Tom Watson doesn’t have the golfing résumé of Jack Nicklaus (eight professional major victories to the Golden Bear’s 18) or a devoted army like the one that followed Arnold Palmer throughout his career, but as I’m standing over a tap-in birdie putt on an overcast afternoon at Reunion Resort in Kissimmee, my judgment is final.
I’ll take Watson over Nicklaus and Palmer any day of the week.
That’s only because I’m taming the course that the five-time British Open champion designed at Reunion. OK, “taming” may be a strong word given that I’m a 20-handicap. Still, the 7,154-yard tract (from the back tees)—with its forgiving fairways and sprawling greens—seems to fit my game more comfortably than my premium all-weather golf glove. I’ve managed to escape the dastardly bunkering that comes into play on nearly every shot to card a back-nine 39 (3 over par), complete with a near hole-in-one on the par-3 12th after my soaring 7-iron landed less than a foot from a front-side sand trap, kicked right and trickled to within 8 inches of the cup.
Conversely, the other two courses at Reunion produced far less drama when it came to my game—and considerably more strokes. But therein lies the beauty of the only destination on the planet to feature layouts designed by Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson, who account for 33 combined major golf titles.
Each course at Reunion is a sight to behold, exquisitely manicured and filled with aesthetic details meant to draw the eye and, if you’re not careful, ensnarl your golf ball. Each also possesses its own identity and unique challenges.
The Nicklaus, the longest of the three at 7,244 yards, is a mind-bender, designed to force players into thinking about each hole like a chess master. Do I follow the path of least resistance and take what the course gives? Or do I attempt a risk/reward shot over water or into a postage stamp-sized green that might blow up my scorecard?
The Palmer, much like the late legend who designed it, dares your inner swashbuckler to go for broke with holes like the tantalizingly short par-4 seventh, protected on three sides by water. It’s a tee shot that screams for golfers to break out the big stick and try to reach the green in one.
While golf deservedly commands the big letters on the Reunion marquee, it’s hardly the only draw at a property, less than 10 miles from Walt Disney World, that encompasses some 2,300 acres. Part of what distinguishes Reunion from the other golf destinations under the Salamander Hotels & Resorts banner (Innisbrook near Tampa, Hammock Beach in Palm Coast) is the array of accommodations—luxury hotel rooms at the 11-story Reunion Grande, spacious condo-style villas with multiple bedrooms and full kitchens, and jaw-dropping vacation home rentals of all sizes.
Families have access to nearly a dozen pools throughout the resort, including a 5-acre water park that boasts a lazy river, a giant flume slide and a beach volleyball court. The property also features six clay tennis courts, jogging and biking trails, a fitness center and a boutique spa.
Dining at Reunion starts with Eleven, the contemporary steak house on the top floor of Reunion Grande that rivals any sophisticated South Florida restaurant with its tight menu of classic starters (pan-seared crab cake, barbecued bacon shrimp), prime cuts (peppercorn New York strip, 20-ounce porterhouse) and decadent desserts (white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake). The property also hosts an Italian bistro (Forte), a restaurant inside the golf clubhouse and casual spots at the water park and the pool at Seven Eagles, overlooking the Palmer course.
If you time your after-dinner cocktail just right on the poolside balcony at Eleven, you can catch Disney’s nightly fireworks display in the distance. For those interested in a getaway that doesn’t include amusement park lines—but does include challenging, world-class golf courtesy of three of the sport’s greatest legends—it’s the perfect place to watch the show.
Where: 7593 Gathering Drive, Kissimmee
Specials: Check out the Reunion website for information involving golf packages and seasonal specials.
Contact: 866.880.8563, reunionresort.com