Disney Golf Celebrates 50 Years With Four Courses And 200,000 Annual Guest Rounds

A Mickey Mouse greenside bunker at one of the four golf courses at Walt Disney World Golf outside … [+] Orlando. Disney Golf is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Russell Kirk/Golflinksphotograph

When Walt Disney
DIS
sketched his original plans for the Walt Disney World Resort, he set aside a large area alongside the Magic Kingdom, resort hotels and convention facilities adjacent to the main entertainment hub. He simply labeled it “golf”.

While Disney wasn’t a golfer himself, he realized the role the game could have at the family destination he was creating – especially in Central Florida.

Disney Golf is now celebrating its 50th anniversary and while the sport is just one of the resort’s many amenities and activities, it’s played an integral role in the guest experience over the past five decades. Upwards of 200,000 rounds are played annually at the resort’s four golf courses, which today are operated by Arnold Palmer Golf Management.

Palmer’s ties to Disney Golf actually extend back to the year the resort opened in 1971, when he served as a consultant for the PGA TOUR event that would first be held at Disney World later that year. Palmer even took an inaugural test ride on the Disney monorail on the same day he became a consultant for the tournament. Jack Nicklaus won the first three Walt Disney World Open Invitational titles, starting a legacy of champions that would include winners such as Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart, Raymond Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Vijay Singh and David Duval.

“We have a commitment to being guest-centric – creating an all-encompassing experience that is uniquely Disney while providing the opportunity to play where champions were crowned,” says General Manager Bruce Gerlander. “We task ourselves with melding the flair of the resort with upholding the classic traditions of the game of golf that our founder, Mr. Arnold Palmer, stood proud and tall for, every day of his life.”

The 2nd green at the Palm at Walt Disney World.

Nile Young

Disney’s three championship 18-hole courses include the Palm, which was renovated and reimagined by Palmer in 2013 and shortly thereafter earned recognition from one industry publication as the U.S. renovation of the year. Disney Golf also includes the Magnolia and Lake Buena Vista courses – both designed by architect Joe Lee – and the 9-hole Oak Trail Course, a family-friendly layout that’s particularly conducive to walking beginners and those with time constraints.

The Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista and Oak Trail courses all have bunkers shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head, and the resort has been ranked by Golf Digest as one of the top five destinations for a family golf trip.

Architect Joe Lee with several of the Disney characters one of the two courses he designed at Walt … [+] Disney World.

Disney

For guests (and families) loaded down with luggage, the Disney Golf facilities rent golf clubs as well as golf shoes, and there is complimentary transportation to the courses from Walt Disney Word Resort hotels. Disney Vacation Club members have access to a low-cost membership that includes eight rounds of traditional golf (four at Oak Trail and four twilight rounds), eight rounds of FootGolf, and complimentary buckets of range balls.

"Obviously playing and winning there is great, but it's mostly about the family,” said Davis Love III, another former winner during the PGA TOUR’s 42-year run at Walt Disney World. “We played the parent-child tournament, and the kids looked forward to it. We rode the monorail and staying right there at the golf course is just so much fun. I have great memories of Disney golf."

While the courses at Disney World are challenging enough for the game’s best golfers, they’re also friendly enough to accommodate players of all abilities. It’s another reason the Disney Golf courses have become known as “The Happiest Place on Turf,” a nod to Disneyland’s official tagline of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” For 50 years now, resort guests have been able to test themselves on the same courses where players like Nicklaus and Woods once claimed multiple titles. And Disney Golf remains focused on creating more memories for recreational golfers over the next 50 years.

One of the unique golf carts at Walt Disney World Golf.

Russell Kirk/Golflinksphotograph