DAVENPORT AND AVIANA ARE FLORIDAS GOLF VACATION DESTINATIONHere’s a fully qualified perspective on the popularity of Davenport and the Aviana Resort Orlando golf destination, from the Irish Sun’s sports editor, Cathal Dervan.
BY CATHAL DERVAN
Frasier and Niles don’t look like golfers but they are a quintessential part of the Aviana holiday golf experience. It was our children who cleverly christened the resident Sandhill cranes with their new names, Frasier and Niles, on one of our daily golf outings in Davenport. These two long-necks greeted us every morning without fail as we came in and out of the resort entrance. Necks proud and upright, these Sandhill cranes sent us on our way to the golf courses and theme parks with a smile on our face each day. And Frasier and Niles were there each day to say hello again as we returned to our accommodations at the Aviana Resort Orlando.
Meet Our 50's Golf GroupWe’ve been doing this for years by the way. Our travelling party started out known as the 40s – when the first of us turned 40 years old as the name suggests. We’re now called the 50s, no prize for guessing why. Our birthday travels have taken us across Ireland, from the wilds of Kerry to the delights of Donegal. We’ve hit fairways in Portugal’s capital city Lisbon and bunkers on its beautiful Algarve coastline. We’ve broken bread and spilt beer in five star restaurants and dives of a sort favoured by Guy Fieri. But the last of the fiftieth birthdays in our gang of six cried out for something special, a special golf vacation that demanded a unique and unforgettable golf experience.
The group sat down and discussed the golf destination topic, over a pint or two of Guinness in our local Irish pub in Dublin. The decision was unanimous. Florida was to be our next destination of choice and Aviana Resort Orlando would provide our special accommodations. And yes, we've been doing this for years.
Aviana Resort OrlandoThanks to our national airline Aer Lingus, Orlando is now a direct hop from Dublin – with the benefit of US customs and passport clearance before we left Irish soil. Our vacation planning was in great detail, and the vacation home we selected at Aviana had plenty of bedrooms, and a private pool for our soon-to-be weary golfing bones. Aviana Resort has a wide selection of vacation homes with pools. Ours was a fully equipped vacation rental and had everything we needed, including restaurant and entertainment venues surrounding the resort.
Chili’s at ChampionsGate offered Monday Night Football. The House of Blues at Downtown Disney and BB Kings on International Drive satisfied the music buffs amongst us. The brilliant and absolutely vital Manny’s Chophouse at Haines City was just a quick drive down the I4, which as it turns out, we did twice. The outlet malls were close enough to satisfy the lists presented by our non-golfing wives and children who were more than happy to have their kind of fun in Davenport, while we basked in endless golfing sunshine.
A Fantastic Golfing VacationBut this was above all a golfing trip. So let’s talk golf. Davenport is close enough to Tampa to include some of that area’s great courses on any trip. Davenport is on Orlando’s doorstep, which is surrounded by area golf courses just minutes from Aviana. Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill with the gripping Ritz Carlton lay-out, the Waldorf Astoria’s 18 holes, Orange County’s two fine courses, Grand Cypress and Disney’s three courses all surround Daveport. But the real beauty of the Aviana Resort location as a golfer’s retreat is its proximity to some of the most fantastic golf right next door.
Providence Golf ClubAs proximity to a golf course goes, it doesn't get any closer than Providence is to Aviana, right across the road from the turn into the resort. Renowned American architect Mike Dasher has paid homage to his love for classic European golf course designs with his work at Providence. The Providence website claims the course is technically challenging and aesthetically pleasing and the description is exactly correct. The course meanders its way through rolling land that features fresh water creeks, ancient hardwoods and wetlands. Wildlife and nature wraps itself around the Providence course and the end result is a round of golf to remember. Throw in the welcoming clubhouse and friendly staff and Providence is the perfect start to a golfing holiday in Davenport. It is also the ideal appetiser for the thrills that await at two of our other favorite courses, Reunion Resort Golf and ChampionsGate Golf Resort, both world class facilities.
Reunion Resort Golf CourseReunion is just five minutes by car from our rental home at the Aviana Resort, and the golf course is home to not one but three outstanding courses designed by a few great golfers. Jack Nicklaus doesn’t lend his name to anything but the best designs, in the best locations. His flowing parkland style lay-out at Reunion is typical Jack, as it sucks you into a risk or reward scenario on almost every hole. When you play to your handicap at a Nicklaus designated golf course like Reunion, you’ve earned a great score. Arnold Palmer is another great golfer who also specialises in excellent golf course design. His Signature course at Reunion is innovatively routed on a roller-coaster terrain, quite close to the renowned Orlando theme parks. The Palmer designed fairways are wide, the bunkers are abundant and the wasteland expansive. Bring your brain to Palmer. The great Tom Watson certainly brought his brain with him for his Orlando design. The Watson Signature Course at Reunion is his first in Florida and demands the sort of short game skill that saw Watson conquer the great links courses of Britain in his distinguished Major winning career. Just in case you need to fine tune your game with a lesson or two before or after golfing Reunion, there’s the Annika Academy on site where Annika Sorenstam’s highly qualified staff will help you with a lesson that should iron out any problems.
ChampionsGate Golf ResortChampionsGate was our final port of call at the end of a hectic yet hugely enjoyable golfing week in Davenport. Greg Norman is another of golf’s master craftsmen, an Aussie who knows how to win great tournaments and how to design great golf courses. Like Watson, Norman has leveraged his men's major championship vicories to add a unique touch to his two designs at the booming ChampionsGate resort. Both courses are back-dropped by the stunning Omni Orlando Golf Resort Hotel, and the clubhouse is very worthy of the same five star rating. Norman has opted for two very different course designs to his courses here. The International Course borrows from two continents and is what we would call a links style track. Norman has gone back to his Aussie roots and mimicked part of Royal Melbourne’s theatrical style on the International. He has also recreated the sort of links feel that is traditionally found in Scotland, home of the game, and Ireland, home of our 50s group. The result is captivating from start to finish. Enjoying links style golf with the Florida sun on your back and a cold beer in the cart is indeed a pleasure. The National Course at ChampionsGate, another Greg Norman design, is more Floridian in its design as it weaves its way around the hotel and across the rolling plains. There’s one great hole, a par four on the back nine that starts from top of a plateau at the back of the hotel, features water all down the side of the fairway and then finishes with a elevated green. Norman knew what he was doing with this one.
Highlands Reserve Golf Club, and much more.The aspects of these tremendous golf courses are true of most other golf courses within striking distance of Davenport and Aviana Resort. Highlands Reserve Golf Club is another Mike Dasher design atop one of the highest areas in the region and featuring another mixture of European and Floridian challenges. And Ridgewood Lakes Golf & Country Club which was designed by Ted McAnlis, and the Southern Dunes Golf Course, are both close enough to add to any Davenport golf itinerary.
The great question at the end of any golf vacation trip is a simple one, would you return? To Aviana Resort Orlando would we return? Yes. To Davenport? Yes. To Providence, Reunion, ChampionsGate, Highlands Reserve, Ridgewood Lakes and Southern Dunes? Absolutely. And I’ll make you a promise, our 50s group will be back well before we become the 60s!
Cheers! Or as we say in Ireland, slainte!
Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Ireland and a keen golfer and golf journalist who currently plays off 15, but knows it should be lower! Here's a wide selection of golf vacation pool homes at Aviana Resort Orlando.