Visit Orange County National Golf Center for one reason and one reason only, golf. If you are looking for non-golfing frills then you are at the wrong place. With 45 holes (two 18-holers called Panther Lake and Crooked Cat and a 9-holer called Tooth), a 36-hole putting course called Whiskers, a 42-acre circular driving range – which once received the Best Golf Driving Range in America accolade – comfortable lodge rooms and a decent clubhouse, you might begin to get the idea that Orange County National is Florida’s equivalent to Oregon’s Bandon Dunes but with some weird feline fetish.
Even though Orange County National Golf Center is a relatively short drive by car from Orlando, it feels as though you are heading into the boondocks. But keep going, you are travelling in the right direction and eventually you’ll arrive at the property, which is set in more than 900 acres of pleasantly rolling ground that is completely devoid of housing.
Panther Lake was the first course to open at Orange County National (1997) and it was the result of collaboration between Phil Ritson, Isao Aoki and the late David Harman. The Crooked Cat opened in 1999 and the same trio designed that course too. Both courses feature plenty of rare Floridian elevation change and both can be stretched out beyond 7,200 yards from the tips.
“There is hardly anything to dislike about Crooked Cat.” Wrote Rob Armstrong in Golfing Florida’s Best. “It’s scenic. It’s demanding. The greens are true and fast, ranging in size from merely large to gigantic. Good shots are rewarded. Bad shots will cause you anguish and cost you strokes. From the opener to the long par four 18th, it is a memorable golf experience… When I finished playing both courses, one of the guys who wiped down my clubs asked which one I preferred. My honest answer was that I liked them both. Both are simply lovely, challenging golf courses. I thought Panther Lake was the tougher of the two, but Crooked Cat is hardly a pussycat.”
Crooked Cat is significantly different than Panther Lake. I think Crooked Cat is easier due to much fewer trees and water hazards. Having said that , as it is much more open the wind is a bigger factor. People have asked me which one to play first and I think I would say Crooked Cat. This will allow you to appreciate Panther Lake more. To the course:
The first hole is a short welcoming par five that is reachable, if your tee shot is right and you can control a power draw. I didn’t and can’t. The long par four second is much tougher. Slight dogleg right and depending what tees you are playing you can drive through the fairway. The approach must carry some gunch. The 3rd is a par four dogleg left with a tight approach area. For you frequent readers, here comes a pet rant, number one handicap 500 yard par 5 that is relatively straight? The 5th is a longish par3 with a carry over one of the strangest configured bunkers I have ever seen. The 8th is a long par 3 all carry over gunch. I really like the 9th, a big slinging dogleg left with bunkers on the left and bunkers on the right and a water hazard way left.
When you get to 11 after the previous holes the landing area will appear miniscule. Don’t worry, it is just normal. You have become conditioned to a wide open course. If you did not realize this on 11 you certainly will on 12. A longish par 4 dogleg right with your tee shot over water, as well as water all the way down the right and an approach that will probably also have to clear water. This being the number 2 handicap hole makes sense. The 13th is the required par 3 with carry over water. The16-18th are good finishing holes. The long par 4s, 16 & 18 sandwich the par 5 17th, which is a relatively short par five dogleg right. It is possible to get home but your tee shot needs to hug the left side.
Overall, a good course, but a super value