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Wellness 101: Hidden in the Hills of Florida

Editor’s Note: This post is one in a series featuring the journey of wellness guru and golf enthusiast, A.J. Ali, who is traveling through every state in America while playing golf as a way to raise awareness for healthy living.

After losing his father and brother to health-related illnesses and after a close call with a blood clot and pulmonary embolism two years ago, A.J. has dedicated his life to living well and sharing his experiences to encourage others to focus on wellness.

My mission during my 101 days of travel across America is simple – to seek and share that which brings us more fulfilled lives. Last week my tour brought me to an amazing golf course in Central Florida.

I first became aware of the Mission Inn Resort & Club in 2003 when I met a member of the Beucher family at the PGA Merchandise Show. The family has owned the property for 50 years, but until day six of my journey, I simply thought of the Mission Inn as a place hidden in the hills somewhere north of Orlando.

There’s an ancient saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” That being said, it’s no coincidence that I felt a sudden urge to cancel some of my more pedestrian plans and instead feature Mission Inn as Florida’s wellness destination in my 50-State Challenge.

Mission Inn 2

The drive from Orlando to Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., was easy and after settling into the spacious room overlooking the magnificent 17th green on El Campéon, I headed straight to the clubhouse where I was warmly welcomed by a woman named Helen. When I told her about my wellness journey, she revealed that, upon quitting smoking, she ceased having bronchitis attacks. I love meeting people like Helen and hearing their success stories.

I went out as a single on El Campéon (The Champion), a nearly 100-year-old course abundant with character and charm. With the late-day air slightly thick and the sun shining bright, this 18-handicapper shot a 104 and loved nearly every minute of it. Every hole offered a different gift of nature or design. I met a baby gator, an elderly turtle and what seemed like 100 different species of birds on my 14-clubbed nature tour.

Mission Inn 3

The course rewarded me with a bogey on hole No. 17 and I chipped and one-putted my way to a near-dark par on the 18th. When the putt rattled the hole, I did a spontaneous “Phil Mickelson won the Masters, two hands raised, 6-inch leap off the ground” that was both exhilarating and embarrassing. Lucky for me, there were no fans or cameras to capture my scene.

Never has such a challenging course rewarded me with such a feeling of peace, even after each triple bogey. I felt like I was sparring with the great Muhammad Ali and at the end of the day he knocked me out, but he did it with such grace and style that I can’t wait to go back and do it all over again.

This weekend you can find me in Virginia, Maryland and then Washington, D.C. Next week, I’ll be making my way to Delaware, New Jersey and New York. I hope to see you at one of my tour stops!

For more updates, my schedule of wellness stops and plenty of photos and videos, visit


Cover photo courtesy of Mission Inn Resort and Club.

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