If you are on a golf trip to Orlando and playing the usual suspects, Bay Hill, Orange Country National, Grand Cypress to name a few, consider taking an afternoon and adding the Grande Lakes Course at the Ritz-Carlton to your vacation rota. Built on a typical piece of Florida marshland Greg Norman figured out a way to raise from the flood plain a very interesting set of holes that in many ways defies the typical central Florida formula of flat holes hemmed in by acres of sand and water.
The front nine wends through the oaks and cypress trees with some accent from the wetlands. The back nine serious soil was moved to raise topography from the flood plain and create compelling holes among the wetlands. This side is more exposed to the elements and any hint of wind brings the greater presence of the wetlands to front of mind.
The driving areas are generous throughout but having said that there are specific angles of approach to the greens that are advantageous. A yardage book is a great asset to understanding the proper lines of play. There is plenty of sand-some crushed sea shell waste areas as well-but the course is not overbunkered. Bunkers have clean edges which makes for a very tailored presentation.
The most thought was put into the green complexes which have very dramatic topographical interest. Many of the greens are more than 40 yards long and have serious contour so just being on a green is no guarantee of a two-putt. The green conditions were about as perfect as I have seen in Florida and the putting speed they can maintain as a result can be disarming.
The hole sequence on the front is user friendly with two par fives within three holes to allow build up of some par acorns. As you get into the last three on this side the water is closer at hand and the wind influence picks up increasing the challenge accordingly. Making a decent score on the outward nine is a matter of patience and line control.
Starting at the 11th the character of the course changes dramatically and your focus must heighten as well. Check the hole-by-hole attachment below for the details. The Par 4 11th is one of the most unique holes you play all day with a tree and sand feature in the center of the driving area that forces you to pick a favored line of play right off the tee box. To the chagrin of the Michelob Ultra crowd, a short Par 3 and a short Par 4 follow that favor brains over brawn and will punish overly aggressive play as the course works toward a strong finish down the last five.
The five finishing holes are a wild collection of very unusual holes that demand calculated patience to get to the house with your scorecard in tact. The common theme is adjacent disaster to the charmed line of play on each hole which makes the risk reward calculation on almost every shot of paramount concern. The green complexes down the stretch are some of the most imaginative you see all day so articulate approach shots are required or you can get into some very dicey up-and-down situations.
The finishing hole provides a grand view of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel and play facilities. It seems like an appropriate back drop to what has undoubtedly been a stout and invigorating golf challenge.
Designer: Greg Norman (2003)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Gold 72 6708 72.2 135
Blue 72 6324 70.3 127
White 72 5835 68 121
Green 72 5223 69.8 115