World-Famous Links

By: James Y. Bartlett

Nationally recognized, award-winning golf courses make Florida a links haven.

Florida is blessed with some of the top-rated courses in the country, along with resorts that are renowned the world over. The following venerable golf courses may be well-known, but they are constantly reinventing themselves by adding new amenities and redesigning course layouts.

A Taste of the Low Country

Omni Amelia Island Plantation has always been something of a Florida anomaly. Just south of the Georgia border near Jacksonville, Amelia Island is more low country than South Beach. Like other low country barrier islands that dot the coast to the north, Amelia is covered with beautiful live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, bordered by acres of salt marsh on one side and the hard-packed Atlantic beach on the other and dotted by hundreds of dark and romantic lagoons.

It is a piece of the Old South dropped atop the bustling spirit of the New Florida, and the contrasts are appealing both to families, who can bring their children and let them loose on the bike paths and playgrounds, and to golfers, who can tackle the excellent courses found at Amelia Island Plantation.

Famed architect Pete Dye did some of his earliest work at Amelia Island Plantation. With an upgrade from local architect Bobby Weed, the Amelia Links is now a 36-hole facility that comprises the Oak Marsh and Ocean Links courses. Most of these holes are Dye's brand of golf: visually intimidating from the tee, but with a good bit of fairway lurking in the distance. But trying to find a green tucked between marsh, beach and the hazards of bunkers or water is always a task made difficult by Dye's artistry.

While the Oak Marsh course plays in and around the forests and open marshlands, the Ocean Links course features a handful of holes along the beach. These Scottish-inspired, links-style holes call for brave shots into ocean breezes to find tiny, hard-to-hold greens. Ocean Links features some of the wildest golf experiences to be found in the state.

Amelia Island Plantation offers a wide variety of accommodations. Those who want full service can book an ocean-view room or suite in the Amelia Inn and Beach Club; while more independent travelers can choose from a wide menu of villas, with one- to three-bedrooms, full kitchens, dining/living areas and balconies or patios overlooking ocean, golf course or lagoon.

The resort is a paradise for families, with bike trails, nature walks, crabbing docks, supervised kids programs and miles of beautiful beaches. Grown-ups can play here too, as Amelia Island Plantation offers top-notch meeting and convention space, an expansive tennis complex and a handful of excellent restaurants. Pristine state parks, historic sites and charming Fernandina Beach with its scenic harbor are just minutes away.

Neapolitan Golf

The secret is out on Naples. For years, it was one of those hidden getaways known only to the few cognoscenti. If you wanted bright lights and big cities, you didn't go to Naples. If you wanted warm sun, peace and quiet, friendly people and lots and lots of great golf Naples was, and is, just the ticket.

It's all still true. In fact, Naples has all the style and panache of Coconut Grove or the Palm Beaches, just in a different way.

If there is a quintessential Neapolitan place, the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club may be it. It's one of those quaint, family-owned hotels (65 years and counting) where guests return year after year.

In 2000, a $30 million renovation at the "Beach Club" included an elaborate new golf clubhouse and spa. In addition to the pro shop, locker rooms, full-service health club and spa, the building also contains more meeting space.

The golf course is a 1929 jewel that was upgraded by Florida architect Ron Garl in the 1990s. Marked by magnificent mature oaks and stands of palms, and dotted with lagoons and lakes, the course is a traditional delight. Like a good resort course, it does not try to overpower the golfer and rewards good shots. Still, the course offers a good battle, with large greens and overhanging trees. And once a year, they grow the rough and mow the greens down to challenge some of the state's best players in the annual Florida State Senior Men's Open.

The hotel's Everglades Room offers dining overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. High tea is served in the afternoon in the hotel's elegant lobby. In summer, the lawn by the beach is often used for weekend jazz concerts under the stars. These activities perfectly fit the homey atmosphere of this family-oriented resort.

A motorized trolley stops at the front door to take guests the short blocks into downtown Naples' bustling shopping district. On Fifth Avenue and Third Street South, art galleries sit side-by-side with couture shops, cappuccino bars next to ice cream shoppes. If one somehow gets tired of lolling on the perfect Gulf beach, the magical mysteries of the Everglades, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Big Cypress Preserve are just a few minutes drive to the east.

Naples may be a secret no longer, but the enduring values of the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club vacation go on and on.

A place called PGA

In a state filled with famous golfing places large and small, few carry the authoritative weight of the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens. The golf courses here have hosted major national championships and the international Ryder Cup.

There are no less than five 18-hole courses to choose from at the PGA National Resort. The most famous of the group is the Nicklaus-designed Champion course. This difficult and dramatic course hosted the 1987 PGA Championship, the 1983 Ryder Cup Matches as well as Senior PGA Championships.

There is not a weak hole on the entire course and, with more than 107 bunkers and water in play on 16 holes, barely a chance to relax over a single shot. But the heart of the course is the famous "Bear Trap" – the 15th, 16th and 17th – two par 3s and a par 4 all surrounded by water where survival is the hope and par is something to celebrate. Many a tournament round has been dashed on this stretch of challenging golf.

But the Champion is just the beginning of the golf fun at PGA National. The Arnold Palmer-designed General course has a Scottish feel, with undulating fairways and a links-style layout. The Estates course was originally the Stonewall Country Club and the Haig course, named in honor of the great Walter Hagen, was the original layout at the resort. The Squire course, honoring Gene Sarazen, opened shortly after.

Those who find that their game is in need of repair can venture over to the David Leadbetter Academy, which features a large staff of qualified professionals and an excellent teaching program. Daily clinics and weekly golf school programs are available. The PGA National Resort also offers a world-class health and exercise facility, and it's not unusual to see touring pros from the PGA, Senior PGA or LPGA tours working on their abs in the fitness center.

But there is more to life than golf, sacrilegious as that might seem. PGA National offers a lavish spa experience, including massage, water therapies, innumerable special treatments and services and outdoor mineral pools that feature relaxing waters from around the world. The hotel's chefs provide healthy spa cuisine as an alternative on every menu, and the staff will provide guests with comprehensive fitness evaluations and even take-home exercise programs.

To replace some of the calories lost playing golf or exercising, the resort's restaurant selections include Ironwood Grille and iBar.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

More By James Y. Bartlett


You are signed in as:null
No comments yet