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Mission Inn Resort & Club shows off old Florida history

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It’s only a 35 minute drive north of Orlando, but Mission Inn Resort & Club is a world away from the hustle, roller coasters and faux super heroes. The 1,100-acre resort in the rolling hills (yes, hills) of Central Florida this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary of ownership by the Beucher family.

Family-owned resorts, particularly in Central Florida, are rare, which makes Mission Inn (www.missioninnresort.com) even more of a treat, from its 200-room hotel, two golf courses (El Campeon and Las Colinas) Spanish Colonial style plaza, 6,200 square-foot spa and 50 slip marina. General Manager Bud Beucher (whose father Nick bought the property in 1964) oversees staff that is attentive, aware and seems to know each guest by name.

Located in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., Mission Inn traces its roots back much farther than the Beucher family. In 1916, William J. Howey purchased 60,000 acres of real estate in Central Florida intending to create the largest horticultural empire in the world. He also opened what was known as the Florida Inn.

The following year, Howey hired George O’Neil to complement the Inn, boost sales and create incentive for additional growth. O’Neil was a Chicago based architect and golf professional whose best known work prior was Beverly Country Club in Chicago.

Howey gave O’Neil a canvas that included 85-foot elevation changes that he used to near perfection. If you think Central Florida is flat as stale root beer, one round at El Campeon (7,100 yards, par 72) will change your mind. Now 97 years old, El Campeon, which features water on 13 holes and two peninsula greens, is one of Florida’s oldest golf courses – and one certainly not to be missed especially by aficionados of early 20th century golf course design.

The Gary Koch-designed Las Colinas course opened in 1992 and is a good complement to El Campeon’s. Although longer than El Campeon, Las Colinas (7,230 yards, par 72) is flatter and more forgiving. Full disclosure: I didn’t like Las Colinas the first time I played it more than 20 years ago, but the second time around was a great experience.

The combination of El Campeon and Las Colinas gives Mission Inn a solid one-two punch in its battle for the golf bragging rights in the Orlando marketplace. In fact, it’s not unusual for golfers visiting Orlando to make the drive up to Mission Inn for swings at El Campeon and Las Colinas.

“One third of our business is tied to golf,’’ said Drew Toth, Mission Inn’s director of sales and marketing.

In addition to golf, Mission Inn also has a skeet and trap shooting range and an eight-court tennis complex.

Although it’s always been popular with Lake County residents (the Saturday night Prime Rib and Seafood Buffet is a must), as well as with brides (the resort does around 100 weddings annually), Mission Inn once again wants to be a significant player in the Orlando and environs marketplace.

The guestrooms, for example, are being updated and now feature lighter tones; new air conditioning is being installed; and the outdated slider doors in each of the guestrooms are being replaced by new sliders.

“Two-and-a-half generations of family ownership,” Toth said. “The family is making money and putting money back into the resort. It’s a pretty nice place to be.

“This is a very real experience here at Mission Inn. We all get tired of big brass and glass - but that’s not mass America. People who know about Mission Inn love it here.’’

Next time you’re in Orlando, make the drive to Mission Inn. Chances are you will love it, too.

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