Orlando remains a hot spot for golfers
Historically speaking, Orlando got a late start in golf.

The sport didn't arrive in Central Florida until 1893, when English businessman Leslie Pell-Clarke had six holes carved out around the northwest shore of Lake Eola. It only lasted a decade or so, though by 1911 both Winter Park and Orlando had established golf clubs.

By then, 16 U.S. Opens had been played.

The old farming and fishing outpost certainly has caught up. These days, it seems there's hardly a segment of the golf industry that doesn't run through Orlando -- if they haven't sprouted some roots.

Golfers can play at one of the 189 courses in Central Florida, sharpen their games with help from one of the area's big-name instructors or simply watch how some of the PGA Tour and LPGA's best approach the game. Dozens of top pros have come to call Greater Orlando home.

"It seems every player either lives here, knows a player that lives here or has friends and family that lives here," said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, a Lake Mary resident who commutes to his Daytona Beach office.

From a tourism standpoint, golf helped generate $300 million in spending from Central Florida visitors last year. "It's one of the top 15 things people like to do when they come," said Brian Martin of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Though a comprehensive economic picture for Greater Orlando is tough to pin down, a PGA of America study showed Florida's golf industry generated a total economic impact of $13.8 billion for the state in 2007.

A separate study for Palm Beach County reported a $1.8 billion impact in that region, which has slightly fewer golf courses and one PGA Tour event.

"We've got to be the only market with two PGA Tour [events] and the LPGA," said Sam Stark, CEO of the Central Florida Sports Commission. "Golf Channel's here, the PGA [Merchandise] Show is here. That alone, I'd think, would put us in one of the prime golf seats in the golf industry."

Why Orlando, though? Golf's historic clubs are clustered around New York and Boston. Southern California and South Florida offer warm weather and a bigger spotlight; Atlanta was Bobby Jones' home.

Orlando's weather and tourism draw are cornerstones, obviously. Developers added dozens of courses during the boom years of the 1990s and early 2000s. Some were good enough to catch the eye of top pros who also didn't mind that Florida assesses no income tax.

And where pros go, other pros often follow. Tiger Woods, for instance, migrated to Isleworth largely because buddy Mark O'Meara already had a place there. Lake Nona, meanwhile, can lay claim to four members of last year's European Ryder Cup squad.

"When Lake Nona and Isleworth came along where money's no object and all these guys moved in -- they said, 'This is great,' " said Winter Park's Richard Moorhead, a Florida golf historian. "You've got great weather here, great competition – they can play anywhere they want."

SEVEN FACTORS THAT HELPED MAKE ORLANDO GOLF'S HUB

Location: The geography that lured Walt Disney to Florida 40 years ago also works for golf. Orlando's temperate climate allows for year-round play -- summers might get a little sticky, but rare is the winter day that's too cold to play.

Orlando International Airport not only is among the nation's busiest -- more than 30 million passengers a year -- but consistently ranks among the top six large airports in customer satisfaction.

"The airport is perfect," said Lake Nona's Karen Stupples, a former Women's British Open winner. "You can pretty much get direct flights into Orlando from anywhere."

Orlando, too, is centrally located to many of golf's centers of power – no more than a 2 1/2-hour drive to headquarters of the PGA Tour (Ponte Vedra Beach), LPGA (Daytona Beach) and PGA of America (Palm Beach Gardens).