#22 Best Golf Courses in Florida 2019-2020 – Golf Digest
Golf at Isleworth is something out of this world… in fact it is a world in and of itself once you get beyond the gates. I found myself in Orlando for a family spring break in March of 2019. A few weeks before we left for Florida, a friend of mine who is a member at Isleworth invited me to play in his Stag event which happened to be on the Thursday that I was going to be in town. I gave my wife the quick sales pitch which involved rambling about Tiger Woods, Shaquille O’Neal, and the fact that you don’t turn down an invite to Isleworth, she was nice enough to let me sneak away and play. Thanks Steph!
Security is very tight at Isleworth. My information was given to the gate attendant in advance, who checked my ID to make sure it matched with the info they had. I don’t know why, but I was nervous when I passed through those gates! I arrived around lunchtime and promptly met my friend on the practice putting green. I didn’t even see him at first because I was staring at the bull statue and taking in everything around me.
We grabbed a quick lunch in the clubhouse which reminded me of a European castle. The food was some of the best I’ve had at lunch event at a club. After lunch, my host asked if I wanted to “take a tour of the neighborhood” which I of course couldn’t wait to do! I had been wanting to see Tiger’s old house, so we headed that way in a golf cart. Tiger didn’t live “on” the golf course my host informed me, rather he was down the street right across from the practice facility. He preferred to be close to the range so he could walk out, hit balls, and return home. I was expecting to see some huge epic mansion, but really it was a pretty modest looking home. Now granted it was definitely a multi-million dollar pad, but it wasn’t as loud or over the top as most of the homes in the neighborhood, or even the ones that were under construction.
We were to tee off at 1PM and after a solid range session I was ready. The group behind us were standing on the tee as we got started, one of them donning his Pine Valley gear. I had the jitters. Somehow though, I channeled my inner “Tiger” and hit a straight bomb down the middle of the fairway… which invoked immediate heckling from the group behind us. That felt pretty good. I hit my approach shot into the green side bunker, and couldn’t get up and down, I walked away with a bogey but was still jacked from the tee-shot.
We rounded the corner towards the next hole and my host promptly exclaimed, “Welcome to one of the hardest par 3’s in America”. He wasn’t kidding. We weren’t playing the Tiger tees, but were at the next set back, the Palmer tees (just over 7000 yards). This hole played just over 200 yards, and as you can see below there is little to no room for error. I struggled on this hole but damn was it a fun one.
We settled into the stag event nicely and really enjoyed ourselves as we made our way around the course. The golf course has a fantastic layout, and its history as an old orange grove was fascinating. The course sits on about 600 acres of land that is interweaved throughout a chain of lakes. Designed by Arnold Palmer, frequented by Tiger Woods and too many other PGA and LPGA tour players to name, it just felt special to be playing the golf course, and it was.
Isleworth was immaculately groomed, and the conditions were flawless. Think about the conditions of your home course when they have it dialed up for the Club Championship or the Member-Guest. Think about how good the greens are. Now imagine all of that on steroids and you might get close to what Isleworth is like (and I was just there on a random Thursday in March)! The greens were very fast, but fair. I really enjoyed hitting off of the Bermuda fairways. This course is such a treat to play.
The par 3’s were long, the par 5’s were longer. This course can definitely accommodate the big bombers of the PGA Tour. Getting off of the tee with a good drive was critical playing from the Palmer tees, otherwise you’d have a ridiculously long iron into a basic par 4. It was so fun.
Interesting note: I mentioned that golf at Isleworth is out of the world. I have a funny memory from playing that day. We were heading down the fairway on one of the back nine holes, and laying there smack dab in the middle of the fairway was a fish. There was no water close by. Just a fish laying in the middle of the fairway. We had a chuckle and headed towards the green. After putting out, my host and I were walking off the green towards our cart and there laying on the ground is a crisp one-hundred dollar bill. I look at my buddy and say, “Where the hell am I? You guys have fish and hundreds just laying around on the golf course?”… he looks at me, laughs and says “Welcome to Isleworth”. I politely let him grab the C-note! 🙂
What was especially fun was hearing about how the PGA Tour Pros approach playing the different holes. To see where they aim off the tee boxes, where they typically carry their drivers to from the Tiger tees, it’s insanity. The layout of the golf course is really spectacular, Palmer did a great job with the routing and the green complexes were perfection.
This was a day that I did not want to end. 18 holes went way too fast. Fortunately enough for me, my host invited me back anytime. Our next family trip to Orlando is already booked, and you can guess where I’m going to tee it up. Can’t wait!