Lake Buena Vista, Florida – With his dominance in the early 1970s, Jack Nicklaus made the Walt Disney World Resort championship golf courses his personal playground by winning each of the first three professional tournaments held at the iconic vacation destination turning 50 – celebrating its anniversary, were held on October 1st.
Generations of players of all skill levels would experience Walt Disney World Golf, but Nicklaus will always stand out. Half a century later, when “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” begins, he can only smile when he remembers his time on and off the seats.
The opening of Walt Disney World Golf near Orlando in 1971 coincided with a resurgence in the Golden Bear’s career and ushered in a period of brilliance that left no doubt about his status as one of the greatest golfers of his day.
At the age of 26, Nicklaus became the youngest golfer to win all of the sport’s four major championships. After winning his second US Open title in 1967 and breaking Ben Hogan’s 72-hole record in Baltusrol, Nicklaus had to accept a small slump in terms of his high standards. He didn’t win another major until 1970 when he won the Open Championship at the Old Course in St. Andrews.
Then came 1971, the year the Magic Kingdom theme park opened to the public and the year Walt Disney World hosted its first PGA TOUR event. It was also the year Nicklaus became the first player to win all four majors more than once. He won the PGA Championship that season and did not finish fifth in any of the golf’s four majors.
Back to back to back
In 1971 Nicklaus won the first Disney Classic. He repeated this the following year, dominating with a total of 21 under par to win by nine strokes, and then did it for the third time in a row by ousting Mason Rudolph in 1973.
“I remember going up there and playing on their resort courts,” Nicklaus remembers. “I played (her) well. We played Palm and Magnolia places for the tournament and I won it in 1971, then I won 72 and I won 73. “
The PGA TOUR event then switched to a best ball format from 1974 to 1981.
Highlighted by 19 PGA TOUR wins from 1971-73, including four majors and his three Disney titles, the early ’70s were exciting times for the Nicklaus family.
He and his wife, Barbara, were parents to five children, and they made the most of their time at Walt Disney World Resort during that time.
“We took her to the Magic Kingdom every night and did all the things parents do with kids and we had fun. It was great fun, ”said Nicklaus, recalling the collaboration between what came to be known as“ The Most Magical Place on Earth ”and“ The Happiest Place on Turf ”.
Walt Disney World later hosted unforgettable tournaments and the biggest names in golf – including Tiger Woods, who, at the age of 20, shot a Round 66 in 1996 to win his second TOUR title. Woods won again at Disney in 1999, ousting Ernie Els in one fell swoop.
Payne Stewart, Lanny Wadkins, Larry Nelson, Raymond Floyd, Vijay Singh, Luke Donald, Stephen Ames, Lucas Glover, Davis Love III and David Duval are other notable players who secured PGA TOUR titles on the Walt Disney World Resort courses to have.
“Playing there and winning is great, of course, but it’s mostly about the family,” says Love. “We played the parent-child tournament and the kids were looking forward to it. It’s just so much fun. I have great memories of Disney Golf. “
PGA TOUR Champions and LPGA Tour players are also enjoying success at Disney World. In 1975, Charlie Sifford survived a playoff and won the first of five Senior PGA Championships to be played on Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course. Pat Bradley won Disney’s first ever live broadcast of a Golf Channel LPGA event in 1995. Karrie Webb in 1996 and Michelle McGann the following year each captured Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Golf Course for LPGA Tour victories.
Hal Sutton called it a “dream come true” when he pocketed a 15-foot putt on the fourth playoff hole to defeat Bill Britton for his first PGA TOUR win at the 1982 Disney Classic after the tournament returned to single hitting was. In fact, the resort is a place where dreams come true. The four unique golf courses (Disney’s Palm, Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista, and Oak Trail Golf Courses) offer layouts challenging enough for the world’s best, but player-friendly enough to suit golfers of all ages and levels.
Redesigned in 2013, the Arnold Palmer Design Company’s extensive efforts on Disney’s Palm Golf Course were recognized two years later by Golf Magazine with the “Renovation of the Year” award. Arnold Palmer Golf Management continues its commitment to excellence through continuous physical upgrades on each of its courses, as well as the programs and amenities that await guests.
After more than four decades of hosting annual tournaments televised by ABC, ESPN, NBC, and the Golf Channel, the final PGA TOUR event was held in 2012 at Walt Disney World, presenting the same world-class amenities while offering one Experience of superlatives in a breathtakingly beautiful environment for the general public, resort guests, family vacations, industry get-togethers and more. Golf Digest has selected Walt Disney World Golf as one of the top five destinations for a family golf vacation.
Magical moments while playing professional golf at Walt Disney World Resort
1971 – Jack Nicklaus wins the first Walt Disney World Golf Classic. Nicklaus dominated the following year, conquering the event by nine strokes and then making it for the third year in a row by defeating Mason Rudolph in 1973.
1975 – Charlie Sifford finished at 8 under par and survived a playoff to win the first of five Senior PGA Championships to be played at Disney Magnolia Golf Course.
1982 – Hal Sutton calls it a dream come true after sinking a 15-foot putt on the fourth playoff hole to defeat Bill Britton for his first PGA TOUR win at the Walt Disney World Golf Classic.
1993 – After a rain delay, officials illuminate the 18th hole on Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course with artificial lights when Jeff Maggert defeats Greg Kraft with three strokes in the final round of the Walt Disney World Golf Classic.
1995 – Pat Bradley wins the LPGA Tour’s first live event, broadcast on the Golf Channel, at Walt Disney World Resort.
1996 – A 20-year-old rookie named Tiger Woods shoots one final round of 66 to claim his second PGA TOUR win of his career at the Walt Disney World Golf Classic. Woods continues to build his reputation by becoming the first player in 15 years to finish in the top five in five consecutive TOUR events. That same year, Karrie Webb receives the LPGA trophy at Walt Disney World Resort.
1997 – Michelle McGann conquers Disney’s Lake Buena Vista Golf Course on her way to winning the last of the LPGA tournaments there.
1999 – Tiger Woods wins a second Walt Disney World Golf Classic, beating Ernie Els in one shot – one of Woods’ eight wins that season.
2000 – Duffy Waldorf equalizes John Huston’s tournament record by taking one shot against Steve Flesch at the Walt Disney World Resort with 26 under par.
2005 – Lucas Glover punches from a bunker 40 yards away to make birdie and take a one-shot win over Tom Pernice Jr. at Walt Disney World Resort. Glover would win the US Open four years later.
2006 – Justin Rose scores 12 birdies in a course record of 60 on Disney’s Palm Golf Course in the opening round, but it’s Joe Durant who finishes under par at 25 and wins by four.
2011 – Walt Disney World Resort and Arnold Palmer Golf Management agree on a 20-year contract, the latter to operate, manage, maintain and promote the Disney golf courses Palm, Magnolia, Lake Buena Vista and Oak Trail.
2013 – Arnold Palmer Design Company reconstructed Disney’s Palm Golf Course from the tees to the greens, including the bunkers.
2015 – Arnold Palmer Design’s redesign of Disney’s Palm Golf Course wins the Renovation of the Year Award from Golf Inc. Magazine. At the same time, the bunker renovation for the entire Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course and the construction of junior tees on the Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course will be completed.
2017 – The iconic Mickey Mouse bunker on the 6th par-3 hole of Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course is being upgraded with the implementation of a capillary concrete lining to improve drainage and maintain sand condition. Complete bunker renovations begin at Disney’s Lake Buena Vista and Oak Trail golf courses.
2018 – Complete renovation of the greens on Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course
2021 – Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its 50th anniversary