More than a Game

Winter Park 9
One of Florida's best golf courses you've probably never heared of.

Winter Park 9

Winter Park 9

Right in the centre of Florida, in the heart of Orlando, lies a little golfing gem. A public golf course surrounded by suburban streets, old railroad tracks, a small church, and the local cemetery - all within walking distance to the stores and restaurants of the neighbourhood - Winter Park 9. It's recently remodelled nine holes show just how relaxing and entertaining golf can be.

The clubhouse and pro shop are reminiscent of a Scandinavian vacation home; golfers have to cross streets that look like they're straight out of a rom-com movie. All in all, the course looks more like a park than a golf course, despite being only a few minutes away from the homes of many of world golf's superstars that have chosen to make the Orlando area their base.

Gregg Pascale is the manager of Winter Park 9, Orlando's second oldest golf course. Being asked about the all those PGA Tour high-rollers that live in the area, Gregg laughs: "Yes, a few stars have visited us on occasion. Nick Faldo is kind of a regular here and likes to play against Trevor Immelman. Other big names like to come here too. Many bring their kids and enjoy the kind of atmosphere of the Winter Park 9.” Being a municipal golf course, Gregg is an employee of the City of Winter Park.
The golfing complex was founded in 1914 and, over 100 years ago, was originally conceived as a 27-hole facility. During the housing boom in Orlando, Winter Park Golf Course was downsized to nine holes due to the need for more real estate and the soaring prices of the local land.

World famous Championship Courses like Bay Hill and Lake Nona are just a short drive away, but despite the close proximity, Winter Park 9 has nothing in common with the approximately 40 golf courses that exist in Orlando. Winter Park has a charm of its own.

Matt Ginella, a former Golf Channel presenter used to live right by the golf course and always invited friends from all over the world to showcase the charm of the little course just across the street. One of Winter Park's most famous residents, Paul McCartney, was never seen on the first tee though, despite living right next to the golf course.
"We're a real community park," Gregg explains. "In the morning the older guys come to play a pre-breakfast round, at noon they're joined by businessmen who spend their lunch hour playing golf, and in the afternoon the women and kids join in. In the late afternoon the youngsters start playing on the course until late at night.

"We have golfers who play in sneakers or flip flops using equipment from another century, but also perfectly equipped players who hunt for birdies and place big bets against their buddies. There's a good chance that you might pass a wedding that is celebrated in the nearby community house, or you have to wait to tee off on the 5th tee because a funeral procession is on its way to the cemetery."
Golf in Winter Park is as much a part of the community as the soccer field or a basketball court. That this little course was allowed to develop its charm is not only an achievement of city officials and guys like Gregg, but the whole community. Gregg points out: "Until a few years ago, the course was nothing more than a flat meadow. The fairways, the bunkers, the greens - everything was just flat and kind of boring. We convinced the city to invest and gave two young architects the chance to develop a course that would not only excite golfers, but would also be a lot of fun to play."

The city hired the young and relatively unknown architect duo of Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns and closed the course for the 2016 season to completely overhaul the whole course. The result was outstanding - the course made the list of the 50 best 9-hole courses in the world and is now considered a popular destination for golfers from around the globe.
But it's not the accolades, it's the feedback he gets from golfers that validate all the hard work over the years, Gregg laughs: "Sometimes I get a call from golfers from up north who have booked a golf trip to Florida and want to play a quick 9 holes before they leave Orlando. That shows how much we are appreciated by the golfing community, because they have a lot of much more famous courses to choose from here in Orlando."

Gregg himself has worked for years as manager at a private golf club in Florida and, having begun the nine-hole renovation at Winter Park, the thing that impresses him most is the laid back and relaxed nature with which the game of golf is approached here. "Playing golf at Winter Park is real fun and green fees cost between ten and fifteen dollars," he smiles. "Friendships are formed here, tee times mix people of all parts of society together, and they all have a great time. That's part of the charm of our little nine-hole course. At Winter Park 9, golf really is More Than A Game - and that's why it's one of my favourite golf courses in the world today."