I never thought it would come to this. The word ‘resort’ has become the noun that cannot be uttered in the corporate hospitality industry. Ever since AIG executives got tarred and feathered by the media for entertaining clients at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point, Calif. last year, resorts—especially golf resorts—have been scrambling to boost their numbers as the corporate market has faded.
Perception being nearly as important as reality these days, many resort operators have taken the only logical step open to them. They’ve exiled the ‘resort’ moniker from their titles, distancing themselves from the word that cannot be marketed, spoken or printed in a brochure.
For example, the resort moniker has been sawed off at Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz. A recent report in Golfweek quoted Brian Johnson, managing director of the property, as saying that resorts that don’t take the step of not calling themselves resorts “don’t even get to bid on the (corporate) business.” Fairmont Turnberry Isle in Aventura, Fla. did the same thing, removing the ‘Resort & Club’ from its title. Similarly, others have truncated their names to remain palatable to business planners and stanch the threat of stockholder revolts.
In this ridiculous battle of semantics, the only winners appear to be iconic properties that never had ‘resort’ in their names to begin with. Places like The American Club, The Breakers, The Broadmoor, Casa de Campo, The Greenbrier, The Homestead, and so on.
On the bright side, leisure travelers are responding to discounted rates and other promotional incentives. Without an expense-paid trip to endure and a name badge to wear, vacation travelers are free to enjoy their holidays. They’re certainly not worried about negative press or the shame of being seen on a resort golf course.
Speaking of resorts. For parents with children, there is one trip that needs to be made while they’re (the kids) still impressionable, and that is the all-important journey to central Florida. Ideally, the trip should be scheduled for March or April, when the weather is ideal. Take your own straw poll, but I’d guess that just about every kid under the age of 12 wants to go to Disney World and, by extension, Universal Orlando Resort, which debuts its “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” exhibit this spring.
Like a lot of grown-ups, my problem with staying on the campuses of the entertainment goliaths is simple: packs of over-stimulated children sprinting the hallways of the hotels at all hours of the day and night. When my daughters were small, I found that while they adored the rides and attractions at the parks, they preferred staying at an independent property apart from the Magic Kingdom and all the rest. To this day, there is an oasis in the middle of Orlando’s pandemonium, a property that has even seen fit to keep its name intact: Grand Cypress Resort.
A beautifully landscaped enclave in the middle of a former orange grove a few miles as the crow flies (but otherwise a galaxy away) from Walt Disney World, Grand Cypress features 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf. The original North-South tandem, opened in 1984 and treated to a makeover in 2007-08, presents target-style golf at its best. Ledged fairways, rolling mounds and small, perched greens defended by sand and water characterize the design. There’s plenty of room to drive the ball—Nicklaus allows you that much–but approach shots must be directed with pinpoint accuracy. Otherwise there’s hell to pay around the greens. Bring your U-grooved gap wedge and a full repertoire of finesse shots to Jack’s gumdrop manifesto.
Jack’s design work on the North-South 18 at Grand Cypress is typical of his 1980’s look
The East nine at Grand Cypress, opened in 1986, is a bit different from the North-South 18. Carved from a forest of pines and oaks, the holes here are softer around the edges and strongly reminiscent of an inland course in the Carolinas. The East nine’s signature hole is the par-three fifth, where an island-style green beckons from a pond.
Jack returned to Grand Cypress in the late 1980s to build his paean to the Old Course at St. Andrews, creating a must-see attraction for amusement-weary golfers. Designed to play firm and fast, the New Course at Grand Cypress is an inspired recreation of the game’s Mother Pasture. The salty tang of the North Sea is absent, as are the spires of the “Auld Grey Toon” that backdrop the ancient crumpled links. But then, the weather’s better in Orlando.
Nicklaus borrowed liberally from the Old to create the New. So what if alligators lurk in the facsimile Swilcan Burn that snakes through the links? Or that the bridges and cart paths were faux-painted to resemble weathered stone? Pressed into the sandy ground of the former orange grove are nearly 150 bunkers ranging from hidden kettles the size of hot tubs to cavernous pits affixed with wooden ladders that lead to their depths.
Completing the legerdemain are seven double greens; endless mounds covered with love grass, a sub-tropical version of the nettlesome whins native to Scotland; and a low white picket fence that wraps behind the home hole. Striding the links on a brisk day with the wind chasing the clouds across a mottled gray sky, you could be standing in the Kingdom of Fife, not the land of make-believe.
All 45 holes of golf at Grand Cypress are served by a stone-and-glass clubhouse with a terra-cotta tile roof. The pro shop has the look and feel of a fine boutique on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
Swing improvement? The Grand Cypress Academy of Golf takes its place among the finest golf schools and practice facilities in the nation. Headed by “Top 100 Teacher” Fred Griffin, the academy offers a wide variety of lessons and clinics on its 21-acre learning campus. There’s also a TaylorMade Performance Lab for in-house club-fitting services. If your swing is sound but you still can’t score, check in with resident golf psychologist Dr. Ryan J. Caserta, an expert in the role visual perception plays in athletic performance.
For those seeking a relaxing vacation in a residential setting, the resort’s Mediterranean-style villas, ranging from club suites to expansive four-bedroom units, are an ideal choice. The 600-square-foot club suites feature a spacious bedroom, luxury bath, sunken living room, and a patio or verandah. The Villas of Grand Cypress have private entryways, fully-equipped kitchens, large picture windows, French doors and vaulted ceilings. Some units have marble fireplaces and whirlpool baths. All of the villas are clustered in groups near the fairways and waterways of the North nine. Room service is available in the villas, though the resort’s restaurants are worth a visit.
The Villas of Grand Cypress are a world apart from the area’s theme parks
Fine dining is available in Nine18, formerly the Black Swan. This elegant room serves eclectic continental fare overlooking the double ninth green of the North and South nines. Additional dining options are available at the resort’s sister property, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, a four-sided Mayan temple-like structure with an 18-story atrium. A mélange of Asian, European, and American design styles, the 750-room hotel has benefitted from a recently completed $65 million renovation.
Kids of all ages tend to gravitate to the Hyatt Regency’s half-acre, free-form swimming pool, its dozen waterfalls and 45-foot waterslide cascading into the swimming area. High above the center of the pool, streams rush through rock gardens planted with bouganvillea, allamanda, and hibiscus. Tall palms, hot tubs and sundecks are spaced around the perimeter of the pool. As a place to cool off after an extended tour of one of the parks, this pool fits the bill.
One of the best amenities provided by Grand Cypress is the complimentary transportation the resort makes available to the Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks. No parking miles away from the action. You’re dropped at the front gate. Making your Grand Cypress Orlando tee times easier to remember and giving you easy access to Orlando Florida golf courses.
While it still attracts its share of business travelers who haven’t gotten the ‘Don’t Go’ memo re: golf resorts, Grand Cypress remains a great getaway for families who are content to relax, stigma-free, on the threshold of Orlando’s entertainment kingdoms.