On our must play course list was El Campeon at Mission Inn Resort. This course is part of the two course pairing at Mission Inn located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida. Mission Inn offers a resort setting where players can stay at the course in condominiums and play golf on the two courses.
Built in 1917, El Campeon is one of the oldest golf course in the south. Designed by George O’Neil and further enhanced by C.E. Clarke in 1926. Unlike many Florida golf courses, El Campeon features elevation changes and players can’t “roll” the ball onto the front of a green with approach shots. With small greens and narrow fairways, we felt El Campeon would offer us a good test of golf. We were not disappointed.
The practice area is for two courses-El Campeon and sister course Las Colinas. As a result, the area is quite large. The driving range is large enough for about 40 golfers to practice. Mission Inn has designated an area for members to hit balls. On the range, there are distance flags at 100, 150, and 200 yards. About the only odd part is the number of trees in what appears to be the middle of the range. For the most part, trees don’t affect practice but are in landing areas. Golf balls provided by the course are yellow and looked new. We didn’t see any worn range balls. Once a player finishes with the range, there are two practice areas for chipping. The first area can be used for chipping or sand trap practice. While the green is smaller, the sand is like the quality of sand in traps on the course. The other chipping area is long and offers players opportunities to practice all types of chipping practice.
Mission Inn’s putting green is extremely large. There are several areas where players can practice uphill, downhill, or side hill putts. Like the course, the putting green is cut well and fast. After a few minutes on the putting green, players should be ready for the speed of the course greens.
El Campeon offers 5 sets of tees and a combination set of tees called the Challenger. All tees play to a Par 72. From the tips, El Campeon measures 7,230 yards with a slope of 133. The remaining tees play to distances of 6,829 (Blue) down to 4.922 (Red). Even the slopes don’t drop much with the Red slope being 121. Tee areas were well maintained and not worn. There were hole distances near each tee marker and markers in the ground on the course for 200, 150, and 100 yards. We found very few flat shots on the course with most lies uphill, downhill, or side hill. These lies required players to think on how to hit a shot before swinging a club. For the most part, distances from green to tee are short and players could walk.
On the course, Holes 1 and 10 are very similar Par 5s but the distances are different (515 versus 569 yards). The biggest difference is Hole 1 offers a narrower tee shot. Once successful, a player generally has an open shot to either the green or a layup. Hole 3 is a somewhat risk/reward hole. Measuring 460 yards from the tips, this Par 4 hole plays better with a draw than cut but has a generous landing area. The green is sloped from back to front and is very receptive for an approach shot. Hole 5 requires a downhill tee shot and uphill second shot to this Par 4. The green on Hole 5 is surrounded by bunkers. With a front pin placement, hitting a shot close and avoiding the bunkers is a challenge. Hole seven, a Par 4, necessitates a well-placed tee shot to hit to a well undulated and elevated green. Cutting across the fairway is a stream that could affect an errant tee shot. Hole eight is a Par 3 that measures 190 yards from the back tees. When standing on the tee box, this green almost looks like it’s on an island. Any bail out to the left will be in the bunker or require a difficult shot over the large bunker. Going long will end up in a well-hidden bunker or in the water behind the green. Short or right ends up in the water.
Hole 11 is deceiving. It measures only 431 yards from the back tees but is more difficult than one might imaging. This Par 4 dogleg left requires a tee shot to the middle of the fairway (don’t they all?). To the left, trees block out a shot to the green. Tee shots to the right makes for a long second shot. The green is sloped from left to right. Hole 14 is set back in a wooded area and requires a tee shot be placed in the left side of the fairway for an open second shot. While a Par 5, water on the right side of the fairway makes any shot from that side of the fairway play long. Oh, and one more thing-most 2nd shots are from a downhill lie. In front of left side of the green are a series of bunkers that could make an approach shot into the elevated green difficult. Hole 17 is the signature hole for this golf course. This Par 5 measures 556 yards from the tips but don’t be fooled. After a well-placed tee shot, the second shot must be equally well placed to avoid being stuck behind a large tree in the middle of the fairway. If a player is lucky enough to avoid being behind the tree, the third shot is all carry over a large body of water and very little area behind the green. Sloping from back to front, this green can be treacherous if a putt has to be hit from above the hole. A putt from left to right or vice versa can be similarly difficult. Hole 18 measures 437 yards (Par 4) from the back tees but can be visually intimidating. On the right side of the fairway is a lake. On the left side of the fairway are a couple of bunkers. From the tee box, it looks like the landing area is small but once in the fairway, players realize the landing area is large. Hitting to the green is unobstructed but the lake on the right will swallow any sliced shot.
From our perspective, greens at El Campeon were virtually perfect. Like the practice green, they rolled true in both speed and break. Fringe areas around the green were well maintained.
Dad’s Say So if you are in Central Florida you must play El Campeon any chance you get. Course conditions are always excellent. The changes in elevation make for an interesting round of golf that challenges players to think rather than just hit the ball. It is very different from any other golf course in the area and not something you will find in Florida. For more information on Mission Inn golf or resort, search www.MissionInnResorts.com.