At a black-tie gala to celebrate the grand opening of the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, developer David Mitzner, a former prisoner of war, spoke about the origins of the project. "There was one interchange that did not belong to Disney," said Mitzner, referring to the land off Interstate 4 near Walt Disney World Resorts. "I looked at it, I liked it, but at the time, I never knew what I was going to do with it."

Seventeen years later, it all came into focus.

On December 4, fireworks and a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring special guest Arnold Palmer heralded the arrival of the newest player in the competitive Orlando-area resort and meetings market. Palmer, along with golfing greats Lee Trevino, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, and others were there to participate in the Office Depot Father-Son Challenge tournament held at the resort’s Championsgate Golf Club. The lobbies and receptions were buzzing with talk of bumping into the golfers, some of whom were also staying at the hotel.

The golf tournament was just one of the highlights. Some 550 invited guests, including meeting planners, were on hand for the celebration, dubbed The Fine Art of Hospitality. Through golf, receptions, and art displays, the hosts showed off the resort’s upscale accommodations and amenities: 730 guest rooms and suites; 27 meeting rooms and 70,000 square feet of meeting space; two ballrooms totaling 45,000 square feet; a European-style spa; two fine-dining restaurants; two bars; two championship golf courses designed by Greg Norman; and the world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. The Championsgate Golf Club won Corporate Meetings & Incentives’ 2004 Golden Links award for the best new golf course.

As you drive in under the "Championsgate" gate, you realize that it’s more than just a resort—it’s a community. The 1,500-acre property also includes condominiums and retail shops and will soon have villas and townhouses. The hotel cuts a commanding presence on the landscape, rising 16 stories, making it the tallest building in Osceola County.

"Sensible luxury, natural beauty," is how Paul Pebley, director of marketing, describes the property. Pebley sees it as an attractive alternative for groups that prefer a "peaceful, quiet, and rejuvenating" setting. With golf courses off the back entrance and all the necessary meeting accommodations on site, the resort offers a contained as well as controlled environment for meetings without the distractions of theme parks and other activities to pull attendees away from their work. But not to worry, for those who want to enjoy the Disney experience, it’s just a few miles down the road.