Best-selling author, mentor, land steward and philanthropist Heather Ash Amara summed it up perfectly: “Change is inevitable but transformation is by conscious choice.”

With that in mind, Central Florida’s Mission Resort + Club is beginning a signifcant irrigation investment that will lead to a makeover of its beloved El Campron course. Built in 1917 by George O’Neil, El Campeón is one of the older courses in the South, with a classic design featuring unusually sharp elevation changes in the typically flat central Florida terrain. It has played host to multiple high school, college and state professional tournaments.

El Camperon is one of two outstanding course at Mission Inn + Club, the other being the Gary Koch-designed Las Colinas.

Mission Resort is home to two wonderfully complementary and picturesque golf courses, and the older of the two, the El Campeón (The Champion) layout, is currently undergoing an extreme makeover of its irrigation system.

Built in 1917 by George O’Neil, El Campeón is one of the oldest courses in the South with a classic design featuring unusually sharp elevation changes in the typically flat central Florida terrain. It has played host to multiple high school, college and state professional tournaments.

“We always intended to do the irrigation at El Campeon first,” said Cindy Staley, the resort’s general manager. “The irrigation won’t be too disruptive. It will take out a couple of holes at a time, but at times it’s really the rough that gets more done on it. .We”ll do it during the week as much as we can, so we can sort of be free over the weekends.”

The irrigation project is expected to take up to three months depending on the weather.

For Bryan Mulry, who named Director of Golf at Mission Resort + Club in March 2023, El Campeón’s irrigation renovation will make a huge impact on the playing experience.

“This irrigation investment just shows that the ownership is making significant improvements to the overall golf experience, and that golf experience is the golf course,” said Mulry.  “This demonstrates a passionate commitment to the guest experience and the resort.”

Mission Resort + Club, which is located outside the tucked-away town of Howey-in-the-Hills just a 35-minute drive northwest of Orlando, is owned by MMI Hospitality Group. Its hotel management division – MMI Hotel Group – operates the resort.

Shortly before the December, 2022 purchase, the future owners met with Danny Parks, the resort’s Director of Agronomy, to discuss the most pressing needs.

“We toured the golf course, and they asked for my top needs,” Parks said. “And one of those was improved irrigation. After discussing with them, and with Chuck Moore, the Superintendent at King and Prince (Mission Resort’s sister property on St. Simons Island, GA..), we all decided that irrigation would be the number one item that we wanted to renovate on the El Campeón golf course.”

With that green light, plans were made for El Campeón to have HDPE (high-density polyethylene) pipes laid out and a Toro irrigation system – including 1,230 sprinkler heads – installed, along with a two-wire path to communicate to buried decoders plus a new pump station.

“We will have upgraded communications with the pump station where we can log in remotely and determine that it is running correctly,” Parks added. “Same story with the irrigation system – we can log in remotely and watch the it run. We’ll now be able to control the water better and introduce irrigation to areas where it has not been in the past.

“We’re going from 950 sprinkler heads to 1,230 heads, and this will give us much better coverage and more updated knowledge of coverage. Instead of the single row of irrigation we might have had 30 years ago, we will now have anywhere from two rows to six rows on some of the larger holes which gives us more coverage – and that means better conditions and growing grass. Plus, the increase in sprinklers will allow us to run less water per head because we will have superior coverage.”

The benefits of the irrigation system upgrade will greatly enhance the uniqueness and beauty of a facility that Mulry has already marked out as a “must-see and must-play” golfing destination.

“It’s a unique place because when you drive here, you don’t feel the hustle and bustle,” Mulry said. “Once you come into Howey-in-the-Hills, you’re in a very different part of Florida. There is just one gas station and all of a sudden you take a left turn into the resort and it only has one entrance, which kind of tells you that it is unique. It is very quiet here and secluded like a ‘kept secret’. It’s a very special place.

“Also, there are not too many places where you can play two different courses on the same property in one day and they are unique because they are two very different layouts. You have one course on undulating landscape with water on a lot of strategic holes and then you have another one cut through the residences and the tree lines which gives you a very different look and character.”

Along with golf, Mission Resort + Club offers an abundance of attractions for romantic couples, vacationers, hikers, cyclists, racquet sports enthusiasts, eco-tourists and fresh water anglers. The resort features four restaurants and a spa.

Mission Resort + Club features distinct Spanish Colonial architecture and offers 176 hotel guest rooms, 131 deluxe rooms, 38 club suites, four one-bedroom suites, two two-bedroom suites and one penthouse suite with three bedrooms.

Photo: El Campeon (Mission Resort + Club)