The menu of golf courses in the Orlando area, particularly in the “Attractions” part of town, is crowded, to say the least. Golfnow.com offers tee times for no less than 25 unique courses under the “Orlando-Attractions” listing. It certainly can be easy for a golfer to get lost in the shuffle. Whether you are looking for places to play on a visit to Orlando or (like me) you’re a local Orlando golfer who can’t get enough of the plethora you’ve been blessed with, add Mystic Dunes Golf Club to your queue of courses to play.
The Mystic Dunes Resort is located just west of the intersection of US-192 and I-4, a mere 2 miles from the entrance to Walt Disney World. The resort offers timeshares and condo rentals for anywhere between a week and up to 12 weeks. The course was designed by NBC Golf commentator Gary Koch and opened in 2002. I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a round at Mystic Dunes and have a conversation with Director of Golf Operations Rick Smith. I was thoroughly impressed with the course and the facilities and I wanted to share my experience with you, my loyal readers.
Starting with the Pro Shop, I was greeted by Nick, who was incredibly friendly. While speaking with Rick Smith I learned that Mystic Dunes’ pro shop was named to the PGA of America’s Top 100 Golf Shops for 2012. It was easy to see why. A wide variety of apparel for men and women is offered. Clubs and balls from many well-known manufacturers were also offered including Titleist, TaylorMade, Callaway and Nike. Personally, I forgot my hat at home and didn’t realize this until I walked in to the pro shop to check in. Nick was happy to assist me and showed me the vast selection of logo hats from Titleist, TaylorMade and Mystic Dunes logo hats (I chose the latter).
As I walked outside I noticed the staff were wearing plus-fours and argyle socks. A distinctive look to say the least, and all were accommodating. The practice range is large, with several flags to help dial in distance control before the round. The putting green was also quite smooth, if not a little slow. The speed of the practice green foreshadowed the speeds found on the course, but I’ll explain that shortly. The golf carts offered a touch screen GPS system which was allowed me to not have to use the GPS app I have on my phone (and save some battery power). The only drawback from the carts and GPS was that there was no indication of where the pins were positioned on the greens. The was also no color-coding on the flags to show front, middle or back placements. This did make for some difficulty on approach shots, especially with the undulating greens.
Ah yes, the greens. Mystic Dunes’ primary defense is its putting surfaces. Large, sloping, multi-tiered greens await players on each of the 18 holes. As I mentioned the practice green was slower than I expected and so are the courses greens. As Smith pointed out in our conversation, the speeds are kept at about 9 on the stimpmeter so that they remain playable for the average golfer. Most of the high-end resort courses in the same area as Mystic Dunes run their greens between 9.5 and 11 on the stimpmeter. Smith correctly acknowledged that if his greens ran that fast, they would be nearly unplayable. When playing Mystic Dunes it is imperative that approach shots be hit to the correct portion of the green. If you can accomplish this, putts of 18 feet or less await you throughout the round. But find the wrong portion of the green and long putts with multiple breaks and changes in elevation will surely drive up your score. That said, the condition of the greens was nearly perfect. Consistency in speed from the first to the 18th and smooth surfaces were a welcome sight.
[Waste bunker on the 7th. This picture was taken right before I played my third shot from here.]
It was not just the greens that were well-conditioned it was the entire golf course. Manicured fairways and tee boxes, well-kept bunkers, including the 15 enormous waste bunkers throughout the course, are all a part of the package at Mystic Dunes. While I was checking in before the round, I commented that I had heard good things about the course, although I had not had the pleasure of playing there. I was informed that the previous ownership group had “let the course go” in terms of conditioning. However the new ownership group, Diamond Resorts, is reinvesting in the golf course. As Smith said, the course has been softened recently, with some of the undulations on the greens being redone, the slower green speeds to accommodate for the slope and a new maintenance partner are among the improvements to the course. Smith also added that the course will have new Champion Bermuda greens installed in 2014. I asked Smith, what sets Mystic Dunes apart from other courses in the area, aside from the greens. He responded with the topography. Mystic Dunes features several elevation changes from tee to green. Players are faced with uphill, downhill and sidehill lies in the fairways. There is also variation in the approach to the greens between up and downhill shots. It is safe to say that 150 yard shots on two different holes will likely require different clubs. At Mystic Dunes no two holes play the same way.
Since every hole has its own identity, it was easy to pick the ones that stood out. Each par 3 has a completely different look and feel to it. Number 2 is a mid-iron to a three-tiered island green. This was my first introduction to hitting to the correct portion of the green. I found the lowest tier but the flag was on the middle tier. 4 putts later (it hurt so bad to type that) I had a green-in-regulation-double-bogey. I made up for it on numbers 3, 4 and 5, playing them 1-under.
[Three-tiered island green on the 2nd.]
Number 8 is the beastliest hole on the course in my opinion, and it has the most difficult green. It is a long par 3, 200 yards from the white tees, 249 from the tips. I was short of the green with my approach and could not place my chip shot on the correct portion of the green…another double bogey. This hole is long and the green gives you nothing. If you make 3, take it and RUN.
The 14th is another mid-iron over a marsh, guarded by a bunker short and hazard left to another three-tiered green. I faired better here than the first two short holes, making an acceptable (by my standards that day) bogey. The 14th green is horizontal to the tee, so the target is not deep. Distance control is key as is the amount of curve on your shot. The right distance pulled a little left or flared a little right can set your sights on a three-putt.
[The 14th is all carry through a chute of trees and over a marsh]
The final par 3 is the 16th. The tees were up and the pin was on the front edge this day. A welcome sight after hitting 7-iron, 3-iron, 6-iron to the first 3 short holes. I was happy to have a 9-iron in my hand and I made good contact, landing just on the fringe, I chipped to an inch and took 3. Make no mistake though, 16 has the same teeth as its par 3 brethren. Like 14 it is a forced carry, this time over a massive waste bunker. A collection area to the right of the green makes chipping a task to be sure as well.
Although the short holes provide a stern test, the scoring opportunities await on the par 5s. All are reachable with a drive in the fairway and shots can be made up on these holes. It is a part of the “softening” of the course Rick Smith spoke of. Smith also indicated that the course had recently been re-rated, garnering a slope in the 130s from the back tees, down from the original 145 the course had when it opened. The nines have also been reversed. Which makes for a great chance to end your round with a bang on the 16th, par 5 17th and short par 4 18th (less than a driver off the tee here unless you can carry it onto the bowl-shaped green).
I fully recommend Mystic Dunes to anyone playing golf in the Orlando area. If you are coming in from out of town, check out the rentals and book a round (if not two or three) there. If you’re a local and you’ve experienced the course already, come back. The changes will likely give you a chance to exact some revenge if you had a difficult day on your first encounter. This golf course is fun and offers both stern tests and scoring opportunities for golfers of any skill level.
[Approach to 18, the fun finishing hole gives a good chance to walk away with a smile.]