Mission-style architecture is common in Florida, not surprising when you consider that the Spanish were the first European explorers to leave their footprints on the state’s sandy soil.
But at the Mission Inn Resort and Club, 35 minutes northwest of Orlando, the stucco walls, red-tile roofs, cloistered courtyards, fountains and arched doorways have a more recent inspiration.
It was in 1939 that resort founder Nick Beucher, 21 at the time, rode across Mexico on horseback with a friend. The 1,400-mile journey followed Beucher’s long recuperation from a broken leg, suffered in a rodeo accident.
Thirty years later, Beucher, by then a successful meat-packing industry executive, built a resort on land he had bought in Central Florida.
Trek across Mexico inspired resort’s style
It was his jaunt across Mexico that inspired the appearance of the 1,000-acre resort, which today encompasses an inn, villas, two golf courses, a clubhouse, a marina and a golf community. Between the inn and a rental pool of villas, the resort has 190 accommodations.
The Mission Inn Resort and Club is run by Nick Beucher’s six children, two of whom, Bud Beucher and Donna Line, are actively involved in day-to-day operations. Beucher is vice president and general manager; Line oversees golf and membership.
Nearly half of the resort’s acreage is undeveloped, which makes the property seem like a nature preserve. “You might see an alligator sunbathing on the 17th hole or an eagle’s nest, protected on the property,” said Kristina Cullison, director of marketing and public relations. A feeling of seclusion makes it easy to forget that Orlando is near.
“It is a complete contrast to someplace right outside the park [Disney World] or in the city or near the city,” said Cullison. “You are insulated and enveloped.”
Golf is top draw
Because of the reputation of the resort’s courses, golf is the main draw.
The original course, El Campeon — the Champion — has been ranked among the top 10 of Florida’s 1,500 courses. Built in 1917 to lure the rich to tour orange groves and invest in them, El Campeon was redesigned by Scotsman Charles Clarke in the 1920s, and late last year, it was reopened after a renovation that restored aspects of its original design.
Mission Inn’s second course, Las Colinas, opened in 1992. Designed by former PGA Tour player Gary Koch, it was nominated as Best New Resort Course by Golf Digest.
“El Campeon is the better known, but Las Colinas gives it a run for its money,” said Cullison. “They are two very different golf courses.”
El Campeon capitalizes on the surprising Florida hills that inspired the name of the nearest town: Howey-in-the-Hills. Tee-to-green elevations are as much as 85 feet. Las Colinas is not as elevated, a longer course and more typical of Florida.
“Groups that are here for several days definitely want to play both,” said Cullison.
Three sports academies — Etcheberry Sports Performance, Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy and Sixth Sense Tennis Academy — have been the resort’s partners for the last several years.
Corporate meetings of 60 to 70 have been a mainstay at the resort, but its business also includes retreats, social golf outings and association gatherings.
Courtyards in high demand
The resort’s 30,000 square feet of meeting space includes outdoor spaces, which are in high demand.
Among those spaces are three courtyards, which adjoin indoor function space. With tile floors, tiered fountains and thriving plants, the courtyards act as oases, relaxing spaces where meeting attendees can go for sunshine, fresh air and easy conversation.
“Who wouldn’t want to be out in the Florida sunshine for a break or for lunch?” said Cullison.
Aside from the Legends Ballroom in the golf clubhouse, all meeting space is in the resort’s main complex, where all guest accommodations, except villas, are located.
Most guest rooms have private screened balconies; upgrades, such as flat-screen televisions, may be on the way in 2011. Privately owned two- and three-bedroom villas are part of the resort’s rental pool.
In addition to the courtyards, groups can have casual events in a pavilion at the marina, where cypress trees provide shade and meeting attendees can fish or take a boat ride on Lake Harris, the fourth-largest lake in the state. Boats of all descriptions can be rented; fishing poles are at the front desk.
Full-service spa arrived in 2008
A 6,200-square-foot, full-service spa was added two years ago to keep the resort in step with its peers. There are eight tennis courts and an outdoor pool.
The resort’s recreational options make it more appealing for meeting goers. “It allows meeting planners to offer recreation in their program, and it allows the attendees to come early or stay late,” said Cullison. “We provide respite and a natural setting and recreation on site.”
Ultimately, what makes Mission Inn different is its founding family’s commitment. The owners live on property and are accessible to those who work for them. “It is nice to talk to the owners every day,” said Cullison. “They have consistently made a commitment to treating this place as if it was their own home.”
Cullison practically grew up at the resort, working at the front desk as a teen. She later got married in one of the courtyards, and when she was offered the chance to return a couple of years ago, she didn’t hesitate to leave a job at a larger property in Orlando.
She likes the challenge of promoting a smaller property that doesn’t have ties to a national chain.
“We don’t have a big flag and ready-to-go marketing,” she said. During more than four decades, the resort has proved capable of the challenge, Cullison says.