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.