Here, quieter usually equals great value, and that is definitely true for two reasons as we enter the second half of August. One, it’s a great time to play some golf and, two, we’re gearing up for Magical Dining Month. The two are even connected in several instances as several golf-related restaurants are on the Magical Dining list (see below).
Golf is actually a huge draw in Central Florida year-round. There are some 200 courses in the region and prices are generally lower – and the quality higher – than back home. It is easy to book a tee time and there are options right in the heart of things.
Like the Shingle Creek Golf Club at the swish Rosen Shingle Creek Resort on Universal Boulevard, just behind the Convention Center on International Drive. Simon and his oldest son visited last week to give it a full test-drive (using a 3-wood of course; that’s a golfing joke, by the way), and came away hugely impressed by the quality and style of this beautifully presented course, which measures a tad longer than 7,000 yards off its championship tees.
Being the part-time hacker that he is, Simon played off the intermediate blue tees at around 6,300 yards but still enjoyed a wonderful time thanks to an 8am tee time and the chance to practice first (for free) on the immaculate driving range and putting green. Here’s what he had to say...
Arriving at Shingle Creek is an imposing sight as the elegant 14-storey hotel provides an impressive backdrop to the golf clubhouse and its facilities. Just to start with, a parking valet met us and took our car while we hopped up the steps to the well-stocked Golf Shop (above), where we checked in for our tee-time and hired clubs for the morning (just $60 per set, including state-of-the-art TaylorMade clubs and two sleeves of golf balls).
At the back of the Clubhouse, we met the Starter, who introduced us to our fancy golf cart (which is provided with every round, and includes a course map and GPS system, plus an ice box for any drinks you want to bring or buy during your round) and asked if we wanted to go straight out or use the practice facilities (above). Seeing as I hadn’t played in more than a year, I was always going to need as much practice as I could get, so we spent half an hour hitting (or, more properly, mis-hitting) a huge pile of balls in just about every direction. Actually, that is a bit of a lie as my son plays semi-regularly, so he knows what he’s doing, and I did really hit a few in roughly the right direction.
Even at 7.30 in the morning it was still almost 25 degrees, so we were warmed up in every sense by the time we were due to tee off, and we met Clifford, a former Marine engineer from Hilton Head, South Carolina, who was partnered with us for the round (it’s not uncommon for pairs to be grouped with one or two others for a round, especially at busier times of the year).
So, off we went in our snazzy carts, whacking the ball all over the 6,300 yards, as well as finding areas of the course you’re probably not expected to hit the ball for good measure. There are restrooms at strategic places around the course, and waitress service (by cart, of course) if you need drinks or snacks, ordered at the touch of a button.
The GPS system also times you and lets you know if you are running slow (they allow 4½ hours per round) and need to speed up a little. We clocked in at three minutes ‘behind pace,’ but no-one behind us seemed to mind and we thoroughly enjoyed the morning’s activity.
Shingle Creek boasts water features along 16 of the 18 holes, but most of it is not too worrying (and I should know as most of my shots have an unerring ability to find the average puddle) and it generally makes for some really scenic and enjoyable golf. The driving range proved invaluable and I did even threaten par on a few occasions, while the three of us got on fabulously well and cheered each other’s memorable shots.
From now until October 4, rates range from just $39-$79 for a full round (including cart) and, if you book 8-30 days in advance, there is a 10% discount. Look up full details at www.shinglecreekgolf.com. The course is truly gorgeous in the early morning (as our photos show) and the final bonus is you can enjoy a well-earned drink in the plush Bar afterwards, or stay for lunch at one of Shingle Creek’s two award-winning restaurants, A Land Remembered and Cala Bella.
Which brings us neatly into Magical Dining Month, running from August 24 to September 30, as both those Shingle Creek venues are included in this year’s MDM list. Basically, Magical Dining Month is a chance to sample more than 70 of the best restaurants in Orlando at a major saving, as they all feature a special three-course Prix Fixe menu at just $33 per person. It represents great value and a superb opportunity to really spread your culinary wings to try restaurants you might not otherwise think of.
We were fortunate to be offered a preview of this year’s Dining Month offerings at the new Soco Restaurant in Thornton Park, which is a smart suburb in downtown Orlando. We’d heard good things about their ‘Southern Contemporary’ cuisine since it opened earlier this year and we weren’t disappointed.
The menu featured delicacies like Cornmeal Crisped Oysters, Grilled Meatloaf on Lobster Mashed Potatoes and a heavenly Bourbon Banana Pudding, all of which were sampled with great relish. Everything had a true, satisfying Southern flavour but with a fresh, zesty tang that should work well for both foodies and general restaurant fans alike.
The service was excellent and Executive Chef/Partner Greg Richie came out to explain some of his culinary philosophy. He said: “We like to take southern contemporary cuisine and give it a little twist, or take something that isn’t particularly southern and make it into a southern dish. There are also some Asian influences in there and we hope it makes it all the more interesting.”
Paired with an excellent Argentine chardonnay and a fruity Californian cabernet sauvignon, it became an absolute feast of a meal, and this is somewhere we would heartily recommend on the Magical Dining Month list.
Other Dining Month choices include our regular favourites like Fogo do Chao, the Brazilian steakhouse on I-Drive; The Oceanaire seafood room at Pointe Orlando; the little hideaway of NINE18 at the Villas of Grand Cypress (another great golfing opportunity, too); and the Asian fusion of Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort. You can see all the choice at www.visitorlando.com/magicaldining.
The other good thing about Magical Dining Month? Every year, they pick a local charity and $1 from every meal goes towards that worthy cause. In 2015, the charity is Elevate Orlando, an imaginative organisation helping urban youth with character education and life-skills training. You can see more about them at www.elevateorlando.org.
To book your Orlando holiday in time for next September (or even this September!) head to our Orlando ticket page for our full range of Orlando attraction tickets.