The Golfing Dad’s have played a lot of different golf courses lately. Some were good and others not so good. When we had a chance to play the National Course at ChampionsGate, we eagerly looked forward to this opportunity. Located at the Omni ChampionsGate Resort, ChampionsGate Golf Club has two courses that couldn’t be any more different. Greg Norman appeared to design the International like European courses with little or no trees and other course markings for sight lines. The National, on the other hand, seems to be cut out of the woods and swamps of Central Florida. Both courses are, however, very well maintained and fun to play. The National Course recently reopened after having their greens redone with Champion Bermuda Grass.
The golf course staff is very nice. From the pro shop to the starter, players are made to feel welcome. On course refreshment cart staff are courteous and come around more than once every 18 holes. We found course maintenance staff acknowledged us and stopped mowing or trimming when we needed to hot a shot. In cart GPS caddie system helps players with their shots. Finally, there is a David Leadbetter Golf Academy associated with ChampionsGate.
The practice area is outstanding! The practice tee areas are moved every day and grass is exactly like you play on the fairways. There are distance markers in the driving area to help players acclimate to each club’s distance.
The putting green is immense. While primarily flat, there are subtle undulations to help the player prepare for the round of golf. We found conditions and quality of surface on virtually the same as we found on the course. There is also a chipping green right next to the putting green with a couple great bunkers to practice hitting shots from.
The National Course offers players 4 sets of tees to choose from when playing. The “tips” measure 7,197 yards and a slope rating of 128. For the better players, even the tips would be a good test of a person’s game. The other 3 sets of tees range from Blue (6,480 yards and 120 slope) to Red (5,121 yards and 118 slope). Whichever set of tees a player chose, a fun day of golf lays ahead. Due to the holes being cut out of the woods and swamp area, the course is almost links like. There are a couple holes where players can see adjacent holes but are unable to stray off the shot in front of them. To do so would create a wasted shot because of trees or wild grass.
Tee boxes were well maintained. We felt the maintenance staff moved tee markers daily to prevent wear and tear in one spot. Unlike many courses, we found the tee boxes actually face the direction a player wants to hit the ball. Sight lines allowed players to line up their tee shot whether fading or hooking a shot. Condition on the fairway were equally good. Previous players and maintenance staff would appear to work hard to keep the fairways in good shape. We didn’t feel it necessary to roll a ball in the fairway in order to improve a lie. Around the greens, grass was well maintained. In many cases, we found the grass closely cut which challenges a player to stay down so as not to scull a shot. On some holes, there was wild grass and/or rough that added to the challenge. Bunkers were well maintained. There are waste areas marked by Blue Poles. According to the scorecard, these areas are part of the local acquifer system and are considered ground under repair. Players need to take relief and move the ball out of these areas within one club length but no closer to the hole.
There are many memorable holes on this course. Number 3 is a long Par 4 (478 yards from the tips). While the fairway is generous, there are bunkers on the left side to cat
ch an errant shot. Just over the left side of the fairway is rough that can swallow a golf ball. On the right is wild grass and marshy area. Hole number 4 is a risk/reward hole. This is a terrific short hole. While relatively short from the tips (323 yards) the sight line requires a long shot over marsh and wild grass. Once in the fairway, a player is usually faced with a shorter approach shot. The 7th Hole is a Par 5 with what appears to be a narrow landing area all down the fairway. It isn’t- rough and wild grass on both sides of the fairway make the shots look more difficult. Hole 9 is not particularly long (376 yards from the tips) but requires a precision shot. Once in the fairway, the 2nd shot must be accurate because of wild grass, water, and vegetation around the green.
On the back side, Hole 10 is only a Par 3 but can measure 251 yards from the back tees. Players hit into a somewhat domed shaped green that slopes off on the back of the green, after navigating this monster, Hole 11 offers no let up. From the tips, it’s 472 yards. Players must execute 2 good golf shots to a slightly elevated green. As with Hole 3, this is a terrific golf hole. The 15th is a Par 3 measuring 210 yards from the back tees. A player must first navigate marsh between the tee box and green. Any mishit or short shot is lost. In addition, there are 2 tall trees just in front of the green that can be visually intimidating. If a player hits their shot offline but over the marsh and trees, they could end up in vegetation or wild grass around the green. What a great Par 3! Hole 17 is short (315 yards from the tips) and can be reached by long hitters. It can be described as another good risk/reward hole. Finally, Hole 18 is a 636-yard Par 5. After a fairly pedestrian tee shot, there is water and marsh all down the left side of the hole. From the fairway, the green almost looks like it is on an island.
Greens on the course were very good even though they were just refurbished. With subtle undulations, these greens can be tricky. Overall, we found the greens to be consistent from hole-to-hole. If the greenskeeper had a bad time the night before, however, pins can be placed in areas that are almost inaccessible.
Dad’s Say So, The National Course at ChampionsGate is an awesome experience. If you are a local or in town visiting it needs to be on the must play list. The staff is courteous and welcoming. Practice areas are consistent with the course. Course conditions are excellent. The new greens are amazing and have come in great and make the course conditions even better than before. If you have played The National Course before it is time to come back out and play it again. It’s a terrific golf experience from start to finish. For more information and tee times, contact www.championsgategolf.com.