Marriott's Grande Pines was designed by Steve Smyers, in partnership with six-time major champion Nick Faldo, as a championship course and as such it is not your typical resort course. It is one of Golfweek's Top 100 "America's Best Resort Courses" and we would describe Grande Pines as a shot makers course defined by very complex and challenging greens. The course meanders through tall pines, oaks, and palms, around some lakes, and beside the Marriott's Grande Vista Resort. When playing Grande Pines you will hear sounds from Disney's Indy race experience, Sea World, and best of all the calypso music from the Marriott Vista Resort – on the 6th hole you can see the Marriott pool and we were tempted to lay down the clubs and head over to Marriott to sip a Pina Colada by the pool and dance to music.
The slightly contoured and gently rolling fairways were in average condition and in most cases they are generous and forgiving off the tee – of course as soon as we said that we came to the tight 551 yard #11 and drove the tee shot and second shot into the woods as the hole did a sharp dog left then a dog right to the green. On the way to the Grande Pines greens the fairways are mostly flat but you'll find some dog legs, water, berms, mounds, wetlands, fairway pot bunkers, and some huge fairway bunkers.
What makes Grande Pines both memorable and challenging are the complex greens protected by steep and deep bunkers and other hazards – demanding strategic and precise approach shots. Miss your approach and par or better is going to be very difficult. On most of the approaches we were in awe when we got close to the green and had to make a choice to be a risk taker and "go-for-it" or take the conservative approach and lay up (which is what we did on most of the holes). The greens, which were in near perfect condition, all shapes and sizes, and about average speed (9 or 10 on the Stint Meter), are very challenging due to ridges, spines, severe slope, and undulation. And in some cases a combination of all of that! Most of the greens are elevated and all are protected by mounds, water, and some very steep faced and deep bunkers that you need to do everything possible to avoid. The 73 soft sand bunkers are all shapes and sizes from small pot bunkers to some traps that are deep enough to swallow a bus. Before you head out to the first tee box, make sure you spend a lot of time practicing your approach, chip, and sand shots.
Although very challenging, thanks to the strategic shot making required on the approach shots, Grande Pines is a must play and one of the most fun courses we played during our week of golfing in Orlando. No two holes are the same and each has a unique personality that makes it fun, memorable, and challenging. For example, #10 is the signature hole with a beautiful elevated green protected by a lake and 5 deep soft sand bunkers; #1 sets the stage with a risk reward shot off the tee box to carry the lake and shorten the hole and then an approach to a huge green with no margin for error; or the #6 with another tough approach to a green next to a lake and across from the music and pool at the Marriott. For the money, Grande Pines is a must play and an outstanding value.
We played this course as part of a fun filled seven days in Orlando where we rode in an Indy race car, saw alligators on an air-boat ride, sky dived in a wind tunnel, flew a 1946 World War II fighter trainer, para-sailed, swam with the manatees, ate too much good food, enjoyed some fun nightlife, golfed 9 different courses, and got very little sleep! Read our Orlando Vacation article to learn more about this adventure packed vacation.