Playable Las Colinas golf course is the favored venue of the resort crowd at Mission Inn near Orlando
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. -- As the growing tentacles of Orlando reach ever outward, they have started to envelop Howey-in-the-Hills. The little town is only about 35 minutes from Orlando and harbors one of central Florida's more placid resorts, Mission Inn Resort & Club.
The Beucher family discovered the resort more than four decades ago and, since buying the property in 1969, has upgraded it into a first-class golf resort. Mission Inn is home to two golf courses, El Campeon and Las Colinas. El Campeon (The Champion) is the more difficult of the two, with some startling elevation; flatter, friendlier Las Colinas (The Hills), with its forgiving fairways and soft, receptive greens, is the favored venue of the resort crowd. Some 80 percent of members choose to golf here rather than be roughed up by El Campeon.
"There's not as much elevation on Las Colinas, obviously," Mission Inn Head Professional John Viera said. "This course has a little more forgiveness. El Campeon is going to penalize marginal shots."
You can get away with marginal shots at Las Colinas, though some holes will make it tougher. No. 3 is a 439-yard par 4, dogleg right, with a large oak blocking the right side of the fairway. There's a short carry off the tee, with thick woods to the right. The big, sloping green drops off hard right.
No. 17, Viera's favorite hole, is a 389-yard par 4 in which you must put your tee shot at the top of the hill in order to have a good chance. Stay left, or the big oak on the right will cause all kinds of problems. Your approach, should you reach the hill in good position, is back downhill to a green, backed by a stone bridge and pond to the right.
Of course, the layout you play today may be different than the one you play next year, or next month. The property is ever-changing, due to the inevitable forces of development. Houses can be seen going up all around the course, and several holes have been or are due to be altered, sometimes significantly.
The tee box on Las Colinas' par-3 11th has been moved on the par-3 to accommodate new housing, though there is still a water carry almost all the way to the green. No. 12, a 493-yard par 5 with an uncharacteristically tight fairway, will most likely become a par 4 when the tees are moved forward. No. 14, a former par 3 lengthened into a par 4, will soon become a par 5 when the tee box is moved to the top of a hill where only pine trees are now. The 15th will also become a par 5, and No. 6 will have its routing shifted.
You can't stop progress, especially in this part of the world in the looming shadow of the Mouse.
The Las Colinas Course at Mission Inn Resort & Club: The verdict
Circa-1920s El Campeon, one of the older golf courses in Florida, is the more exciting play, especially for low-handicappers, but Las Colinas, opened in 1992, has its moments. It's in terrific shape, the TidWarf greens being particularly lush. There are enough risk/reward options and forced carries to hold your interest.
There are some houses set back along the perimeter, with plenty more to come. Despite the development, Las Colinas manages to remain fairly serene at this point. Play this course first, for practice, then challenge El Campeon.
Stay and play at Mission Inn Resort & Club
You can't do better than Mission Inn Resort & Club if you're looking to get away from Orlando and still have a ton of things to do. Funky little Howey-in-the-Hills is almost a world of its own.
Aside from its two golf courses, Mission Inn has all the usual resort amenities, plus trap and skeet shooting and a 52-slip marina. If you didn't bring a boat of your own you can get out on Lake Harris in a rental -- from bass boats (tackle is available too) to 22-foot pontoon craft perfect for cruising to a 26-foot Carver powerboat available for charter for up to six people, captain included. You can put in at Howey-in-the-Hills and get to the Atlantic Ocean by water, if you were so inclined.
Mission Inn started small more than four decades ago, and has evolved into a Central Florida favorite. Its rolling 1,000 acres are dotted with lakes (you can fish in one just off the 17th fairway of El Campeon). Bicycles are available, and there is a fitness center, heated hydro-spa, volleyball, basketball and two playgrounds for kids. The resort also has a lighted tennis complex, with six Har-Tru courts and two hard courts. Mission Inn has more than 30,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
March 22, 2006