by Kate | July 12, 2011

 Now that's "cigartainment!"

As we entered the gates to the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort in Orlando for the 2011 Diamond Invitational Golf Tournament sponsored by Successful Meetings magazine and I gazed at the sprawling 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature designed golf I wondered how a non-golfer like me would fill her time. It’s not that I don’t like golf -- I have never had the time or opportunity to give it a whirl. 

My shuttlemates were talking about birdies, bogies, pivots, divots, and drivers, all foreign terms to me. But I quickly found out that although this is a revered property for golfers, it also has the needs of non-golfers in mind.  

I grabbed a free bike and pedaled to the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress a few miles away from The Villas. Highlights of this resort include a racquet club with eight clay, four hard, and five lighted tennis courts as well as two open-air racquetball courts, a 21-acre lake with watersports, a half-acre lagoon swimming pool with waterfalls and waterslides, an Audubon Society nature preserve, and a 24-foot high climbing wall. The Hyatt has 815 guest rooms and 65,000 square feet of meeting space.

“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” a song by Timbuk3, played in my head as I checked out the Maui Jim custom-fitting station that was a favorite part of the opening reception for many. The reception, hosted by Visit Orlando, also featured Joe ‘the Cigartainer’ Sweigart. Joe, along with a Cuban cigar roller, made customized cigars for the group. 

When we got back to our villas, waiting for everyone were golf outfits that make a statement, a loud statement. Everyone in the group donned their Loudmouth shorts and skorts the next morning for a group photo. 

The group, of about 100, “got down” during dinner at the House of Blues Orlando, located in Downtown Disney West Side minutes away from the Villas. The resort, a quiet and peaceful place, is just minutes away from the frenzy of Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld theme parks. 

Speakers during the Diamond Invitational included Peter Kessler, known as “The Voice of Golf,” and Lance Barrow, coordinating producer for CBS Sports. They were featured during presentations at the resort’s Mediterranean-style executive meeting center that offers 10,500 square feet of space looking out onto a central courtyard and scenic lake- and golf-side terraces. 

The next morning’s shotgun start had the golfers looking up as a helicopter swooped in and dumped a bucket full of specially marked golf balls. Those who were assigned the balls that landed closest to the hole won prizes. When the helicopter ball drop was over, the golfers moved to the carts and I laced up my sneakers and explored the property.

There sure is a lot to explore -- 1,500 acres to be exact. A secluded, natural environment surrounds the Villas of Grand Cypress. As I walked, I spotted unusual birds, ducks, and even an alligator, and realized that golf courses are great habitats for wildlife. John Muir’s words came to me, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” 

- Andrea Doyle