Up-and-Coming Courses

By: James Y. Bartlett

ADD TO FAVORITES
Don't overlook Florida's impressive up-and-coming golf courses.

Florida has been described as a long fairway surrounded by sand and water. With more than 1,000 courses in the state, Florida disproves the old saying that "the grass is always greener in the other fellow's yard." Florida's greens stack up with anyone's.

Golf is such a central part of the Florida lifestyle that it's sometimes easy to forget just how many good places there are to pursue the royal and ancient game here.

The PGA Tour comes calling every spring, and it's possible to duplicate the professionals' swings throughout the state, staying and playing at the likes of Miami's Doral Golf Resort and Spa, Orlando's Bay Hill Club & Lodge or the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass. The LPGA and the Senior Tour also play multiple events in the Sunshine State, from Palm Beach to Naples to Tampa.

But swing a golf club almost anyplace at the map and you'll find a great track or three. Florida not only has fine golf resorts in every corner of the state, but some of the best "daily fee" courses in the country. With all this great golf right in your own backyard, why would you go anywhere else?

Florida's big-name golf destinations may garner most of the national attention, but locals have long known that some of the state's best golf is found in up-and-coming locales like Northwest, Central Florida and the Daytona Beach area. Here are some examples:


Beachy Keen

The Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort has been a favorite beachside resort since it opened in 1973. In recent years, however, it has improved and added to its golf facilities and now offers some of the richest resort golf in the state.

With the addition of its newest course, the Raven, in 2000, Sandestin boasts four courses and 73 holes (the Raven has two par-three #16 holes to be played on alternate days).The Raven Golf Club is the work of famed architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. whose brother, Rees Jones, designed Sandestin's Burnt Pine Golf Club in 1994. Sandestin's two other courses, Baytowne Golf Club and the Links Course were designed by Tom Jackson. In addition, Sandestin offers the high-tech Hank Johnson School of Golf, with a full-time staff to provide the latest golf instruction.

On the Raven, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. decided against using tricks and gimmicks, and built a straightforward, traditional golf course. Of course, that doesn't mean it's a pushover! There are water hazards on 13 of the 18 holes, and the par-three sixth features a green floating in the midst of a lagoon. But as Jones points out, except for that hole and one other, there are no forced carries over water. Instead, there are twisting and turning fairways, smallish greens tucked into wooded settings, bordered by sand and water, and the usual challenges of the wind sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico.

One other non-traditional aspect of the Raven course is the twin-holes 16th. The two par-three holes (16-A is 228 yards from the tips, 16-B is 172) are alternated so golfers who want to play the same course every day will still have a different look.

The Raven also features unusually proficient customer service. Golfers are greeted at the door, clubs are whisked away to the carts and a "player assistant" is assigned to each group to handle bunker raking, club cleaning, yardage advice and even ordering snacks and refreshments.

The level of golf found at the nearby Burnt Pine course is just as high. With views across Choctawhatchee Bay, it has been considered one of the best in Florida since it opened in 1994.

Sandestin's two other tracks, the sporty Baytowne and the brawny Links course, wind through the resort's many different neighborhoods.

Sandestin offers an amazing choice of accommodations as well as the Village of Baytowne Wharf, a collection of bayside shops, eateries and night clubs. Of course, ever popular is the gorgeous sugar-sand beach along the Gulf. There are few places on the globe where one can find such perfect beaches within a chip shot of the top-quality golf waiting at Sandestin.


Luxury in the Middle

The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is directly adjacent to Walt Disney World and right in the middle of the tourist hubbub that makes up Orlando. It's been said before, but if you can't have fun in this theme-park, theme-restaurant and theme-flavored part of the world, you're not trying very hard!

Yet the Grand Cypress has always taken a more stately approach. Although it's right in the heart of the action, it is a quiet, dignified oasis amid all the bright lights and excitement. The hotel is filled with exquisite works of art and its dramatic atrium lobby makes a statement. The grounds surrounding are lush and private, with Oriental garden ponds and streams creating a sense of peace and tranquility. And the 45-hole golf complex at the Grand Cypress is truly one of a kind.

Thank Jack Nicklaus for that. Not only did the Golden Bear design the three challenging and watery nines that have hosted professional tournaments in the past, but he also constructed a replica of the famed Old Course of St. Andrews, Scotland. Grand Cypress' 18-hole "New Course" boasts many of the features of the original: undulating fairways, pot bunkers, double greens, wee burns and even a white-washed fence around the last hole. It may not have the bracing cold winds off the North Sea, but most golfers will gladly forgo that bit of authenticity!

The Grand Cypress Academy of Golf is one of the finest teaching facilities in the world. There, visiting golfers will find acres of practice grounds, putting greens, chipping greens and practice bunkers as well as three practice holes. A full-time staff of experienced pros offers programs year 'round, complete with the latest high-tech video teaching aids. Don't be surprised to see a famous PGA Tour pro hitting balls on the range. Many of the Orlando-based players come out to Grand Cypress to practice.

Grand Cypress Resort also features a 10-acre Equestrian Center offering both dressage and hunter/jumper instruction and trail rides, an expansive Racquet Club for tennis lovers and a 21-acre lake for water sports. Business groups keep the convention facilities busy all year long, and Camp Hyatt provides plenty of daily activities for the younger set.

Dining at Grand Cypress ranges from the high formality of the La Coquina room to the shirtsleeve, open-air informality at Hemingways, a Key West knockoff.

For a long weekend getaway filled with plenty of great golf, luxurious accommodations and top-notch service, there aren't many places that can match the experience found at Grand Cypress.


All For One in Daytona

Words that spring to mind when one hears "Daytona Beach" are "Speedway," "Race Week" and "Great Beach." Golf is not usually the first association one has with Daytona Beach, even though the area has some great courses. Golf Daytona Beach was organized several years ago to fix that.

This marketing cooperative was designed not only to raise the awareness of the golf courses in the area, but also to make it extremely easy to book golf vacations. The organization has won the joint approval of some 21 public-access courses in the Daytona Beach area, as well as 32 hotels and motels to jointly market and promote golf. With just one call, a golfer can book hotel reservations and advance golf tee times at any of the participating facilities.

The selection of golf courses is indeed remarkable, with famous architects such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Rees Jones, and Arthur Hills represented in the choice of golf. The two exciting courses at LPGA International, home of the LPGA Tour, are on the list, as is Palmer's Matanzas Woods and Nicklaus' Ocean Hammock. Another highly rated track is Halifax Plantation Golf Club in Ormond Beach, and the tried-and-true Indigo Lakes, which once hosted pro tournaments, is a Daytona course not to be missed.

The list of hotel accommodations is varied and covers all price ranges. Of course, Daytona Beach also offers its familiar attractions: Daytona International Speedway and DAYTONA USA, miles of spectacular Atlantic beaches, and all the fun restaurants, shops and nightclubs that have made Daytona a favorite of families for generations.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

More By James Y. Bartlett

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