“I find great joy in creating happiness and memories for people.”
Golfers search for the “sweet spot.” That sound and feeling that comes from their clubhead striking the ball smoothly and perfectly. Ironically, that typically happens when a golfer can make what feels like an effortless, carefree swing.
Mission Inn Resort
If you want an effortless, carefree vacation I’ve found the “sweet spot” when it comes to an experience at which activity, relaxation, health and indulgence blend well together: The Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey in the Hills, Florida.
Howey in the Where?
Howey in the Hills, Florida is 35-miles from Orlando’s International Airport but you’re more likely to see a seaplane from nearby Tavares – known as the “Seaplane City” – than you are to spot a jumbo jet once you get to the peaceful property. Mission Inn Resort and its two golf courses sit on more than 1,000 acres.
“We are real Florida – real close – here in Lake County. It’s much different than the theme park area in Orlando. Mission Inn benefits by our small size, geographic distance, and decades of taking care of our customers,” said Bud Beucher, whose family founded the resort and has owned it over generations.
The staff treats guests like family, too, and Beucher personally finds himself in a position to take care of the guests from time to time. “I had the opportunity to drive a guest from the main lobby over to the golf clubhouse this morning. We’re all part of the team here.”
The clubhouse, spa, fitness room, and Nickers Restaurant are a pleasant stroll away through the scenic, historic Trail of the Conquistador, cut through the more than 100-year-old El Campeon golf course unless you’re in a hurry. But rushing around Mission Inn is not likely because everything is so convenient and relaxing.
Beucher, himself, walks five miles on the property each day before his early start at work. While his walk is an impressive bit of exercise, it can’t compare to his father Nick’s 1,400-mile horseback ride through Mexico in 1939 that inspired him to create Mission Inn’s Spanish-style fountains, courtyards, roof tiles and overall architecture when he bought the course in 1964. Think about that epic ride the next time you’re flying on a jetliner to Cabo San Lucas!
Up, Up and Away
It wasn’t a jumbo jet or a seaplane I spotted, but it was a drone I saw at eye-level from the balcony of my third-floor guestroom in the San Diego wing of the low-rise inn.
A young golfer had been directing it along the course to videotape some of his shots. He picked a good spot for the camera on the El Campeon course’s ninth tee.
The 355-yard, par-four-hole sweeps down into a valley between the trees and beside a pond. The ninth tee, on a perch above the property, is adjacent to the fifth green and sixth tee and looks over the eighth green, making it a picturesque panorama for watching golf and nature.
The San Diego wing of the inn and its screened balconies border those tees, too and are so close to the action guests can clearly hear the clubhead strike the ball as golfers play through.
Be advised they can hear you, too. The young man with the drone, which was above him but at my third-floor eye level, overheard me comment on it and was proud to explain to me how it worked.
He had a few extra moments to chat with me because as he prepared to hit his tee shot, we looked down to see a gleeful group of children streaming into and across the fairway about 100 yards away.
It was a charming scene because they were all well-dressed to attend a wedding in Mission Inn’s intimate Plaza De las Palmas and decided to break away from the formalities and stretch their legs as if the grounds were their backyard. It was such a natural moment in a beautiful setting no one minded.
No one groused, either, when my father and I placed two lawn chairs just off that tee and each smoked a cigar while we quietly watched the players pass through. I got the sense the players were just as envious of our form of recreation as we were of theirs.
Games People Play
Mission Inn provides free bicycle use, so I saw more of the 36 holes of the El Campeon and Los Colinas courses by pedaling down the cart paths early in the morning before golf got going. These are the holes future LPGA players have come to love while competing in the resort’s annual Symetra Tour Mission Inn Resort and Club Championship.
“We have two beautiful golf courses in a great setting. People want to come and play. We have relationships with the LPGA and the PGA Tour,” said Director of Golf Michael Bowery. Roy Schindele, who worked closely with the legendary golf star Arnold Palmer at his Bay Hill Club in Orlando, which hosted a PGA Tour event, is now Mission Inn’s director of sales and marketing and said he sees lots of similarities between Palmer’s commitment to excellence and Beucher’s dedication to quality and making people feel at home.
Mission Inn is the new home of Nicole Quinn who has gone from competing to being the resort’s head golf professional. She has a passion for teaching and offers advice for resort players. “Don’t think too much. Try to relax.”
At Mission Inn, I found that easier done than said. I pedaled the bike through the resort’s residential neighborhood, too, where people continue to build more homes on the property. Living on vacation puts you ahead of the game.
Mission Inn has other recreational offerings including tennis, shuffleboard, ping-pong, pickleball, foosball, swimming, volleyball, billiards trap and skeet shooting and a card room.
I should have pedaled the length of Mexico to burn off the calories I consumed eating in Chef David Trotter’s various dining outlets, starting with his daily breakfast buffet (including southern cheese grits and biscuits and gravy) in La Hacienda overlooking El Campeon’s signature 17th hole.
“We do have continental choices if you prefer to eat lightly and go play golf…or you can indulge in the buffet and take a nap after breakfast,” Trotter laughed. “I find great joy in creating happiness and memories for people.”
Trotter was still on-property when I concluded the dining day with a bone-in ribeye steak in El Conquistador Restaurant looking over Plaza De La Fontana so big I could eat some of it and ride the rest home.
While I dined, I noticed an alligator dozing on the bank across the pond. Bowery said he once saw a 12-footer on the golf course dining on a turtle.
In homage to the gator, after finishing dessert, I lazed in the jacuzzi before bed.
The alligators and osprey aren’t the only wildlife taking advantage of Mission Inn’s fishing opportunities. In addition to the pontoon, fishing boat and kayak rentals at Marina Del Rey, the resort will even provide tackle and gear if you want to drop a line into the pond next to the 17th green at their comfortable, landscaped “catch and release” area.
At my age of 53, my father helped me catch my first bass – a three-pound, 18-incher at that! Sure, I felt like a kid again. Bud Beucher told me his youngest son once caught a 12-pounder!
“Did you bring it to the chef?” Schindele asked me playfully.
Everyone has their own way of relaxing and playing. At Mission Inn, you can go at your own pace…and stop and smell the flowers.