Review of The Watson Golf Course at Reunion Resort
The fantastic Reunion Resort, located just minutes from Disney World in Orlando, is the only place where you will find Signature Design courses by three of golf’s greatest legends: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer. And the Resort is also home to Annika Sorenstam's first golf school, outstanding stay and play lodging options, a spa, tennis courts, fine dining, a water park, and lots more – a perfect place for a golfing vacation.
The Watson Course is the first Tom Watson designed course in Florida and it's an outstanding traditional, parkland style course with a windswept, native
look that is scenic, challenging but fair, and a blast to play. The course demands strategic well thought out approach shots to raised guarded green complexes with subtle openings. In addition, Watson created undulating rolling fairways and elevation changes by as much as 45 feet from tee to green that can cause you some problems. Tom had a keen interest in golf in the United Kingdom, where he won the British Open five times, and that influence can also be seen and felt with his numerous deep pot bunkers throughout the course, which puts a premium on hitting the fairway and accuracy over distance.
The Watson Course is situated in a 2,300-acre plot that was a former citrus grove and on the front nine a nature preserve is always on one side of the hole and homes and condo's line the other side. The back nine plays through the condos which over look the course but they shouldn't come into play unless you really spray the ball – the homes and condos on both nines are elevated off the fairways with landscaping between and as such don't seem as obtrusive or noticeable or hitable as on other courses.
Part of what makes The Watson Course challenging and fun is that it puts a premium on strategy and accuracy over length and it demands a well thought out approach shot from every player regardless of skill level. Most of the greens are raised, all are well guarded, and several have false fronts with some steep slope that if you hit it, you'll get to watch, with tears in your eyes, as what you thought was a good shot rolls back down the hill to a collection area for another challenging approach shot. Tiers, undulation, slope, and pin placement require a precise shot at the pin if you want to one putt!
In addition to a good short game, your sand game better be excellent because there are over 170 bunkers to contend with – ranging from small treacherous steep and deep pot bunkers to some bunkers big enough to swallow several tractor trailer trucks. Plus there must be miles of natural sand/waste areas, several of which run from tee to pin. I have first hand experience with several of the Watson course bunkers, in fact I was in so many bunkers I thought the marshal was going to bring me a beach chair, umbrella, and a Pina Colada! I also took enough of the bunkers sand in my hair, ears, nose, pants pockets, and shoes to build two big sand boxes for the grandkids. And most of the time there was a trail of sand following me from the bunker to the pin – which made it quite obvious where I had been!
In addition to the the challenging green complexes and the treacherous bunkers and natural sand areas the fairways have some huge contour and undulation, big mounds and swales, lots of slope (some good and some bad), steep drop offs, and lots of ups and downs. On several holes just riding the cart up and down the rolling fairways and over the mounds and swales is like being on a roller coaster ride – the marshal frowned on my throwing my hands up and yelling "wheeee" as I zoomed up and down the fairway.
The front nine seemed fairly traditional and straightforward and was home to a couple good holes. On the ninth hole I was relatively free of sand and I asked "where were the 190 bunkers they told me about in the clubhouse?"
I quickly found out where they were after playing the back nine. Wow, the Watson Course back nine is loaded with them on every hole! Several are in the middle of the of the landing zone off the tee box, others are waiting for tee and second shots that miss the fairway, and lots of them are guarding the greens. For example, #17 is a 554 yard par 5 with 20 pot to huge bunkers along the sprawling fairway plus two gigantic natural sand areas and #18 has 5 pot bunkers facing the tee box plus 4 other bunkers in your landing zone and two monsters and 3 little baby monster bunkers waiting for your approach shot. I lost track counting after 95 on the back nine! Bring your sand game if you want to score well on the Watson course.
But don't let all of that scare you, Tom Watson designed the course to be fair but demanding and if you deploy some good course management and club selection skills you'll have an enjoyable and very memorable round. There are some really fun holes, some of which include:
- some great par 3's like #7 a demanding 240 yarder with a huge waste sand area from tee to green and #15 a 172 yard uphill shot over a huge natural sand bunker and an extra one to two club uphill shot to a very undulating green
- several risk reward opportunities to carry trees, bunkers, and intimidating natural sand areas
- plenty of holes loaded with bunkers like #2 with 10 plus a tee to green natural sand area, #8 with 8 pot bunkers and a tractor trailer sized bunker guarding the green, or #14 with a forced carry over a gigantic natural sand area, two bunkers splitting the fairway in two different spots, plus 6 bunkers surrounding the green, and 7 more along the fairway
- some "wow" holes that are a blast to play like #9 where I left the tee box to get my sand wedge and put it in my rear pocket, covered my ears, plugged my nose, tightened my shoe laces, and teed off to try and miss the minefield of 17 bunkers and get a flat lie on the roller coaster fairway with mounds and drop offs to collection areas plus a deep green with two levels
But best of all is the entire back nine that has everything that makes golf fun, frustrating, and memorable. The Watson Course back nine is loaded with colorful landscaping, tons of bunkers, uphill and downhill shots to the greens, elevated tee boxes, challenging greens with tiers/slope/undulation, perfect conditions, forced carries, blind shots, dog legs, risk reward opportunities, heavily contoured and rolling fairways, mounds and swales, and more. A near perfect 10 that I can't wait to play again.
The fairways are ample off the tee box and then range from tight to normal. They all have some combination of slope, heavy contour, swales, bunkers, mounding, and stunning colorful landscaping plus some are elevated with steep big drop offs. The rough is wide and playable, but miss it and you've got trouble.
The Watson Course greens range from a little small to about average, all are well guarded, and all have some combination of slope, undulation, ridges, and tiers plus false fronts and sides and most are raised. They were near perfect when we played, ran smooth and at a good speed of 10 to 11, and had plenty of subtle breaks.
The bunkers were also in perfect condition with soft, thick sand that was a joy to play out of and take home with me – the grandkids now have a small piece of the Watson Course in the sand box.
Reunion® Resort is an innovatively designed resort and residential community that features varied accommodations ranging from single and multi-family homes to condominiums and townhomes, as well as amenities including dining, shopping, a boutique spa, tennis center, meeting and conference facilities, biking and walking trails, and a five-acre Water Park complete with 1000 foot lazy river and 150 foot slide.
The Watson Course is a private Resort course, open to members, their guests and Resort guests. The Resort has a great stay and play package and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Reunion Resort – read our review to lean more. As a resort guest you can play the Watson, Palmer, and Nicklaus courses, all of which have their own unique personality and characteristics. Read our review of the Palmer Course at Reunion Resort to learn more about it.
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Service just doesn't get much better - warm, friendly, and courteous with a focus on making sure you feel welcome and have a memorable experience. The pro shop is well stocked, the practice facilities are excellent, and the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch with a variety of good food.