Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Lost and Found From the Golf Resort

Let's hop on over to the Golf Resort this week for some historical oddities. I had been looking for a reason to put these online, and a recent episode of the Retro Disney World Podcast focusing on the Golf Resort - making heavy use of my research - seemed to create a good opportunity.

On this site I've focused a lot on things like the Golf Resort and Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village - odd experiments from the first few years that are markedly different from the sort of kiddie-oriented
fare that would begin to dominate the Eisner years. The Golf Resort is one of the strongest hints at the sort of laid back, for-adults vacation Disney was trying to create.

I've never spoken to anybody who stayed at the Golf Resort - or later, the Disney Inn - who didn't consider it one of the best things they ever accidentally "discovered" at Walt Disney World. It was fairly common for the overbooked monorail hotels to move guests across the street to its manicured greens, and many found they preferred the quiet, intimate atmosphere preferable to the hustle and bustle of the main hotels.

And that's one reason I've continued to put effort into keeping its memory alive - I have no interest whatever in golf, but the Golf Resort would be the kind of place that would attract me. Ironically for being considered an overlooked, remote option, it's nearer to the most desirable part of Disney property than most of their hotels are today. Had Eisner not sold it outright to the US Military in one of Disney World's periodic economic downturns, that property would today host a truly elaborate, profitable Disney hotel.

For all these reasons, plus general weirdness, the Golf Resorts holds a place in my heart. And when, as every so often happens, something Golf Resort related pops up online, I try to secure it. Which is how I bring you today two truly obscure little finds from the olden days of Walt Disney World.

The Golf Studio

One of the oddest sidebars to the Golf Resort story is the fact that Disney offered a genuine golf class at a rate of about $30 for two hours - or $35 if students wished for a few rounds of golf after the class. That's between $75 and $90 today, making this one of the most expensive and unique items in a Walt Disney World vacation of the era - and one of the most experimental.

It's hard to convey just how much effort Disney put into their golf courses in the 70s. The "golfing triumvirate" of Card Walker, Dick Nunis and Donn Tatum ensured that their resort would house three lavishly praised championship courses - making Disney World catnip for the sorts of folks who, like them, read golfing magazines. Disney even installed a 6 hole junior course that used synthetic turf - Wee Links, today called Oak Trail.

The Golf Studio was broken into two sections: instruction and video analysis. After an hour with a instructor in a conference room, students were videotaped practicing their swings. The swing would then be analyzed frame by frame back in the Pro Shop.

At the conclusion of the class, students were given a cassette tape to bring home with them - side A featuring general golf tips from Phil Ritson, a South African golf instructor brought in by Disney to design the program. The second side was an audio recording of the video breakdown session. They came in heavy black plastic cases that looked like this:

You want to hear what's on that tape, don't you? I will not disappoint. Direct from the late 1970s, here's a few minutes of Phil Ritson pontificating about golf swings, then a look into what you would have experienced back at the Pro Shop, featuring Paul Rabito and somebody named "Eddie".

I'm not going to tell you it's especially fascinating listening, but it's remarkable that we can hear it at all.

Classic Golf Experiences: The Walt Disney World Magnolia

If golf instruction is your bag, then have I got a treat for you. If golf instruction is not your bag, then I've still got a treat for you. Every so often something pops up online and you just have to roll the dice and take a chance that it'll be interesting. I took a chance on an unpromising little VHS from 1988 entitled "The Player's Guide to the Walt Disney World Resort Magnolia Course". It turned out to be one of the dorkiest Disney things I've ever seen. And I've seen The Boatniks.

Hosted by golf commentator Gary McCord, it's obvious that Dick Nunis - or somebody, but probably Dick Nunis - rolled out the red carpet for this small-time production. And, possibly inspired and a little goofy on the Disney vibes, the crew turned out a truly bizarre little film. It features ghostly dwarfs, invading chipmunks, "outtakes", an interview with Joe Lee, and more.

It's also, generally speaking, a very good record and overview of a part of Walt Disney World everyone knows is there, but not everybody has seen. I enjoy the aesthetics of golf courses but have no interest in the game, and this video allows me to enjoy a well-designed course without sweating in the Florida heat. There's a lot of conceptual overlap between theme parks and golf courses, both being totally artificial environments created for just one purpose. It's easier to appreciate Joe Lee's course design with McCord's goofily amiable commentary and occasional Disney character appearances.

And in case you think none of this is up your alley, there's a typically goofy Disney World montage at the start, and later on, a look at the model for Wonders of Life. Give it a spin, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Thanks to Michael Crawford for transferring both of these magnetic tape treasures to digital. And if you want even more Golf Resort, check out my historical overview at Return to the Golf Resort, or the entire Passport to Dreams Walt Disney World History portal.


Unknown said...

I played on the Wee links course when I was a kid

Zidders Roofurry said...

I remember the first time I went to Disney my aunt and uncle had us staying at the golf resort. I have very fond memories of it. Thanks for the video. This was actually fun to watch in places. The instructor did a great job of making it fun and I love the bit with Goofy at the end.

I love this blog. <3

stu29573 said...

I really enjoyed that video in a weird way. My dad loved golf and although we never went to WDW together, I like imagining the trip that could have been. He passed away in 2008...

Robert Sapp said...

Your loss is our gain. As a former Navy submariner and retired US Navy Civil Servant, we enjoy staying at the former Disney Golf Resort under its new identity as Shades of Green. Operated by the Department of Defense, it offers first class facilities with the largest rooms on Disney property at rates about equal to those charged at the Disney Value resorts, all within walking distance of the Polynesian's monorail stop. It's a terrific benefit for our active duty and retired veterans.

Unknown said...

I was one of the first employees at the Golf Resort hired during the summer of "71 before opening. I was there for Jack Nicklas' win at the tournament. I gave him a bottle of champagne and he told me he didn't drink, Take it Back! I have the first three Golf watches for the 71, 72, 73 Walt Disney World Golf Classic. I later managed the Lake Buena Vista Club. I have a lot of great memories and tons of pictures of the early days.

FoxxFur said...


Both the Golf Resort and Lake Buena Vista Club are amongst the least well documented places in early WDW; if you have stories and photos I'd love to help preserve them. Alternately you could work with the good fellows over at

RichC said...

FoxxFur, I think your blog is wonderful. In searching on-line for just some mention and a few pics of Lake Buena Vista Village and The Golf Resort / Disney Inn, I find here the most thorough, intelligent and interesting feature on those subjects (and more!) that one could ask for. I stayed at the Golf Resort as a young child. Sadly, I have few memories of the facility. We stayed at the renamed Disney Inn a few years later and yet I still have few distinct memories of the actual hotel apart from a general warm association with the Inn and that particular trip in all. Thank you for filling in so much of what I had forgotten.

Two brief questions, please, and I'm sorry they are off topic:

Have you uncovered photos of an oddly angular wooden children's climbing apparatus in Lake Buena Vista Village that would have been there around 1982-3? That trip, my parents made the cruel decision to spend our last full day shopping instead of visiting a park. I played on that climbing gym with tears in my eyes -so close, but so far from the Magic Kingdom.

Secondly, my father had a very early home movie camera with a sound recorder. We have about 10 minutes of tape from the Magic Kingdom circa 1976 with sound featuring a few musical acts, the parade and my father's excruciatingly awkward narration of sights from the monorail. Would that footage be of any interest to you or one of the other on-line archives you recommend? Thanks.

FoxxFur said...


The WDW Village playground was actually called the "Village Whatchamacallit"; if you do a google search for that term you'll find a handful of photos of it! I loved that silly thing.

As for the home movie, I can't guarantee that there will be anything revelatory in it - a lot of home movies of the era are pretty much exactly as you describe - but I don't think I've ever seen a sound film from that early. Retro Disney World is currently encoding and restoring as much of this content as possible - I'd investigate their "Image Works" service over there. If nothing else, you'd end up with a very high quality version of the film.

Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words! :)