Thursday, March 12, 2009

Buena Vista Obscura: The Golf Resort

In this new series for 2719 Hyperion, FoxxFur discusses uncommonly-discussed aspects of Walt Disney World's history.


"Just west of the "seaside" Polynesian Village lies the "tee-side" Golf Resort Hotel."
- Walt Disney World, The First Decade (1982)
Of all the components of Walt Disney World which are not often discussed today, the Golf Resort remains possibly the second most obscure major installation still widely neglected by researchers and historians (the most obscure, the Lake Buena Vista "Resort Community", is so obscure that even I, dear readers, continue to fail to turn up anything significant about it). This off-the-beaten path hotel which did not open its earliest facilities until midyear of 1972, and is essentially a manifestation of an aspect of Walt Disney World which is now all but forgotten, what pre-Eisner Disney called the "Vacation Kingdom".

This arrangement of Walt Disney World emphasized the Magic Kingdom as only the cornerstone of a large entertainment empire which included boating, hiking, shopping, dining - and golfing. Golfing was and still is a leisure activity of a significant portion of the American public, and Disney was ready to respond to them with no less than three courses - the Palm, Magnolia, and Lake Buena Vista courses, all three designed by Joe Lee. The Golf Resort was perched in the middle of the Palm and Magnolia courses, and was expanded out from it's basic country club design by Disney in the planning phases to offer not just a clubhouse, but a "golf kingdom" in the middle of the resort.

Basic in design, the Golf Resort offered a relatively minor 125 rooms in a large, multi-winged two story structure, built of wood and volcanic rock in the style of a country club. The amenities included the Magnolia Room, later the Trophy Room, serving Breakfast buffet from 6:30 am - 11:30 am ($3.25 adults, $1.75 children), lunch from 11:30 am - 2:30 pm, and dinner from 5:30 pm - 10 pm. A large, open room with a high-timbered cathedral ceiling, minimally decorated, included live entertainment from the start. From The World News, 1976:

"Then, [the Trophy Room] ...will roll out the fondue trays until midnight. Late-night diners (minimum of two persons per fondue) will be able to choose from three fondue selections: the Cheese Fondue (a blend of Gruyere and Swiss, spices and Sauternes wines); the Combination Fondue Dinner (cheese fondue appetizer, salad, beef and vegetable fondue); and the Fondue Dessert (a special chocolate fondue with fresh fruit and sponge cake)."

"Entertainment begins each evening at 6:30, and is usually provided by a versatile guitar playing and singing duo called Amos and Charles. Their show is a combination of soft rock, blue grass, country and folk music [sounds promising, right? -FoxxFur]. Often inviting their audience to request a favorite tune, they seldom fail to come up with a rendition of the selected song."


Well, if that doesn't sound too inspiring, then at least the Golf Resort had a neat swimming pool - outside of the Polynesian Village's influential and famous "grotto slide" pool, probably the neatest one at Walt Disney World in the 1970's. Its' location can be observed in the aerial photo above, as can its' most distinct feature - three water-spouting columns in the shallow portion of the pool. Long before Disney was creating beautifully themed pools like Stormalong Bay at the Yacht & Beach Club or Old Man Island at Dixie Landings, this was a distinct and fun feature of the Golf Resort, as well as indicative of its' relaxed atmosphere.

Outside of the Resorts' snack bar, variously called the Sand Trap or the Diamond Mine, and the large-windowed lounge near the Trophy Room, the Player's Gallery ("The perfect 19th hole!", in the words of a 1978 promotional magazine), the chief remaining component of the Golf Resort - outside of its' golf courses, of course - was the Pro Shop, a state-of-the-art (for its' time) installation. Again from Walt Disney World: The First Decade:

"Guests wishing to strengthen their own golf games may take advantage of the Golf Resort's full-service Pro Shop. One of the services offered through the Pro Shop is the Golf Studio at the Magnolia driving range. This unique instructional program is conducted by pros for golfers of any age and at any playing level. As part of the Golf Studio experience, participants have their swings videotaped for replays and critiques in the Pro Shop."

"The Palm driving range, like the one at the Magnolia, features sand traps to improve aim as well as distance. There are also two putting greens at the resort."

"A special golf tournament for youth was introduced at the Golf Resort in 1977, one year after the first TPA National Junior Championship was held there. Hundreds of youth from age 6 to 17 have competed each year in the Pee Wee International Golf Tournament. In cooperation with the TPA, Walt Disney World opened the 'Wee Links' in 1980 next to the Magnolia Course. [...] The Wee Links were designed with youngsters especially in mind, as a means of teaching golf fundamentals. It is the hope of Walt Disney World that the easy-to-build, low-maintenance course will become a model for communities wishing to establish programs for junior players."
Wee Links still operates under the name "Oak Trail Golf Course", and was designed by Ron Garl. Speaking of golf games at the Golf Resort, the claim to fame of the Palm and Magnolia is still the PGA Tour, which plays its' final game on the Magnolia. Before this event, Jack Nicklaus won the Walt Disney World Open in 1971, 1972, and 1973, which was held before the Golf Resort structure even existed (!).

In 1986, the Golf Resort became the Disney Inn, which featured a mild Snow White theme. In 1994, the property was rented by the Department of Defense and became Shades of Green, which was purchased outright in 1996. Disney no longer owns or operates the hotel, which is managed under the military's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program as an Armed Forces Recreation Center. In 2004, the structure was expanded into a 550+ room affair, although a few traces and some of the structure of the original Golf Resort from its' Disney Inn days remain, including a restaurant called The Garden Gallery, intact (in name at least) since 1986.

Disney continued to open golf properties at Walt Disney World. The Bonnet Creek courses are Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge near Fort Wilderness, designed by Pete Dye and Tom Fazio. Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland, which comprise four 18-hole miniature golf courses, followed in the mid 1990's.

And finally, a Golf Resort-themed Vacation Package sold by Disney in 1975, for only $154.00 per adult for two adults and $52.00 per child:

Your Golfing Adventure Includes per Person:
- 4 night's accommodation at the Golf Resort Hotel
- 5 days' use of the transportation system (monorails, ferryboats, and motor coaches)
- 36 holes of golf on either Palm or Magnolia course - electric golf cart included
- Walt Disney World Golf Hat (!)
- 1 Magic Kingdom Ticket Book (1 general admission, 8 attractions)
- 1 Walt Disney World Cruise to Treasure Island [Discovery Island - FoxxFur]

Each person receives a coupon good for ONE of the following:
- Golf Resort Hotel Dining.... family dining and atmosphere entertainment
- Pioneer Hall dinner show.... Fort Wilderness' home-style fixins and western entertainment
- Polynesian Luau.... island cuisine, cocktails, and exciting show
- Papeete Bay Verandah dining... elegant South Seas dishes with relaxing entertainment
- Mini speedboat... ride for one hour on Walt Disney World lakes
- Golf... 18 hole play (electric golf cart included)

Each person receives a coupon good for ONE of the following:
- Watercraft... one hour's use of sailboat, Bob-A-Round or Pedal Boat
- Horseback Trail Ride... guided tour along backwoods paths (ages 9 and up, please)
- Moonlight Cruise... romantic cocktail cruise
- 1 Magic Kingdom Ticket Book (1 general admission, 8 attractions)
- Lunch amid scenic surroundings, your choice of: Pioneer Hall, Top of the World, Papeete Bay Verandah, Trophy Room, Liberty Tree Tavern


--
Resources:

"1975 Family Vacation Plans", promotional brochure, Walt Disney World Co., 1975
"Disney World Recreation Information", DIS website, http://www.wdwinfo.com/recreation/golf_main.htm, retrieved Feb. 26 2009

"Golf Resort/Disney Inn/Shades of Green", Walt Dated World website, http://waltdatedworld.bravepages.com/id120.htm, retrieved Feb. 26, 2009
"Shades of Green", Wikipedia website, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shades_of_Green, retrieved Feb. 25, 2009
"Walt Disney World", promotional magazine, Walt Disney World Co., 1978

"Walt Disney World, 20 Magical Years", hardcover book, Walt Disney Productions, 1991

"Walt Disney World: the First Decade", hardcover book, Walt Disney Production, 1982
"The World News", Vol. 6 No. 4, ed. Barbara Stuart, April 1976

next time: Captain Cook's Hideaway

7 comments:

davesablast said...

Great post! Really enjoy this feature and hope you keep it up.
Jeff - really like what 2719 has become! Very thoughtful and unbiased.

Al said...

We were "bumped" to the Disney Inn in the late 1980s when the Contempo was full and were very pleasantly surprised. At the time, the standard rooms were the largest on property and the place had a relaxed, uncrowded and quiet atmosphere. The only drawback was the transportation, with a long hike up the driveway to the Poly monorail station being the most practical way in and out. We were sorry to see it go "Green."

Golf Club Ratings said...

You did a great post I bet all the golf lovers out there will simply like this.. Keep sharing!

Anonymous said...

I would take Disney's night time entertainment from that era over anything else.

They KNOW how to treat guests. I went last summer with my family and had one of the best times in my life.

Disney was everything I had hoped for since I dreamed about it as a kid. Even looking at it with an adult's eyes, I was amazed and moved.

I am sorry I did not go when I was a kid, but at least I took mine there.

Anonymous said...

One small correction - the Eagle Pines course was designed by Pete Fazio, not Pete Faye.

Anonymous said...

Good article, and I keep checking for your planned article on Captain Cook's Hideaway, because I'm curious as to whether that is the snack bar I remember from the Polynesian Village in the 1970s.

FoxxFur said...

The Captain Cook's you are speaking of was the second incarnation of the establishment when it was, essentially, the Polynesian's food court. The version I'm going to feature some (minor) info on is the very original version, when it was the nightspot on the round floor of the Great Ceremonial House.