Hiding in the Sunshine: Orlando’s Golf Gems

Finding Florida’s hidden gem golf courses in one of the state’s most visited cities.

Golfers visit Orlando, Florida for numerous reasons and many find themselves playing at courses that are on par for the ordinary. There are golf courses and clubs associated with nearly every major attraction in Orlando and for most golfers that is all they will ever experience. That doesn’t have to be the case though. Orlando has some of Florida’s best hidden gem golf courses that are waiting to be discovered by new patrons every day.

I traveled to Orlando to seek out some of the most interesting golf courses in Florida. Based on my time there, I have created an introduction to the unique, fun, and affordable golf journeys that are hiding in the sunshine. Orlando has a wide variety of historic courses, local hangouts, and unforgettable golf offerings that are just off the beaten path and absolutely worth exploring. Join me for a roundup of those special places, that you won’t find in most visitors guides.

Dubsdread Golf Course

Golf is Good in the Neighborhood

Dubsdread is Orlando’s oldest public golf offering. The course there is owned by the City of Orlando and is a fantastic place for residents and visitors alike to get in a round of golf. The course was founded in 1924 by a local real estate mogul, who decided to start his own club after falling out with the local country club. Keeping with the spirit of its founding, Dubsdread is where the every-man goes to play golf.

The course at Dubsread is a fun and affordable option for players seeking to find some time for golf in Orlando. Conveniently located in the historic College Park neighborhood, Dubsdread is the perfect place to play for anyone staying near Downtown and looking for a game. The course is challenging, but sports a high level of play-ability at just over 6,000 yards in length.

Dubsdread features a beautiful layout that traverses through the charms of the College Park neighborhood. Not only does the course play among bungalows and cottage homes, but the energy of the city is on display throughout the round. Nothing exemplifies this better than the Tap Room at Dubsdread. The Tap Room may be the best 19th hole in Florida.

When play is done, golfers need only to travel a few yards off the 18th green to find themselves at the front steps of the Tap Room restaurant and bar. The Tap Room comes alive every evening with locals flocking to one of the favorite hang outs in town. The porch is a lively place for drinks and dinner and there is not better place to take in the sunset over the golf course. Enjoying time at the Tap Room is the ideal treat to end a fun day on the golf course at Dubsdread.

Cost to play: $30–$55

Golf Advisor Rating: 4.2/5

Proximity to Orlando International Airport: 27 miles

If you go…to Dubdsread

If you want to try a new way to play golf, be sure to inquire at the Pro shop about the golf boards available for players. Golf boards are an electric powered hybrid between a scooter and a surfboard that allows players the freedom to cruise around the golf course free of the cart paths in an eco-friendly way. Golf boards are a fun way to mix-up your golf experience at Dubsdread!

Dinner at the Tap Room is a must try, but if you can’t get a table check out Kabooki Sushi only a few miles away. Kabooki is well known as one of Orlando’s best sushi restaurants. Don’t be afraid to let the chef order for you and try their amazing Asian seafood creations!

Rio Pinar Country Club

A Small Slice of Paradise

Orlando has been a top spot on the PGA Tour for many years and most of that is due to the legacy of Arnold Palmer. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is a premier tournament on tour and honors Palmer’s contributions to the game. The tournament did not begin at Bay Hill though. Before Bay Hill there was the Florida Citrus Open and it was held at Rio Pinar Country Club.

Today, Rio Pinar is open to the public and the course is still a great place to play where the pros once walked. Names like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player all competed at Rio Pinar and the club showcases much of that history throughout the clubhouse. Visiting Rio Pinar feels like stepping back into a technicolor television broadcast of the PGA Tour’s glory years.

The course at Rio Pinar is challenging and plays through scenic environments. Players will find that the course blends well with its surrounds and there are lots of wildlife that call it home. Be sure to watch out for the numerous fox squirrels that serve as both the course mascots and a fun interlude between shots.

Rio Pinar is reminiscent of the way in which Florida was sold to the world during the 1960’s. The club has a charming mid-century modern feel to it. It’s easy to imagine Arnold Palmer arriving at the club during the heyday of his career. Palmer and other pros put Orlando on the map when playing in the Citrus Open and today golfers visiting Orlando can share in that history when playing Rio Pinar.

Cost to play: $25–$45

Golf Advisor Rating: 3.9/5

Proximity to Orlando International Airport: 12 miles

If you go…to Rio Pinar

Downtown Orlando is a great place to visit for dining and entertainment. There are numerous places to visit Downtown for a great add-on to your trip to Orlando including nightlife at Church Street Station, catching an event at the Amway Center which is home to the Orlando Magic, or attending any of the regularly scheduled performances at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Another great local tradition for a stay in Orlando is grabbing brunch at Dexter’s. Dexters is an Orlando institution with multiple locations available across the sprawling city. Be sure to catch specials on Bloody Mary’s and Mimosa’s each weekend for the perfect morning stop on your trip!

Mount Dora Golf Club

Mount Dora’s Dying Breed

Day trips are a great way to get out and explore the areas around Orlando. Some of Florida’s most charming small towns are within a short drive from Downtown Orlando. One of those places is the City of Mount Dora. The town is filled with rustic reminders of old Florida and just outside of Downtown is a golf course with a compelling history and beautiful vistas.

The Mount Dora Golf Club won’t be found on many recommendation lists, but it is a wonderful place to discover the natural beauty of Central Florida. It is also a place where golfers can gain an appreciation for America’s greatest generation and the veterans of World War II. Mount Dora Golf Club is built over rolling hills just on the edge of town and the course was constructed by the town’s veterans who returned from the war in 1945.

The G.I.’s of Mount Dora banded together to build themselves a golf course in their hometown and today, there is still a strong presence of veterans who play the course regularly. The golf club feels somewhat frozen in time and is a perfect place to get out and see an different side of Florida. The holes are interesting and the hills make for a challenge that is uncustomary for Florida. Locals call Mount Dora Golf Club the “longest 5,000 yards in Florida” and due to the terrain the may just be right. Don’t miss the chance to take a day trip to Mount Dora Golf Club and experience the golf there first hand.

Cost to play: $20–$27

Golf Advisor Rating: 3.1/5

Proximity to Orlando International Airport: 42 miles

If you go…to Mount Dora

If your travels bring you to the Orlando market during the month of December, be sure to check to see when Christmas in Mount Dora is scheduled to begin. The entire city is covered with beautiful Christmas lights and the events are a popular draw across Central Florida.

Another unique way to spend time in Mount Dora is to take a sunset Seaplane tour over Lake Dora and the beauty of more rural settings of Florida. Jones Brothers & Co. specialize in these unique adventures that are sure to please.

There are also quite a few great places to stop and eat while in Mount Dora. Recommendations from local golfers include outdoor dining with views of the lake at Pisces Rising as well as the charming book lined dinning rooms at Goblin Market. For a more casual experience with local craft beer and live music, check out Mount Dora Brewing Company, just up the street from the golf club.

Winter Park Golf Course

A Fine Time for Nine

Winter Park, Florida is one of the most scenic small towns in America. Downtown Winter Park features fine dining, elite hospitality, top notch shopping, and most importantly an unforgettable golf course.

The Winter Park Golf Course has been a staple of the Central Florida town for over a century. Founded in 1914, the nine hole golf course runs right through the middle of Winter Park’s charming Downtown. The course is bordered by local streets and regional railroad lines. To play Winter Park is to play through the city in a way that is oddly reminiscent of the village courses of Scotland.

Winter Park Golf Course has always been a local favorite, but in recent years the course has garnered national appeal from golf architecture aficionados. In 2016, upstart architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns led a yearlong renovation of the golf course. Rhebb and Johns have gained notoriety for their work in Winter Park. The pair have been featured on the Golf Channel and multitudes of other golf publications in the years since the renovation.

The praise they receive is well deserved. Their work turned an aging municipal course into a model for public golf in America. The course is beautiful, architecturally interesting, and most importantly fun for all ages! Winter Park Golf Course is a must stop for any golfer traveling through Central Florida.

Cost to play: $14-$19, $7 replay rate

Golf Advisor Rating: 4.4/5

Proximity to Orlando International Airport: 30 miles

If you go…to Winter Park

Winter Park Golf Course is made for walking. Be sure to walk the course so that you can take in all the sights and sounds of the city around you. Immersing yourself in the course and the community is half of the fun and walking is definitely part of the culture there.

After the round is over, be sure to head over to Park Avenue and explore the shops and dinning options. Depending on when you play, the Saturday Farmers Market is a great place to stop by to browse the local treats for sale. For dinner, it is hard to beat the new age Italian offerings at Prato. Don’t miss the Mustard Spaghettini Cacio E Pepe, it’s life changing.

If you are still searching for some fun after dinner, stop by Park Social for a drink and some dancing. This retro nightclub offers throwback decor and music from the decades of the past. Park Social is one of the most fun places to hangout with friends for late night socializing.

Golf scribe. Recovering Country Club President. Husband to Sarah & father to Winnie.