Panther Lake has always been considered the marquee course between the two at Orange County National. It’s an engaging design with strong personality and fine individual holes, and you’ll like them even better if you’re a low-handicap player who can fly the ball high into elevated greens with bunkers and other dangers guarding their fronts.
My choice, however, is the other course, Crooked Cat, which offers a greater sense of purpose in both the routing and in the subtler shaping of the holes. It’s on a better property too, open and rambling with a sandy, upland character. Panther Lake’s look is fussier and slightly overwrought like it was the product of three architects all trying to get their ideas in (which was true for both courses, but I’m guessing most of the push and pull happened here).
The main attraction of Orange County National is the location in the rural hinterlands west of Orlando and a decompressed golf atmosphere among orange groves and some rolling country terrain. As opposed to its sibling, Panther Lakes is confined to three more linear sections of land, and though the holes feel roomy enough you’re still aware they’re bumping up against property boundaries.
The best holes are on the south and west end of the site where nature takes control of the design. Wetlands form hard edges to the greens at 4 and 5, and the par-5 7th forces you to challenge the big marsh on the left to get the best and closest third shot out to a naked isthmus-shaped green.
The simple yet flexible par-5 14th falls down and right from the highest point of land before flattening out for a long run against the edge of a lake. The par-3 15th follows the waterline to a difficult green with an obscured putting surface.
It’s telling that these are the most memorable holes at Panther Lake–this is definitely a case where less is more. There’s a lot of good land here, with interesting features and diversity, and I think there’s a better version of this course somewhere in it.
But I’m assuming most people who come here aren’t interested in the more subtle qualities of these holes and enjoy the artifice, big greens and intense bunker patterns the course exhibits.
Who can blame them? Central Florida is overrun with flat, standardized development courses, and its a worthwhile diversion to be out here in the open space and away from it all, trying fun shots on a fun course. (87)
Architect: David Harman and Phil Ritson, with Isao Aoki