short and directly to the right of the long and narrow two tiered green. Hitting from the fairway is no guarantee of a par here.
I tend to play these courses much more during the summer months simply because greens fees are over $100 during winter and only $20 for twilight rates in the summer. There’s also a par 3 course called the Tooth that’s a lot more fun than just hitting the balls on the driving range and really better for practicing accuracy with the irons. These courses are definitely the most well known in the area and a must see for any visiting golfers.
Currently there are no homes overlooking the golf course but the Horizons West Planned Unit Development FAQ PDF File shows there will be some golf view homes in the near future.
Stoneybrook West already offers numerous homes on the golf course not too far away in Winter Garden. The golf course is an Arthur Hills design with his trademark deep penalizing bunkers and arguably the finest greens in the area with dramatic undulations and tour quality speed. Some of the most memorable holes is the par 5 fifth hole, the par 4 ninth hole, the par 3 Eleventh, the par 4 fifteenth, and the par 5 eighteenth. It’s all set in a guard gated setting but the prices do not reflect it. Virtually the entire course is surrounded by homes so the golf experience is not quite as appealing but on the other hand, there’s plenty of opportunities to live on a superb golf course for a reasonable price.
Homes on the golf course can start as low as $300k and can go up to about $1,000,000. US Homes, Lennar, and Rutenberg built the homes here with a contemporary Mediterranean style and there tends to be a lot of 2 story plans. Stoneybrook West is equipped with so many amenities besides golf that it should appeal to most everyone. Amenities include: 2 clubhouses, playground, roller hockey rink, basketball court, tennis courts, water park, pool, lakeside gazebo, guard gated entrance, and numerous social events held by the community association. You really do get a country club/resort style lifestyle at very reasonable prices.
West Orange Country Club is the only private golf offering in Winter Garden and also the only layout that is target oriented. The course is old school and not long by any stretch of the imagination but plays longer because the fairways are always soft and do not give any roll. All the golf holes are narrow and surrounded by numerous pine trees that makes it difficult to play a normal shot to the green. The greens have been renovated recently and they’re all small and firm. Balls that land short will not roll up to the green and balls that land too deep on the green tend to roll off. When you look at the scorecard you think this course is a piece of cake but I’ve seen a lot of pros shooting in the 80’s at the mini tour events held here.
My favorite golf holes here are the par 5 tenth hole and the par 4 eighteenth. The tee shot on the tenth hole requires a shot over the trees on the dogleg left with bunkers on both sides of the fairway in the landing area. The conservative strategy is to play a hybrid or 3 wood short and right of the dogleg but push it too far right and you get blocked out by the trees. The trees on the left always seem to catch balls that try to cut the dogleg on the left. It’s a par 5, just get it in the fairway unless you’re really long. The second shot ranges from 230 to 280 and can be reached in two but the green is really small for a par 5 and the good miss is to the right of the green although your chip shot will be over a bunker and landing on a downhill slope with very little green to work with.
The tee shot on the eighteenth hole is long and requires a solid drive with a slight fade. You can cut it off by getting the tee shot really quickly and hitting it between two dead tree limbs that are about 10 yards wide. The second shot usually plays between 180 to 230 yards and always difficult to judge because of the swirling winds. I’m usually just happy to get it on the green with a chance at a 2 putt for par. The atmosphere is very casual here for a private club and probably why it appeals to someone like John Daly who is a member here. You see him sporadically but he always parks his RV here during the tournament at Bay Hill. Other notable members include Deane and Brendan Pappas and Brad and Bart Bryant. The $4,000 initiation for an equity membership and monthly dues in the $200 range are a good value for the money. They allow members to walk here so you can save a little by skipping the cart. Some of the homes in Summerport overlook holes number 2 and 3 from the left side of the fairway and a few homes in the Willow on the Green subdivision have views of the course but most of the golf is surrounded by nature for a pure golf experience.
The trio of golf courses are in Winter Garden offer some great golf experiences for all skill levels and gives the finest courses in Central Florida a run for their money.
Flyover Video of Panther Lake at Orange County National
Flyover Video of Crooked Cat at Orange County National