Waldorf Astoria Golf Club

6,661 yards, 131 slope from the Blues

Course:  In the middle of Orlando, FL, very close to all the theme parks, hotels, other attractions and a thousand other golf courses, lies the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club, which is surprisingly located at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.  The Bonnet Creek Hilton is also on site and both are very nice hotels; it stands to reason that the golf course associated with them would provide a similar top shelf experience, so I thought I would test the theory out myself.  I had time for one round in Orlando and was looking for one of the area’s best public courses, which had to be reasonably close to the airport.  The Waldorf came highly recommended, the hotel looked terrific, so I decided it was worth a visit.

The Waldorf was designed by Rees Jones.  Rees is one of the more well known architects in the industry nowadays and has earned fame as the “Open Doctor,” essentially tweaking golf courses so they present a sufficient challenge to the pros for a number of majors, but has numerous designs of his own that are well regarded, among them Cascata, Poppy Ridge and Ocean Forest.  Locally, Rees is responsible for Broad Run, which I enjoy thoroughly.  As for the Waldorf, there are some consistent features throughout, such as elevated greens, forced carries and the absolute drop dead in capital letters that Rees doesn’t want you to even think of going on the far side of the greens.  I’ve never seen such dedication to hammer a point home.  There are hidden bunkers, steep banks, deep deep rough and water all lurking on the far side of the green, just waiting to punish those who dared to go long.  For me personally, my strategy was to stay short, which typically left me in short grass or rough below the hole, at which point I would rely on my wedges to get close for either a par or bogey.  No I’m not winning any tournaments that way, but was able to card a respectable score by staying away from many of the course’s perils.  The three most memorable features of the course, however, were the greens, the creative shaped bunkering and the fantastic conditioning.  The holes were diverse and just like Broad Run, it felt like it was easy for strokes to pile up here if you mis hit just a tad too much.

I had a late afternoon flight, so my plan was to play in the morning, leaving me plenty of time for lunch at the clubhouse before heading to the airport.  Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and my flight was cancelled, leaving me the option of flying back a few hours earlier, or running the risk of having to stay in Florida for a couple days until the storm moved on from Philly.  I couldn’t leave the family alone in what was touted as a massive storm, so I had no option but to take the earlier flight.  In calculating how much time I had in the morning, I felt like I’d only be able to get nine holes in at most.

Ar any rate, I switched my tee time to the first of the day and arrived even before the course opened.  As soon as it did, I went in the clubhouse, explained my situation and asked if I could be the first to go out, as a single, trying to play as many holes as possible until I had to leave.  The staff were great and were more than happy to accommodate me.  It had rained, so the course was CPO, but I was able to be the first one out and had the course to myself.  In fact, I got through the front nine in a little over an hour, so after encouragement from the starter that I had enough time for the back nine, I was able to get a full round in in a little over 2 hours.  Although I was rushing, having such a well groomed and beautiful course to myself in such great weather in January was a special experience.  It was a great time, albeit quicker than I would have wanted, but well worth the trip.

So after hitting balls at the range while the sun was rising and no one else in sight, I drove up to the First hole, chatted with the starter until the tee time came (they weren’t allowed to let me out before the actual time) and hit my tee shot, not knowing at that point how long I’d be able to play or what weather I was going to be in in a matter of few hours.  None of that mattered though, as I literally had a good deal of paradise to myself for the morning.

The First is a 364 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  The fairway is wide, but trees and plantation areas line both sides in case you get too far off line, although there is more room off to the right than it initially appears.  Bunkers guard the left side of the green, making an approach shot from the right side much safer.  The First does a good job of setting the tone in terms of what to expect for your round.  In general terms, the course will get penal very quickly with offline shots and an aerial game is much preferred, considering the elevated greens and the rough and bunkers surrounding them.

The First

Down the fairway on the right side

The Second is a 160 yard par 3.  Bunkers protect both sides of the elevated green, with water along he entire right side of the hole.  The aerial game is emphasized once again and accuracy is almost demanded here.  Otherwise, be happy with landing in a bunker, the rough, or taking a drop.

The Second

A look at the green, the sunrise and water off to the right side of the hole

Don’t airmail the green!  Bunkers and rough like this await

The Third is a 403 yard par 4.  The fairway width tightens up a little here, with trees lining the left and water along the right.  The aerial game is now blatantly shoved down your throat, as a gaggle of bunkers protects the perimeter of the green.  Like I said, I had a very loose knit strategy of pretty much laying up to the green, then using my wedges to knock it close on those holes where the approach shot was rather long.  I also had quite an audience of landscapers watching me tee off.  I’m glad I striped it for them.  I will say that the team of landscapers was quite impressive.  I’d estimate I saw at least 20 of them throughout the round.  Terrific conditioning is hard work.

The Third

Approach shot territory

More creative shaped bunkering

The Fourth is a 531 yard par 5.  Thus far, the holes have been straightaway, with most trouble to the sides and the green complexes ramping up the difficulty by forcing precise approach shots.  That trend continues with the Fourth, but a row of bunkers bisects the entire fairway, which forces you to decide yardages for your second and third shots to navigate over them to the green.  I had a memorable birdie here, getting my third shot on the apron of the green in the front, then sinking the 15 foot putt.  As the green stands over a nice tranquil lake, the sun was rising and the hotels in the background still in slumber mode, it certainly was a great moment.

The Fourth

Moving up the fairway

Near the row of bunkers breaking up the fairway

Another look at the far side of the green.  Rees doesn’t really want you going long on his course
A look at the green complex, further away, to get a sense of the penalties awaiting those errant approach shots

The Fifth is a 368 yard par 4.  Things start to turn just a tad, as the green is set a little to the left of the tee.  Cross bunkers on either side of the fairway ensure that you need to hit a nice tee shot for any chance at par.  The green is also elevated, keeping with the theme of needing to carry various bunkers to be in a position to get the flatstick out.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

The Sixth is a 450 yard par 4.  The tree line circles the green while the hole turns slightly to the right.  It’s a beefy par 4, but the green is more inviting to most for the longer second shot.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

The Seventh is a 181 yard par 3.  The green is yet again elevated and bunkers are carved into the sides of the green, while the front is accessible for the most part.  The far side of the green is once again death.  

The Seventh

The green.  The sun is finally starting to come out

The Eighth is a 474 yard par 5.  Things start to spice up a little with a forced carry tee shot over water  to a fairway that angles at about 1:00 to the green.  Water runs along the entire right side while bunkers are prevalent on both sides in different areas.  The bunkering guides your play from one side to the next, to a green running perpendicular to the fairway.  It’s a very cool hole.

The Eighth

Moving down the fairway on the right side

More creative bunkering on the left side

The Ninth is a 388 par 4.  Leading back to the hotels, the fairway narrows a little, but trees on both sides make anything off fairway pretty much dead.  The approach shot maintains the theme of being strict, with water on the far side and the sides of the green being pinched from the bunkers.  Again, offline or far will lead to n avalanche of strokes.  

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

The front nine is consistent with its presentation, providing creative bunkering, aerial approach shots, and big trouble on the far side of the elevated greens.  Although consistent the play and strategy for each remained quite diverse and combined with the first class conditioning of the course and its greens, it was an enjoyable series of holes.  Ranking them, I’d go 8, 4, 5, 7, 9, 3, 1, 2, 6.

The back nine starts with the 357 yard par 4 Tenth.  You now switch back are going away from the hotels, in the opposite direction of the Ninth.  The tee shot is deceptive, as it appears to be a generous fairway, but the bunker placement on either side of the fairway actually constrain the landing area more than it looks.  Although the left side is the preferred route to the green, there are bunkers on that side you must contend with.  Otherwise, the bunkers on the right side of the green must be carried to get to the green.  Trees continue to frame the majority of the holes at this point and we are now 10/10 with elevated greens.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 212 par 3.  Although it’s a longer par 3 the green and entry to the green are fairly inviting, with the bunkers spaced our far off to the sides to collect only the most egregious mis hits.  As an added bonus, the rough is also set off to the sides further than usual, so anything hit short of the green should have a nice lie to chip to the pin.  At this point in the round, as I was running from shot to shot from the cart since it was CPO, I was stressing about the flight, trying to hit good shots and remembering to take photos, I started seeing some bad swings.  I soldiered on, however, and put together some goof recovery shots.  It was interesting though, as any mis hit gave me the added anxiety of making my round longer and giving me less time to get to the airport.  I think that actually helped select more conservative shots, to minimize mistakes, and it certainly helped with my score.  Regardless, I walked away from the Eleventh with bogey.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a monster 589 yard par 5.  It’s a slight dog leg left, in which bunkers are again strategically placed as you move down the fairway.  You come out of the trees some what, but water come into play off the left side of the fairway.  The green is elevated, as well as being pretty narrow and deep, with bunkers on either side.  It’s a tough hole for sure.

The Twelfth
Second shot territory

Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 306 yard par 4, a welcome short hole after the beastly Twelfth.  This hole completely breaks the mold of what came before it, but presents a number of options off the tee.  The green is visible from the tee and is certainly reachable for those long hitters, but the majority of the distance must be carried in order to pull off the shot.  For the rest of us, the more left your tee shot is on the fairway, the shorter your approach to the green and any tee shot that has too much on it will end up in one of the several bunkers off to the right.  Distance control is paramount and once again, the green is elevated and requires an aerial approach.  It was one of my favorite holes on the course and not because I was able to get my second birdie here with another longish putt (although that helped).

The Thirteenth

Approach shot

The Fourteenth is a 392 par 4.  The right side features water, then bunkers, while the left side is preferred, but slopes towards some sunken bunkers as well.  All I can say is I was really glad I was hitting my driver well and ended up in the middle of the fairway on most holes, as offline tee shots on the course end up in big trouble.  The approach is some what easier, as most of the trouble is off the tee and the green is once again elevated.

The Fourteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 375 yard par 4.  Another hole with plenty of options off the tee, with longer hitters able to decide whether to contend with the water and over a row of bunkers that separates the fairway from the green for a much shorter approach shot.  Distance control is once again a premium for the rest of us, as setting up your approach shot is mandatory.  If you go this route, your approach must carry a swath of bunkers to the elevated green, which has water on its left and run off areas to the rough on all other sides.  Another very interesting and fun hole.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 155 yard par 3.  Water continues to torment, this time along the left side.  Bunkers in front of the green make it necessary to carry them to reach the green, which is elevated and similar to the Fifteenth, with water on the left and run off areas to rough on all other side.  To be honest, this hole killed me.  I was pretty tired at this point from all the running, the hotels are off to the left and I was convinced everyone was watching my tee shot and I just couldn’t pull off the shot to get to the green.  Luckily, I ended up to the right short of the bunkers and was able to pitch on to the green with a terrible three putt for a double.  It could have been much worse though.  At any rate, I still appreciated this terrific par 3.

The Sixteenth

A closer look

The Seventeenth is a 453 yard par 4.  I was able to collect myself for the final push of the last two holes, which was a good thing, as the Seventeenth is an all carry tee shot over water to a fairway that essentially is lined with bunkers on both sides, then trees for good measure.  The green is of course elevated, but there are few hazards, I suppose as a reward for the treasure trove of trouble you face on the tee shot.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot

The Eighteenth is a 503 yard par 5.  The hole puts you back at the hotels as it dog legs slightly to the left.  The green is surrounded by bunkers, with water on the right and far side as well.  There was a convention or something with a crowd of folks on a balcony watching me try to get up and down out of a green side bunker, clapping when I was able to get on the green, then booing when I missed the putt. All good fun though.

The Eighteenth

The green

The back nine shows a little more diversity than the front and I felt was more challenging.  Water came into play a bit more and there were a few holes that presented a good combination of strategy, shot selection and fun.  I’d rank them 13, 15, 17, 14, 11, 16, 18, 12, 10.

So after the round, the staff let me park in the loading zone, use the locker room to get changed and then I sped to the airport, getting there in enough time to eat lunch before my flight, which was the last one before the airport was shut down for the impending storm (which turned out to be a dud by the way).  I’d say that this course was one of maybe a handful that was able to accommodate my needs and being able to finish the round in a little over 2 hours all while it was CPO was nothing short of a small miracle.

Generally, the Waldorf surpasses what you would expect from a course associated with the hotel; first class conditioning, superb atmosphere and a design that presents a consistent challenge with enough diversity and strategy to remain fun and enjoyable.  I could see one that has not played the course taking a look at the holes and feeling there is a lot of repetition, but that certainly wasn’t the case, as hazard placement and the greens provided a ton of character and no hole played the same to me.  I felt the course fit the bill of an upscale round that set itself apart from the thousands of other courses in the area.  In conjunction with the hotels and some of the best staff I’ve come across at a course, I will no doubt play here again when I’m in the area without hesitation.

Gripes:  CPO killed me, but it’s completely understandable considering how much rain they took.  The course drained very well though.  Otherwise, nothing.  The course understands the level of service and conditioning its patrons expect and surpasses them.

Bar/Grill:  A very nice set up, with both inside and outdoor seating, with the outdoor balcony overlooking the range.  I had the opportunity to enjoy that area the evening before my round and the comfortable chairs and flat screens outside make it some where I could hang out all day.

Clubhouse:  On the small side, but stocked with upscale equipment and apparel.  Hotel guests get 20% off their purchases.

Practice area:  A terrific range with plenty of targets, a separate short game area with bunkers and a separate putting green that also allows chipping.  Top rated.

Nearby:  A ton.  Disneyworld, other hotels; you’re in downtown Orlando basically, so take your pick.

Getting there:  It’s about 20 minutes from the Orlando airport, very close to Disneyworld.