Review: Orange County Golf Course, FL

The best overall golf layout
Orlando has many different options when it comes to golf.  Many are connected to a resort, or community.  But OCN is a little different; it is all about the golf, and not so much about the lodging or other amenities.  It is a pure golf facility, and it is the best that Orlando offers.
 While there are a few modest lodging options on site, the courses themselves are free of housing, condos or any buildings to speak of.  Combine the rustic setting with outstanding holes, and you get the best overall golf layout in Orlando.  There are 36 holes of championship golf, a 360-degree range, a teaching center, and a giant clubhouse all set away from the hustle, bustle and commercialization of Orlando.

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Panther Lake Golf Course
This “Cat” has teeth.
The day I planned to play at OCN was a busy day for the courses.  They had a full tee-sheet and an outing, so I was lucky to squeeze in with an incomplete 4-some.  In order to get all 36 holes in for the day they were sending groups out at the crack of dawn.  It just so happened that there was some residual fog that morning. 

So the first few holes I’m not crystal clear on the layout.  The opening hole from what I could see and played is a downhill solid length par 4.  I found that playing in the fog is not necessarily bad for my game. 

It was point and shoot.  You simply had to trust the yardage and play.  It takes away some fear or concern about this or that bunker.  The second hole was a short par 5, but with a pond in the front of the green and the fog, there was no way I was going for it in two, but par is relatively easy on this hole with smart play.  The 3rd hole is a long tough par 4.  The water down the left and then cutting in front of the green makes this one tricky hole.  By the time we reached the 4th hole, the fog had lifted making this solid par 3 a treat.  Depending on the tee-box you play, this hole can look very different.  The 5th hole is solid par 4 that has a soft dogleg left.  The 6th hole is a nice length par 3 that requires a solid shot over the giant bunker in front of the green.  The 7th is a challenging par 5 that is kind of a double bender that most often is going to be a 3-shot hole to reach the green.  Hole 8 is a solid par 4 with a complex layout of bunkers in front of the green.  This holes plays slightly up hill too.  The 9th hole is a great finish to the front side.  It is big, bold and has a lake all on the right side.

 After completing the front side, you buzz past the starter shack and play hole 10, which is parallel to hole 1.  The 10th is a simple slightly uphill par 5.  Because it is short, birdies can be had on this hole.  The 11th is a great down hill par 3.  It feels like one of the highest point on the course.  It just feels expansive.  The 12th hole is a solid dogleg left.  The 13th hole is long, tough, pine tree lined and uphill.  While the 14th hole looks long on the scorecard, you can cut the corner playing downhill and get a huge drive leaving you with a shorter approach.  The 15th is a long par 3 with water left and a bunch of tree right.  The 16th is a strong par 4 with danger left and a bunch of bunkers guarding the green.   The short par 3 17th hole is intimidating for some because of the carry over water.  The 18th is a great par 5 finish where there is some risk reward trying to get home in two shots. 

Overall, Panther Lake has a great variety of tee-boxes that allow you to play the Q-school tee or more reasonable distances. While OCN makes a big deal about their pace of play, which we didn’t accomplish, I don’t know if it was possible that day; I’ve never seen any course that busy. But the courses were in excellent conditions; from tee to green everything was in tip-top shape even with some of the cold weather they had suffered through this winter.

Crooked Cat Golf Course
Don’t hit it crooked on this course
After grabbing a snack and figuring out when and whom I would be paired up with for the second 18, I got started early afternoon on the Crooked Cat.  This18-hole course starts closer to the clubhouse and by the range.  It opens with a shorter par 5.  Our entire group did well on this opening hole; par or better.  The second hole is a brute, thankfully it plays downhill, because it is long and then goes slightly back uphill with many bunkers guarding the green. 
The 3rd hole is an interesting hole with the drop off on the right side of the fairway into a waste area.  Somehow, I pulled off the shot of the day from down in the junk and hit the green to save par.  The 4th hole is a medium length par 5 that is just straight away.  It climbs slightly up to the green.  The 5th hole is a strong par 4 slightly downhill.  The 6th hole is a well-bunkered par 3.  The 7th hole is another solid par 4 with fairway parallel bunkers on the right side.  The par 3 8th hole is a solid par 3 that has some nice elevation change.  The 9th hole is an interesting dogleg left as it bends around a pond.  Trying to cut too much of the corner will lead to a tough approach over/through some trees.

 After a quick buzz by the clubhouse, you start the back 9.  This long strong dogleg left par 4 moves gently uphill.  The 11th hole feels like you are on top of a plateau.  It plays flat and straight.  The 12th is one of the most difficult holes on the property.  While the tee box is high above the fairway, the drive is tough with the watery swamp on the right side.  Not only is this hole long, but also the approach is really tricky over the marshy water and junk into a small green with danger right and long.  The 13th hole by contrast is one of the most beautiful on the course.  This par 3 requires carry over water and sand.  Behind the hole is a nice tree line for a backdrop.  The 14th hole is a straight up hill par 5.  It is not too tough; just don’t go left into the trees and junk.  The 15th hole is a long downhill par 3.  Length is the biggest challenge on this hole.  The 16th is another uphill strong par 4.  The 17th is a dogleg right par 5 that can be reached in 2 based on the drive.  The 18th is a straight home par 4.  There is some junk and scrub on the right side, but just aim at the clubhouse and bombs away.

 It is tough to pick which 18 holes are better.  They both are solid tracks, have plenty of length and variety, and are a great test of golf.  That is probably the reason OCN has hosted Q-school so often.  If you want to play the best golf in Orlando, play all 36 at Orange County National.