Florida’s Wild Blue Yonder: Lake County, Florida
31 Aug, 2011By: Juli Anne Patty
Make no mistake: Lake County, Florida, has a lot of lakes. With over 1,400 lakes sprinkled across its 1,156-square miles, Lake County has more than its fair share of water sports opportunities. But this is one dazzling Florida destination that goes way beyond everyday expectations.
Lakes are just part of Lake County’s striking landscape, surrounded by rolling hills, dotted by orange groves, enveloped in the pristine flora of “Historic Central Florida.” Lake County’s physical beauty entices thousands of visitors each year, but with world class training and competition facilities, seriously committed service and a community that’s as friendly as it is picturesque, the cities and countryside of Lake County bring back visitors and athletes alike again and again.
“We’re large in territory, but we’re a close community,” says Kathy Pagan, tourism coordinator, Lake County Tourism. “Lake County isn’t the big city, but we have great facilities, unforgettable outdoor sports opportunities and just a really wonderful quality of life.”
But Lake County’s facilities are more than just great: they also happen to be world-renowned.
The National Training Center
A prime example is the National Training Center (NTC) in Clermont, Florida. A 300-acre sports, health, fitness and education campus, the NTC brings together the ultimate team for the world-class athletes who train here. Led by two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Dot Richardson, M.D., the NTC offers warm weather training for professional, collegiate and high school teams and individuals with a state-of-the-art fitness center, aquatic center, track and field complex, cross-country course, multi-purpose athletic fields, softball/baseball quadraplex and sports performance.
“The NTC has excellent sporting venues and ancillary facilities along with an experienced diverse staff that together create an ideal environment to assist athletes and coaches in their training and competition. Our ultimate goal is to help individual athletes and teams reach their fullest potential and achieve their dreams,” explains Richardson. “With the NTC located in Lake County, every team and athlete receives the best of both worlds – the ability to focus on their athletic goals without distraction in beautiful surroundings while still being close enough to all the fun that central Florida has to offer.”
Mission Inn Resort & Club
A top-notch sports facility within an exceptional resort destination, Mission Inn Resort & Club is a 36-hole paradise of golf. Mission Inn brings golfers and event organizers back over and over for the enchanting golfing experience, underscored by the club’s traditions of excellence and hospitality, distinctive Spanish architecture and award-winning recreation.
Mission Inn’s golfing experience is more than just beautiful though. It boasts rare tee-to-green elevation changes of 85 feet, towering forests and nationally revered courses. The National Golf Course Owners Association named El Campeón (The Champion) the 2009 Florida Course of the Year. Former PGA Tour player Gary Koch designed Las Colinas (The Hills), which opened in 1992, garnering an immediate "Best New Resort Course" nomination from Golf Digest magazine.
Home to American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events, the Hurricane Junior Tour, numerous men’s and women’s NCAA golf tournaments, and the Invitational Golf Tour of America (IGTA), a professional mini tour, Mission Inn is a preferred golf destination that brings events back year after year. Additionally, Mission Inn is home to the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, which trains junior golfers from around the world to become some of tomorrow’s best professional golfers.
With over 24 golf courses, Lake County truly offers a golf destination for golfers of all skill levels.
Created as a unique, recreational waterfront park, Hickory Point debuted on the sports scene in February 1992. With 12 paved boat ramps, including two that can accommodate deep-draft vessels, and ample parking for vehicle and boat trailers, the park offers amenities to accommodate anglers of all kinds.
While fishing is a major draw in Lake County, Hickory Point’s appeal goes far beyond the rod and reel. The highlight of Hickory Point is its two-story, screened picnic pavilion with first-floor picnic tables and barbecue grills and second floor banquet rooms, which provide unique and picturesque meeting space or event headquarters. The pavilion can accommodate small groups or large gatherings of up to 275 people.
“Hickory Point is a great place to cool off beneath the old Spanish Oaks. It’s really a lovely location,” says Pagan. “People love Hickory Point, especially the anglers, and we’ve hosted Bassmasters, Crappie Masters, and many other fishing groups.”
The ideal spot for large tournaments, Hickory Point also offers features that make it great place for spouses, kids and fans, including a swimming beach, boardwalks, outdoor picnic areas with barbecue grills, open-field play areas, nature trail, playground, horseshoe pits and a sand volleyball court.
Lake Louisa State Park
Lake Louisa is the largest in a chain of 13 lakes connected by the Palatlakaha River, which is designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway. Lake Louisa, Dixie Lake, and Hammond Lake, the park's most accessible lakes, provide access for fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Triathlons, one of Lake County’s most prominent and popular sports events, are frequently held there, including the Lake Louisa Sprint Series, a six-race series of sprint triathlons organized by the National Training Center in Clermont.
Lake Louisa offers 4,500 acres of outdoor sports opportunities, but the park also features a few smart surprises, including 20 affordably priced two-bedroom cabins with amenities that trump even some hotels. Lake Louisa also features camping facilities, more than 15 miles of horse trails, over 20 miles of hiking trails with excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing, a fishing pier, canoe/kayak launch, and a picnic pavilion.
Clermont Waterfront Park
Known as the "World Triathlon Destination,” Clermont, in central Lake County, has hosted more than 250 triathlons, including numerous regional and national championships. Clermont Waterfront Park is one of the city’s most popular triathlon facilities and home to a long-standing and popular race, the Great Floridian Triathlon, which draws athletes from all over the nation. A six-event collection of races, which includes an ultra distance, long course and sprint triathlons, the Great Floridian is a celebrated triathlon tradition. Athletes in the ultra-distance triathlon begin in the park with a 2.4 mile swim in Lake Minneola, then bike across 112 miles of rural Lake Country roads, including a climb up Mt. Sugarloaf, the second highest point in Florida. They finish with a 26.2-mile run along South Lake Trail before finishing back at the park.
The Wild Blue Yonder
Not surprisingly, Lake County also offers a serious amount of water sports opportunities. The renowned World Wakeboarding Center in Groveland, Florida trains students at all skill levels, and has hosted many of the sport’s feature events. Riding facilities include four lakes, jumps, sliders, kicker, three wakeboard boats, a dining room, recreation room TV lounge and sleeping facilities.
Like hiking trails for paddlers, the Lake County Blueways offer 130 miles of waterway trails. The Blueways’ physical and geo-positioned markers make canoe and kayak access easy and also guide trail users through the waterways, which include an abundance of scenery and wildlife. The Lake County Community Blueways Project identifies scenic waterways that feature nearby amenities for paddlers, making them an ideal location for recreational and competitive paddling.
The Lake County Secret
Florida is famous for its year-round subtropical climate and sports friendly environment. What has set Lake County apart from the rest of the state are the year-round outdoor sports-friendly climate and an abundance of world class training and competition facilities nestled in a serene landscape full of rolling hills, oak trees covered with Spanish Moss and natural lakes.
“We’re also very sports friendly. We make sure you have easy access on our roads and waterways, wide areas for bikes, and we support all sporting events,” says Pagan. “We’re happy when the county fills up with visitors who are here to play, and we’re here cheering them on, too.”
Even better, paradise comes with convenience. Just a half hour or less to the big-city amenities and attractions of Orlando, Lake County puts your event close to the action while keeping your event easy, affordable and, most of all, a big success. Find out more at www.lakecountyfl.gov/visitors/.