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Orlando's Villas of Grand Cypress Resort is Magical

By: Steve Habel


Just down the road from the Walt Disney World, another getaway - the Villas of Grand Cypress Resort - offers magic in its own special way for golfers and families looking for a bit more opulence away from the masses.

Grand Cypress Golf Club

The Villas of Grand Cypress Resort is a haven for players looking for championship-quality golf, fine amenities and varied accommodations that rank among the best Central Florida has to offer.

There are times during a stay at Grand Cypress, thanks to the resort's layout among lakes and within thick forests, when you feel as if you are actually in the genteel South of yesteryear rather than just a few miles from one of the world's top amusement parks. The property was once a huge orange grove.

You can even get a distant taste of what's going on at Disney at 9 p.m. each night, when the park's fireworks extravaganza echoes from beyond the trees bordering Grand Cypress.

Grand Cypress 's 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature golf are the centerpiece of the Villas of Grand Cypress Resort, whose other amenities a nine-hole pitch-and-putt course, tennis, a 24-foot-high rock climbing wall, pools galore and catch-and-release fishing.

But golf, and namely the resort's North, South and East nines and its fabulous New Course, are what brought us to the Villas at Grand Cypress. Thanks to the varied and challenging routings Nicklaus fashioned here, and combined with the changing and often dynamic weather conditions, you could golf for a week and never see a course play the same way.

No. 5 on the East nine

Three Times the Fun at North, South, East

The 27 holes of golf on Grand Cypress's North, South and East nines ask accuracy and guile rather than a bomb-and-gouge approach. The original North-South combination, built in 1984 and revised in 2007, are typical of Nicklaus's work in the 1980s, featuring fairways that drop quickly (and often mercilessly) into water or sand and punctuated with trees, grassy mounding and elevated, perched putting surfaces.

The sum total is a course that demands dead-on shots amid target-style trials.

The North and South nines hosted the 2010 LPGA Tour Championship and are scheduled to again host the year-end event (now called the CME Group Titleholders) on November 17-20.

The North course is highlighted by three difficult par-4s: the 451-yard fifth (which has a terraced fairway and a split-level green), the 423-yard seventh (a left-to-right turner past a fairway bunker to a shallow green reached over water), and the 468-yard ninth (with a narrow fairway and a long approach over a lake and a cavernous bunker). And don't go to sleep on the 188-yard eighth, which sports a small uphill green surrounded by sand.

Two massive par-5s (the 590-yard second, a dogleg-right that's played over water twice, and the uphill 595-yard sixth) define the South nine. The sixth plays to a narrow fairway and runs past a huge pond on the left before ending at a tiny plateaued green. This hole produced some prodigious scores at the LPGA Tour Championship.

The South also features two short par-4s (the 352-yard first and 333-yard fifth) where you can build some momentum for the side's tougher offerings.

The North & South Courses' 9th Holes

During his reworking of the North and South nines in 2007, Nicklaus added length, new greens, additional bunkers and a fresh look to a track that some consider among his very best layouts. Water enters play on all but five holes, there are plenty of large oaks and pines, and the bunkers are deep and numerous.

The East nine is a bit more forgiving, with less bunkering to allow for more run-up shots. There are more trees here, but for the most part the challenge on East -built in 1986 - is on and around the greens.

Test your skill on East's 153-yard fifth hole, with its island green and two bunkers to catch shots going long. On this side, the longest par-4 (No. 2) is carded at 428 yards and both its par-5s (the 550-yard third - where you can bite off as much as dare on a drive over water - and the 511-yard ninth) can be attacked.

The North, South and East nines have their own distinct qualities, but they complement each other well to forge three paired 18-hole combinations. All three nines play to a par of 36 and have four sets of tees. The North is carded at 3,554 yards and rated at 38 from the tips, while the South weighs in at 3,578 yards and 37.9 and the East covers 3,434 yards and a rating of 36.8. The North/South configuration carries the highest slope rating of the three possible 18-hole combinations - a 142 - while South/East and North/East are both sloped at 138.

New Course's Homage to Swilcan Bridge

New Course is a Joy

Standing on the first tee of Grand Cypress's New Course, you might think you have somehow been whisked across the Atlantic to a British Open venue. Built by Nicklaus as his homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews, the New Course is all about wide-open, wind-swept holes playing firm and fast among grass-covered mounds and more than 150 bunkers of all sizes and variety.

A burn running in front of the first green also influences the shots on the ninth, 10th and 18th (a copy of the home hole at St. Andrews with the Valley of Sin included) as well.

On the way around the New Course, players will tackle long par-4s (the into-the-wind 440-yard fourth and 440-yard eighth - where you must carry the burn on the approach), holes with need for precision (the 393-yard par-4 fifth has 13 bunkers, eight in the landing area) and demanding par-3s (expect the 207-yard 12th to play into the wind, so take a little more club to find its partially hidden green).

The 10th Green on Grand Cypress's New Course

Seven double-greens add to the New Course's "Old School" ambiance, and the bunkers - which range in size from large enough that you'll need a ladder to get out of them to plenty of pots and tiny kettles - grab your attention and keep it throughout. This Scottish links masterpiece is complete with stone bridges and walls, and very few trees are located within the interior of the course, creating generous landing areas.

Three of the four par-5s can be reached in two under the correct conditions and an avoidance of the many bunkers that demark their landing areas.

By the time you finish your round at the 371-yard uphill 18th (which is wrapped beyond it green by a low white picket fence), you will want to play the New Course again - and I did. The two afternoons I challenged Nicklaus's wonderful creation I kept on going until I couldn't see enough to hit one more shot (one day I played 32 holes and the next was able to get in 40).

Combined, the golf courses at the Villas at Grand Cypress Resort have won numerous awards, including mention as one of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play by Golf Magazine in 2010-11, one of the nation's Top 50 Resort Courses by Golf World in 2010, one of America's Top 75 Golf Resorts by Golf Digest in 2007 and 2009 and as a member of the list of the 50 Best Golf Courses for Women by Golf for Women from 2002-07.

Entry road to the Villas at Grand Cypress Resort

Off the Courses

The resort's Grand Cypress Academy of Golf is frequented by PGA Tour players and extends instruction on a Nicklaus-designed three-hole short course. Headed by Fred Griffin, a "Top 100 Teacher," the academy offers a variety of lessons and clinics on its 21-acre "learning campus" and houses a TaylorMade Performance Lab for in-house club-fitting.

Accommodations are offered in club suites and villas with up to four bedrooms. The recently-updated villas are Mediterranean-style units situated along the North Course. The resort sports seven full-service restaurants and five lounges, including two poolside snack bars, showcasing a diverse selection of cuisine and atmosphere.

The Villas at Grand Cypress Resort is a wonderful place to play and stay away from the hustle and bustle, but close enough to get to those spots if you so desire. Given my choice, I would tee it up again and again and let the kids go stand in line at the theme parks.

For more information, visit www.grandcypress.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.