Walt Disney World Chronicles: Osprey Ridge
by Jim Korkis
This article appeared in the May 2, 2017 Issue #919 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.
Even though Walt Disney didn't particularly care for the sport of golf — he had tried a few weeks of early morning rounds — he was well aware of the popularity of the game and the enjoyment others got from it.
So when he planned the Florida project, he proposed having golf courses. When the vacation kingdom opened in 1971, it included the well-known Magnolia and Palm courses designed by Joe Lee. In fact, the Walt Disney World Open Invitational was inaugurated in December 1971, thanks to the influence of the late Arnold Palmer to make it happen so quickly.
By 1972, the Lake Buena Vista course was added, but it took until the late 1980s for Disney to start developing two environmentally friendly courses.
With the opening of Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines in 1992, magazine awarded Walt Disney World a Gold Medal as one of America's best golf resorts. For those Disney guests who only focus on the theme parks, it might be difficult to believe that some people come to WDW primarily to play golf.
"Few resorts in the world offer golfers the opportunity to play courses the quality of those designed at Walt Disney World by Joe Lee, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio. The 99 holes of golf that make up the 'Magic Linkdom' offer even the most discriminating golfer new excitement at every tee, fairway and green on property," said then President of Walt Disney Attractions Judson Green in 1992 when Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines golf courses opened.
Located near WDW's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, the unique Osprey Ridge course wound its way through a forest of mature oaks, pines, palmettos, and cypress trees. Being part of protected native wetlands helped secure the golf course's certification as an Audubon Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary.
The "ridge" in the original course was its central feature and was created to a large extent from earth excavated from the lakes and creeks that lined the fairways.
"You feel like you're in the Sandhills of North Carolina," said Kevin Weickel, Disney's Head Professional and Tournament Director of the National Car Rental Golf Classic when describing the Osprey Ridge course after it first opened. "It has rolls and ridges and elevation changes throughout the course which are unique to flat Florida. When you stand on every tee, it feels like a presentation. It's just laid out so clearly. Plus, we can set the course up very short and easy, or back it up and give it a lot of teeth."
The original layout for the course was by Tom Fazio, who began his career designing golf courses in the 1960s with his family firm. He started his own company in Jupiter, Florida in 1972 and now has designed well over 120 courses, with more courses ranked among the top 100 in the United States than any other course designer.
"A lot of people are very nervous about environmental issues simply because they haven't had to deal with them," Fazio told GOLF magazine in 1992. "But once we understand and learn, then we will turn them into a positive. You have to think differently. We don't design courses the same way. I think golf is important for the environment, to create that open space."
After the selection of the site, The Walt Disney Company hired environmental specialists to stake out the land and invited each of the many federal, state and local agencies to come out, one at a time, and inspect the property and make their recommendations.
"If they say it's a wetland, it's a wetland and it's our responsibility to protect and enhance these areas," said Tom Sunnarborg, project manager for the Disney Development Company who was in charge of creating Osprey Ridge and its sister course, Eagle Pines (designed by Pete Dye). "The whole process of permitting and mitigating for environmental impact is very expensive and time-consuming. We didn't have the time or the budget, so we picked sites that were environmentally compatible with our development plans before we even started."
During the construction of the Osprey Ridge course, yellow ropes and bright pink ribbons were located to be highly visible markers of the wetland areas. This was done to ensure that bulldozers or other heavy equipment did not get anywhere near those sensitive, protected locations.
Environmental concerns were taken into consideration in the planning not only in terms of routing the two new courses but also in the building of roads on that property. At Osprey Ridge, the first two and last two holes were connected to the rest of the course by a hand-built, 1,000-foot boardwalk-style bridge on pilings. This was done because roads could not be constructed over the wetlands.
"These boardwalks are wonderful places to stand and take in the view," said Kym Murphy, who at the time was Disney's corporate vice president of Environment Policy and a marine biologist by training. "I'm sure we will have golfers stopping there from time to time. The 19th hole conversation at Disney might end up a little different than at other places because of what golfers have seen while they have played."
The goal was not just to protect the existing wetlands but whenever possible to enhance the environment of the area.
"I'm not sure Walt (Disney) would have considered himself an environmental pioneer," said Murphy. "But he was so conscious of the environment's beauty and significance that he made it a top priority right from the start."
At Osprey Ridge, eight platforms were built to try to attract native ospreys to nest. Two of the nests were placed by forklift and the other six were set by helicopter. To also attract the birds, ponds were created and stocked with bass, sunfish, and catfish since the osprey's diet is almost exclusively fish and they were especially fond of these aquatic varieties. More than 3,000 young trees, 25,000 clumps of native grasses and 15,000 plants of marsh grasses were planted on the site. All storm and irrigation water was re-circulated to retention ponds and recharged to the wetlands.
Such devotion to the environment earned Osprey Ridge designation as a "Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary" by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System in June 2000. The addition of native plants and trees, as well as the creation of naturalized areas on the golf course to provide water and food for local and migratory wildlife, was a key factor in the course's certification. It provides a great sanctuary for abundant wildlife — deer, wild turkeys, osprey, turtles, and more.
Fazio installed two references to Mickey Mouse at Osprey Ridge. One near the cart corral was a photo opportunity in Mickey's personal golf cart, the other was at the practice green, which was shaped in the familiar likeness of Mickey's head.
Over the decades, there have been a variety of professional tournaments held on the property. While some are aware that WDW was once host to the annual PGA Tour event, it also was the site for the Oldsmobile Scramble, the biggest golf tournament on earth in terms of participation at that time. Approximately 135,000 players (in teams of four amateurs and one professional) competed in three levels with the final competition held over five days in October on four different WDW courses including Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines.
Osprey Ridge and Eagle Pines were also co-hosts to the Bryant Gumbel/Walt Disney World Celebrity Tournament benefiting the United Negro College Fund since 1993.
The tranquil Osprey Ridge Golf Course closed on August 15, 2013, but unlike so many things at Walt Disney World, it didn't truly disappear after its closing. It became part of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando and reopened in October 2014 as the Tranquilo Golf Club.
The name Tranquilo pays homage to the Resort's Spanish Revival design and tranquil setting, featuring many southern live oak trees with delicate Spanish moss. Designer Tom Fazio was brought back in to renovate and revitalize the course. Enhancements included creating a completely new 16th hole and renovated bunkers, plus improved visibility and airflow by enhancing the landscape design, in addition to a fully renovated clubhouse. All of the greens were resurfaced with Tiff Eagle Bermuda grass, in addition to improvements to drainage in many key areas of the course. For the most part, though, it is still recognizable as the original course.
The course remains unique because of the combination of its varying elevation, abundant wildlife and protected wetlands. It allows golfers to connect with nature in a setting designed to seem secluded. Players on one hole do not see players at another hole. Fazio initially achieved this miracle through the simple but effective use of mounding and varying thickets of pine forest. As a result, most of the fairways appear as lush, green corridors without any other interference except some occasional surprises of local wildlife.
"I am very proud of the transformation of the Tranquilo Golf Club Course," said Fazio. "Since the course opened more than 20 years ago, it has been considered among the best courses in the region, and the recent upgrades and improvements to the course will surely solidify that reputation for many years to come."
Charlie Kent, Director of Golf for Tranquilo Golf Club and a member of the PGA of America since 1993, brings more than 25 years of experience in golf course management. He noted at the reopening, "The Osprey Ridge course was so well-regarded by golfers for many years. We are very proud of the renovation work and enhancements the Fazio team completed and we're confident golfers who were fond of the former layout will truly be able to connect with the course once again."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Golf is available to the general public and resort guests at Disney's Palm, Magnolia and Oak Trail Golf Courses (across from Disney's Polynesian Village Resort), and at the Lake Buena Vista course (near Disney Springs/Saratoga Springs Resort). Walt Disney World's remaining golf courses are now run by Arnold Palmer Golf Management. The Tranquilo Golf Club course is available for individual tee times up to 60 days in advance for registered resort guests and is open to the public for tee times 30 days in advance.
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Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, Korkis has used his skills and historical knowledge with Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.
He is the author of several books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions. You can purchase them via our AllEars.Net Amazon.com store HERE. His newest book is The Unofficial Disneyland 1955 Companion. It includes snippets of interviews with cast members who worked at Disneyland in 1955, along with additional explanatory material (including the first complete listing of every attraction, shop and restaurant that was there during the first six months) and much more.