IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando, Fla.
THE LAYOUT: Ron Garl, perhaps the most prolific golf course designer in Central Florida, and Howard Swan of England created a layout that offers the best of two worlds on 180 acres that once was farmland in southeast Orlando, about 10 minutes from Orlando International Airport.
The course is located off Narcoossee Road, not far from Ralph V. Chisholm Regional Park in the hamlet of Narcoossee, where every March the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Civil War re-enactors put on the two-day Battle of Narcoossee Mill.
Also nearby is private Lake Nona Golf Club, home for much of the year to PGA Tour stars Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who recently opened the Nona Blue restaurant.
While you can't play Lake Nona unless you know a member, Eagle Creek has provided one of the better public courses in the Orlando area since it opened in 2003.
Swan's influence gives the course a real Scottish feel and provides golfers something of a links experience with its dramatic bulkheads and some of the bunkering.
You can see what the property looked like before it became a golf course, with its rolling terrain, when you play the 15th hole. A pasture runs the length of the hole on the left side, with a herd of cattle grazing.
Eagle Creek is a member of the Audubon International Silver Signature Program, which is fitting because several holes on the back nine play through a wetlands area that could pass for a wildlife preserve.
Because of its proximity to the airport, Eagle Creek often is the first course travelers on a golf trip to Central Florida play after deplaning, and the last course before catching the flight home.
Eagle Creek is only one in Celebration Golf Management's collection of fine public courses in the Greater Orlando area, including Celebration Golf Club in Celebration, RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento, Stoneybrook West Golf Club in Winter Garden, Kings Ridge Golf Club in Clermont, Stonegate Golf Club in Kissimmee, Legends Golf and Country Club in Clermont and Orange County National Golf Center in Orlando.
GENERAL MANAGER: David A. Evangelista.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Eagle Creek, which plays to 7,198 yards from the back tees and a par of 73, is one of the few courses around with five par-5 holes, including three of the last six.
There is water on 16 of the 18 holes, but much of it does not often come into play except for shots that are well off-line.
The only daunting carry over the wet stuff comes on the tee shot from the back tee at the 561-yard 16th hole, one of those par-5s. However, if you are good enough to play from back there, the shot should not be a problem.
Eagle Creek boasts nearly 100 bunkers, some in traditional links style, but nothing that might remind you of Hell Bunker or the Road Hole Bunker. There are five sets of tees to test golfers of all abilities, the rolling fairways are generous and the large MiniVerde greens are among the best in Central Florida.
The course opens with three strong but straightforward par 4s, capped by No. 3 at 401 yards, with water on the far left for wayward shots, while the green area is guarded by four bunkers.
Then the golfer hits the meat of the front nine, with the first of the par 5s, this one measuring 573 yards from the back tee to a fairway with four bunkers in the landing area and a green with a large bunker complex on the left that often keeps wide shots out of the water.
Following a 195-yard par 3 comes the No. 1-handicap hole, the 447-yard par-4 sixth, which often plays longer into a headwind or crossing wind, with trees left and right of the fairway. There also are three bunkers on the left side of the fairway and two more guarding the right side of the green.
That's followed by a challenging 427-yard par 4 that doglegs to the right, a 206-yard par 3 guarded by a large bunker and thick vegetation left of the green, and the second par 5, at 524 yards with seven bunkers to finish the front side.
The 12th hole is another strong par 4, measuring 435 yards from the back, with trees down the left side and three fairway bunkers in the landing area, followed by the third par 5, a dogleg left that stretches to 541 yards, with sand guarding the landing area off the tee, the lay-up zone and the green.
Eagle Creek presents a strong finish, starting with the par-5, 561-yard 16th, which is protected by nine bunkers, followed by the 195-yard 17th, a par 3 that requires a tee shot over at least a corner of a lake from every tee.
And for the finish, Eagle Creek offers what might be the best hole on the course, a true three-shot par 5 at 535 yards for all but the longest hitters because of the water that guards the green. Three large bunkers on the left and water on the right make the landing area off the tee seem smaller than it is, and there is a large bunker all along the right side of the layup zone and water to the right of that. Any shot to the green that comes up short is on the rocks.
Most of the year, Eagle Creek offers its four-course special for morning golfers, a round of golf and a three-course meal in the Belfry Restaurant, all for the price of your greens fee.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Disney offers four 18-hole courses, the Magnolia, the Palm, Lake Buena Vista and Osprey Ridge, plus a 9-hole walking course, Oak Trail. The first three were played by the PGA Tour pros in the annual Disney World event, which was played for the last time in November.
In addition to the aforementioned Celebration Golf Management courses, others in the area are Falcon's Fire Golf Club in Kissimmee, Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club in Haines City, Mystic Dunes Golf Club in Kissimmee, the New Course plus the East, North and South at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, the Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes in Longwood, Hawk's Landing Golf Club in Orlando, Royal St. Cloud Golf Club, three courses at Reunion Resort and Club, Bay Hill Resort and Club, and ChampionsGate Golf Resort.
WHERE TO STAY: The closest hotels are a short drive away at Orlando International Airport, with the Hyatt Regency actually in the main terminal. Also available are the Ramada Suites Orlando Airport, Wingate by Wyndham, Sleep Inn and Suites, Orlando Airport Marriott, Ramada Suites Orlando Airport, Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport Hotel, Hampton Inn and Suites Orlando Airport at Gateway Village, Hilton Garden Inn Orlando Airport, Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando Airport, La Quinta Inn and Suites Orlando Airport North and Holiday Inn Orlando International Airport.
The Celebration Hotel, located only a few blocks from Celebration Golf Club in the town built by Disney, has the charm and style of a Florida resort hotel of the 1920s.
The Disney resorts -- the Grand Floridian, the Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Wilderness Lodge, the Dolphin, the Swan, the Beach Club and all the rest -- and numerous hotels in Lake Buena Vista, are a short drive from the airport.
The Orlando World Center Marriott, site of Hawk's Landing Golf Club, is the largest hotel in the worldwide chain.
Also nearby are Reunion Resort and Club, the Omni Orlando Golf Resort at ChampionsGate, the Wyndham Orlando Resort, the Renaissance Orlando Resort, the Omni Orlando Resort and Spa, the Grand Cypress Resort, the Grande Lakes Orlando, the Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and the Royal Pacific Resort.
ON THE WEB: www.eaglecreekgolf.info
THE LAST RESORT: Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn in Sonoma, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: This is not a golf resort, per se, but guests at the Sonoma Mission Inn receive playing privileges at nearby Sonoma Golf Club, which hosted the Champions Tour's season-ending Charles Schwab Championship from 2003-2009.
John Cook captured the title at Sonoma in 2009 and repeated in 2010 at Harding Park.
Designed by Sam Whiting of Olympic Club fame and opened in 1926, Sonoma Golf Club has been ranked as one of the best golf courses in California from the beginning.
Updated by Robert Muir Graves in 1991, this is a traditional golf course of the first order, featuring tall oaks and redwoods, gradual but no drastic elevation changes and subtle greens.
The course plays to 7,103 yards from the back tees, with a par of 72 and a slope of 132, and offers scenic views of the Mayacamas Mountains. The spectacular Spanish-style clubhouse opened in 2005.
GENERAL MANAGER: Mike Kosak.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Despite its storied history, Sonoma Golf Club is something of a secret golfing treasure, perhaps because it is tucked away in a sleepy corner of Northern California's Wine Country.
Sam Snead often claimed it was his favorite course in the world, and he especially enjoyed the par-3, 219-yard seventh hole, which plays through a little hollow of ground surrounded by trees. There is a gully to the right, with oaks and two traps guarding the left side of a green that has several levels.
That's the start of an exceptional three-hole windup to the front nine that includes the downhill 596-yard eighth, which features a hidden bunker on the right side of the driving area, and the 345-yard ninth, which plays uphill to a three-tiered green that is heavily bunkered.
The 557-yard 13th offers a chance for a birdie, but the critical second shot must steer clear of a lake on the right and two bunkers on the left.
Nos. 15 and 18, both doglegs right, are two of the best par 4s on the course.
The first measures 436 yards and requires two well-struck shots to get home, with trees down the right a real problem.
On the finishing hole, a bunker and line of trees make it problematic to cut the corner. The green, which slopes dramatically from back to front, is guarded by a creek that can't be seen from the fairway.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Eagle Vines Golf Club in neighboring Napa is part of a 45-hole complex that includes Chardonnay Golf Club. The three nines -- the Lakes, Meadows and Vineyards -- meander through the vineyards at Chardonnay, which will become a private course once it reaches its membership goal.
Silverado Resort in Napa, which hosted the PGA Tour in years past, offers the challenging 6,700-yard South Course, and the more forgiving North Course, which measures 6,500 yards.
Not far away are the Links at Bodega Harbour in Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his classic thriller, "The Birds."
WHERE TO STAY: The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, with its elegant Spanish architecture that replicates the California Missions established by Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, has been a favorite of visitors to Northern California's Wine Country since it opened in 1927.
Native Americans discovered the natural underground hot mineral waters on the site hundreds of years ago, and Dr. T.M. Leavenworth, an eccentric San Francisco physician, was the first to commercially develop the hot springs in 1840.
In 1895, Captain H.E. Boyes, an enterprising young Englishman, acquired the property and struck 112-degree water at 70 feet while drilling a well. Within five years, he had built the Boyes Hot Springs Hotel on the site of the current property.
In 1923, a fire destroyed the hotel and most of Boyes Hot Springs, but out of the ashes rose the Sonoma Mission Inn. In 1980, a major renovation returned the Inn to its 1920s grandeur, and the Spa was added in 1981.
Renovations completed in 2000 included expansion of the Spa to 40,000 square feet. Guests can receive a myriad of body, facial, hair and other beauty treatments.
The Sonoma Mission Inn also offers biking, hiking and a full-service fitness center. Dine just off the lobby in the Sante Restaurant, with its international reputation for the finest cuisine, or at The Big 3, owned by the Inn and located right outside the front gate, with its 50-year history of serving fine food in a casual atmosphere.
Several tasting rooms are nearby, including the Mayo Family Winery in the town of Glen Ellen, where they say the ghost of Jack London resides. Also close is Kenwood Vineyards, which produces the unique Jack London series of wines from grapes grown in the red volcanic soil on the famed author's ranch.
ON THE WEB: www.fairmont.com/sonoma; www.sonomagolfclub.com