50 Words or Less
Winter Park Golf Course, located outside Orlando, Florida, is a model for the future of municipal golf. Fun, accessible to all skill levels, and affordable.
What does $12 buy you in golf these days? It may not pay for a sleeve of ProV1s, but if you’re a resident of Winter Park, it gets you nine holes on one of the best municipal golf courses in the country.
Thanks to Seamus Golf, I had the pleasure of checking out this 100+ year old gem, and I’m thrilled to get to tell you all about it.
Winter Park Golf Course is located in the heart of Winter Park, and has no space to spare for a driving range. What is does offer is a small putting green near the club house and a 9-hole putting course (above).
Customer Service & Amenities
Winter Park’s clubhouse is small but immaculate, and it houses everything you need. You can pay your green fees, grab a snack, and buy a souvenir to commemorate your round.
Next to the clubhouse is a historic building, the renovation of which is being discussed. There’s talk of it becoming a restaurant where golfers can hang out after their round, and I have to believe it will be a success if they do it.
The staff at Winter Park is outstanding. They were tremendously accommodating of our outing, and you can tell that they get it.
Beauty & Scenery
When I say that WPGC is located in the heart of Winter Park, I mean just that. During your round, you’ll cross multiple streets and traverse the edges of a cemetery.
Is this the kind of beauty that gets top marks from a magazine course rater? No. Nor is it the beauty of postcard holes like the seventh at Streamsong Blue. That said, there’s a charm to this old town that’s inimitable, and a beauty to the simplicity of the design. Nothing on this course is here for show. This is what pure golf looks like.
WPGC is not a long course – it tips out at 2480 yards at par 35. With only one par 4 over 300 yards, most golfers could score well without bringing their driver at all.
While we’re focused on distance: Winter Park is a great example of why par is stupid. Some people will say that holes of 241, 262, and 228 yards aren’t long enough to be par 4s. I say, “Who cares?” What they are, without question, is fun. You can play each of these holes a dozen different ways and score a 3, 4, 5, or 6.
Off the tee, Winter Park emphasizes strategy and execution. There are plenty of opportunities to go OB. There’s also a price to be paid for being on the wrong side of the fairway. The greens are not big, but they are well defended.
From the fairway, you’ll be firing into fairly small, slightly elevated greens that have a good deal of movement to them. If you hit the correct tee shot, running the ball up will be an option because the fairways are cut very tight. If you misplay your tee shot, you’re going to need a deft touch to stick the putting surface.
The variety of options off the tee leads to a wealth of approach choices. If you want to hit driver or 3W off the tee, you’ll have partial wedges into most greens. You can also tee off with mid or short irons and hit them again for your approach.
Greens & Surrounds
The greens are the main attraction at Winter Park. They’re expertly shaped to provide challenge on approaches, pitches, and putts without creating unmakeable putts or unfair situations.
Around the greens, you’ll get a stern test of your short game skills and decision making. The surrounds are cut so that you can putt from anywhere, but you won’t get far if that’s the only shot in your bag. Running chips, pitches that check, and the occasional flop shot can all be required depending on how you position yourself.
Why Winter Park is the Future
At this point, I’ve written a lot of words but fear that I’ve failed to convey what’s so great about Winter Park. I could rave about it all day, but it boils down to two things:
Winter Park illustrates what a course does and doesn’t need. It doesn’t need water hazards, a million bunkers, or dramatic elevation. It doesn’t even need that much real estate. In the hands of the right architects, you can take a reasonably small plot of land and turn it into a course that’s enjoyable for any golfer. Just as importantly, they’ve turned it into a resource for the community where people spend time together.
Accessibility refers to both the low green fees and the fact that a brand new golfer can have a good time at WPGC. Because the layout is not maintenance intensive and the amenities are kept to a minimum, Winter Park is a place where you can play regularly without going broke.
Winter Park is also the perfect place to create new golfers. You can take your non-golfing friends here, not worry about the cost, and know that they won’t be frustrated by penal architecture. This is reason enough for other cities to model their courses after Winter Park.
Winter Park Golf Course was under threat of being shut down not long ago. Now it’s being hailed nationwide, and justly so, as a model of municipal golf. If you find yourself in Orlando, make the drive to check it out. Playing it won’t put a check mark on your Top 100 Bucket List, but it will give you an appreciation for how simple, pure, and fun golf can be.