From great golf to great lakes: 10 reasons for a golf trip to Lake County, Florida

By Ed Schmidt, Contributor

CLERMONT, Fla. -- If you think all golf courses in Florida are flat as a pancake and peppered with tall palms and palmetto, you haven't been to Lake County.

El Campeon golf course - Mission Inn - 7th hole
Mission Inn Resort & Club's El Campeon golf course boasts elevation changes of more than 85 feet.
El Campeon golf course - Mission Inn - 7th holeBella Collina golf course - hole 10Black Bear Golf ClubMount Dora, FloridaLake County, Florida - fishing
If you go

Located about a 35-minute drive northwest of Orlando, this tree- and lake-laden region has well maintained golf courses in a variety of engaging settings. Better still, greens fees are affordable and you'll find lots exceptional values.

Here are 10 reasons to plan a golf vacation to Lake County in Florida.

1. Golf courses with elevation

While the county was named for its numerous lakes, it's also celebrated for its many hills and elevation changes. The Clermont area, in particular, 24 miles west of downtown Orlando, has several un-Florida-like courses with wildly undulating terrain, large hills and elevated tees with more than 50-foot drops to fairways.

Some fun-to-play courses with pronounced elevation changes include Kings Ridge's Kings Course and Ridge Course, Palisades Country Club and Sanctuary Ridge.

2. Exceptionally designed layouts

With its lakes and rolling hills, Lake County has attracted an impressive list of superb golf course architects, including Nick Faldo, P.B. Dye, Joe Lee, Lloyd Clifton, Mike Dasher and Dave Harman.

3. Mission Inn Resort and Club

This classy, family-owned resort in the tiny community of Howey-in-the-Hills has two championship courses, El Campeon and Las Colinas, as well as a spa, fitness center and excellent on-site restaurants.

It's Spanish-Colonial Inn sits on a hill overlooking the El Campeon, a legendary layout built in 1926, which has natural hillside contours, roller coaster-like fairways and elevations up to 85 feet. The newer Las Colinas course, designed by Gary Koch, is more open and forgiving but still a serious challenge.

4. Fantastic golf menu

There are 25 golf courses in Lake County. The Sorrento area features two highly rated gems, Harman's Red Tail Golf Club and Dasher's Eagle Dunes Golf Club.

Other top plays include Dye's Black Bear Golf Club in Eustis, with its dramatic fairway elevation changes, and the Country Club of Mount Dora, a beautiful Clifton layout surrounded by lakes and horse farms. In Apopka, Rock Springs Ridge, Errol Estate and Zellwood Station offer challenge and diverse terrain.

5. Bella Collina

If you want opulence and a private club ambiance at a great price, Bella Collina -- a golf experience near the town of Montverde -- encompasses a Nick Faldo-designed course and a $40 million, 60,000-square-foot, Tuscan-designed castle known as "the castle."

The valley-style layout has hills and mounds framing many of the holes and beautiful panoramas of Lake Apopka and Lake Siena.

6. Town of Mt. Dora

Sitting on the shores of picturesque Lake Dora in Lake County, 31 miles northwest of downtown Orlando, this quaint village, originally settled in 1874, sits 184 feet above sea level. The walkable, sometimes hilly streets are lined with historical buildings, antique shops, specialty stores, restaurants and bed and breakfast inns.

Mt. Dora is also home to the 117-acre Renninger's Antique Center & Farmer's Flea Market, the largest antiques center in Florida.

7. Intriguing off-course activities

Away from the fairways, there are numerous different and fun entertainment activities such as hang gliding in Groveland, sea plane rides in Tavares and off-road driving experiences and glider flying in Clermont.

Other popular pastimes in the county include horseback riding, kayaking and canoeing, hiking and hot air ballooning.

8. Lakes, lakes and more lakes

There are more than 1,400 lakes in the county highlighted by the eight-lake Harris chain, Lake Eustis, Lake George and the 12 boat ramps at the Hickory Point Recreational Facility.

Sailing, motor boating, guided boat tours and air boat rides are some of the many ways to enjoy the lakes.

9. Fantastic fishing

With so many lakes and rivers in a concentrated area, it's not surprising that Lake County has some exceptional fishing.

For those who love to drop a line before or after a round of golf, the big catches are bass, blue bream, stripers, speckled perch and catfish. You'll also find an ample supply of bait shops and fish camps throughout the county.

10. Laid-back lifestyle

In recent years, Lake County has been discovered by value-seeking retirees and those drawn by a peaceful, slower-paced lifestyle with lots of golf course choices and nature-based recreation.

Golfers should follow their lead, because there are some amazing and affordable places to tee up in Lake County.

Ed SchmidtEd Schmidt, Contributor

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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