For the PGA Tour Champions, this week’s Diamond Resorts Invitational is a soft opening to the 2018 season, with a few LPGA players, 46 celebrities and former athletes joining the seniors to compete for a purse of $1.2 million.
For the host course, Tranquilo Golf Club at the Four Seasons Orlando, it’s a chance to tout its new status – a transition from public to private club – and the $2.5 million expansion and re-creation of its 16-acre practice facilities under the direction of architect Tom Fazio. The formerly nondescript practice range now converts to a pitch-and-putt course with six holes ranging from 50 yards to 130 yards, and there’s also an 18-hole, 26,000-square-foot putting course in the expanded short-game area.
Tranquilo is a 2014 Fazio redesign of the architect’s 1992 Osprey Ridge design, which used to be part of Walt Disney World Resort. The course is adjacent to the Four Seasons Orlando, which is the only AAA Five Diamond resort in central Florida.
Resort manager Charles Fisher said the golf club had struggled to find a business rationale in the saturated Orlando market, as it attempted to be all things to all golfers.
“We’ve had members before, but it was a neither-here-nor-there experience for them,” Fisher said. “They were a member of a golf club, but they didn’t get the exclusive playing experience of a private club, and they had nothing extra on top of their membership other than the ability to play golf at a public golf course. We wanted to find a way to give them a better experience.”
That led to the elimination of public play. The new membership options – one for golf-only, another that offers access to resort facilities – are priced affordably, starting at $12,250 for initiation fees and $7,500 for annual dues. The goal is for the resort to wean itself off what Fisher calls the “extraordinarily price-variable business,” which included bargain-basement pricing during the steamy summer months.
After the decision was made to go private, Fisher said the resort knew it needed to upgrade its practice range, which was large but often not functional. During the wet summers, he said, the range often became unusable because there was no drainage and balls plugged.
Alternative golf facilities, such as short courses and putting courses, are gaining momentum in the industry as clubs look for new ways to engage customers, particularly young players and families. That concept appealed to Four Seasons Orlando’s management on several levels.
“We’re a resort on the back door of Disney.” Fisher said. “… The idea of a family on vacation taking 4½ to play golf, you’re not going to have too much luck with that.”
There is, however, a good chance they’ll wander over to Tranquilo for a quick game on the short course or putting course. The short-game area also is lighted for evening functions. And the improved drainage ensures the range won’t need to be closed on an almost-daily basis during the rainy season.
No one is happier about the changes than Rod Cook, Tranquilo’s direction of instruction. He said he grew up playing on par-3 courses, and sees Tranquilo’s short course as a natural way to get more children and families involved in the game.
For his more serious students, he has six outlets on the range to accommodate Trackman and video. And the short course will allow him to teach under playing conditions, which was difficult on the big course because of pace-of-play concerns.
“Now we have the opportunity where I can take them out here and not worry about those things,” Cook said. Gwk