Most golf chatter about the "Orlampa" stretch of I-4 belongs to the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate and Reunion Resort, 2 massive properties that collect- ively have six courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and two golf academies by Annika Sorenstam and David Leadbetter. However, there is a lesser-known property located on Route 27 that Golf Digest and Golfweek have rated in the top 10 ad infinitum.
When Lakeland-based architect Steve Smyers first visited the future site of Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club, he noticed the soil was almost exclusively orange sand. This inspired the course motif: bunkers. There are 183 of them scattered throughout the course; one of the largest is on the 413-yard par-4 eighth hole, and it runs up the entire left side of the fairway. And even the lowest handicapped hole, the 167-yard par-3 14th, has 11 high-lipped, amoeba-shaped bunkers surrounding the green, giving it a lunar quality.
- Insider Tip - Unless you're a 10 handicap or less, pay attention to the golf-cart GPS that offers yardages to multiple spots on each hole. With 183 bunkers to contend with — some as long as a football field — you'll need some high-tech help to survive the course.
- Post-Game Meal - Haines City is largely Polk County prairie-land. The best dining option without having to trek to Tampa or Orlando is the quite popular Manny's Chop House (mannyschophouse.com), only about a mile from Southern Dunes. Perfect for guy's guys, Manny's serves all manner of heart-clogging goodness: ribs, chops, steaks, and rice and beans that would pass muster in any Cuban restaurant.
- Where to Stay - From secluded Southern Dunes, head east on I-4 to the supremely conspicuous Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (omnihotels.com): You'll find 720 guest rooms, 36 holes of golf and a grand entrance gate straight out of the Disney playbook. 800.632.6400, southerndunes.com