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GOLF 2000

A Slice of Orlando; Some of Its Wildest Rides Are on the Golf Courses

By Todd Pitock
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 24, 2000; Page E01

On the 13th hole at Falcon's Fire, a popular golf course near Orlando's central fun district, I waited, along with the husband-and-wife team I was matched up with, for the foursome in front of us to move from the fairway to the green.

It was not a bad spot to pause and take in the scenery. The hole is a 340-yard par-4 with a ribbon of fairway that snugly doglegs a shimmering pond. It doesn't take a great deal of muscle to get over the pond, but the sight of water in golf teases out your latent--and not so latent--doubts, and a low hill potted with numerous bunkers backing a narrow fairway means you can't just haul off, either. The grass had a brilliant sheen; there were birds and, off to the right, an island of cedar and cypress trees, an oasis of wilderness in the heavily cultivated golf setting.

"Now that's pretty," the husband said, drawling out the words. "But it's ugly."

Alas, he was right. It was the sort of hole that, the longer you look at it, the less likely you are to play it well, and sure enough, he skimmed two shots across the pond. The balls tried gallantly to make it across but became exhausted and disappeared below the surface.

I hit a high, sickly pop-up that, with a little body English, managed to get over. Then I followed it up by slicing the next one into the water anyway.

The guy's wife, whose name I'd forgotten, was sitting this one out. The heat was pinking up her neck and cheeks. After hitting a strong drive off the first tee, she'd tanked. "My motto is, 'When it's not fun anymore, don't do it,' " she said, fanning herself with the score card. "I'd rather be scuba diving."

I would have preferred she was diving, too. She could have retrieved buckets and buckets of balls down there. In the hundreds of ponds, lakes and bogs that beautify the Orlando area's 125-plus golf courses, there must be tens of thousands of balls. And after a few days of duffing there, I knew a number of them belonged to me.

Not that I was complaining, really. We were having fun. How could we not be? Orlando is the fun capital of the world. And along with places like Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Tucson, Ariz.--and the fact that there are quite possibly more professional golfers living here than any other place in the country--it's one of the country's golf capitals, too.

And from where we stood, it certainly was pretty. Even if it was ugly.

The same could be said of Orlando itself, probably the first city in civilization constructed entirely around the idea of fun. In addition to Disney World and its buffet of parks--Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, MGM Studios--there's Gatorland, Sea World's Discovery Cove, Wet 'n Wild, Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure . . . Everywhere you turn there are haunted houses, video games and enough junk food to give your dentist an ulcer, or at least a better car.

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