Boasting 18-hole designs from Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, the impressive golf complex at Reunion Spa & Golf Resort occupies only a small portion of a massive 2,300-acre property that lies to the south west of Orlando.
The Watson layout (originally known as “Independence”) and Palmer course (previously named “Legacy”) were first to appear at the resort in 2004, followed a couple of years later by the longer, tougher “Tradition,” which has also now been renamed after its designer, Jack Nicklaus.
Enjoying changes in elevation of up to fifty feet, which is rare for Florida, the Watson course is a heavily bunkered layout featuring a number of long punishing par fours, such as the 4th and 5th on the outward half then holes 10 and 18 on the back nine.
Some of the more memorable holes include the 240-yard 7th (with a large waste bunker between tee and green), the right doglegged 13th (which plays to a deceptively difficult raised green) and the par five 17th, where a plethora of sand traps skirt the fairway en route to a deep, narrow putting surface.The short-lived Ginn Open on the LPGA Tour lasted for only three years at Reunion, beginning in 2006, when a composite course (using the front nine on both the Palmer and Watson courses) was used for the event. Lorena Ochoa finished runner up in the first two editions of the tournament before claiming the first prize at her third attempt in 2008.
The most important aspect before opting to play the Watson Course is understand how proper tee selection will impact one's view of the course. The Watson layout is the most challenging of the 54 holes found at Reunion. Those who "bite off more than they can chew" will be in for a long day because you will need to successfully negotiate around 170+ bunkers on the layout.
The round commences with a trio of holes that need to be successfully scored because the demands quickly escalate when you reach the quality longer par-4s at the 4th and 5th holes respectively.
The Watson layout has been significantly shaped so you have various ground movements -- but don't be fooled into thinking that the usage of the ground game is central to one's success because the turf type only permits a small amount of ball movement when striking the ground.
Of the two nines the return is the more consistently challenging. One of the best holes comes with the par-3 12th -- often into the prevailing wind and featuring a very deep green with a rear tier area that defies all but the finest of plays. The dog-leg right 13th that follows is a fine counterpoint.
The ending series of holes is littered with bunkers and frankly I have to wonder if pace of play is impacted when the course is loaded with players. Higher handicaps may be clearly intimidated because misfires will likely result in play dragging on and on although I was told by staff people that round typically average around 4.5 hours.
The Watson layout would benefit from a smart editing of bunkers clearly more for cosmetic purposes than actual strategic implications. One of the real positives is that the overall resort finally seems to be heading into a clear direction with new ownership running things and it will be most interesting to see how matters shake out given the area just south of Disney is now emerging.
M. James Ward
The Watson course at Reunion is very interesting. There seem to be an infinite amount of moguls, tunnels and no water (there is water but it shouldn’t come into play)! The first hole is an inviting par 5, with bunkers in the landing zones where you would expect them. The short par 4 2nd is a good risk reward hole with a collection of bunkers and moguls right and a waste area left that is tricky at best. The 3rd hole is a straight forward par 3. The green is protected by bunkers on the right and a steep collection area to the left. The 5th hole is long and difficult. The tee shot sets up well for hookers but the greenside bunker left got the best of me. The par 4 6th is a birdie oppty. There is a fairway bunker in the center. The best angle is to come in from the right as once again there is a BAB greenside left. The seventh is 240 yards from the tips and 210 from the next tees. A long par 3 that is guarded down the right side with sand and on the left, there is another collection area. The par 5 8th will be difficult to reach by all but the 1%s. For us mortals STAY right. There is a BAB on the left that is at least 100 yards long. The 9th hole is a long uphill par 4, slight dogleg right. The question is how much do you want to cut?
The back opens with a long par 4. The downhill dogleg left 11th is probably the prettiest hole on the course. The 12th is a solid par 3, hitting across a pit to a hillside green. The short par 4 13th is a dogleg right, favor the left side off the tee. There is a huge waste bunker left. Take an extra club to this elevated green. The par 5 14th is a birdie hole. Left is better off the tee. This hole also has two huge waste areas on the right. This is a very well protected green, especially if the pin is right. The par 4 16th is a tough hole. To have a chance at par you must avoid the bunker in the middle of the fairway. Right is preferable. Another hole with large waste areas and a well-protected green. The par 5 17th is reachable but accuracy is more important. Trouble all the way down the right, there is a little more room left, but the approach will be tougher. The 18th is a dogleg right, favor the left side off the tee. Most of the trouble is right of the green, it is a tough finishing hole. Not your standard Florida golf course, the best of the three at Reunion