Florida's Top 10 Public Golf Courses

By: Kevin Kenny

With more than 1,400 golf courses in Florida, it's sometimes overwhelming to pick a course. Here's a handy top 10 guide to some of the best public courses in the state.

From Key West to Pensacola, Florida occupies 54,253 square miles of diverse topography, making the state a great place for golfers with varied tastes. From the windswept, low-lying coastal areas in the southern part of the peninsula to the rolling hills of Central and North Florida, you’ll find more than 1,400 golf courses. And thanks to our temperate climate, many of these courses are open year ‘round.

With so many choices, the problem isn’t finding a course – it’s choosing a course that suits you. To guide you on your next Florida golf trip, I’ve created my list of Top 10 Best Public Courses in Florida.

My compilation of public, non-resort golf courses is based on personal experience and the respected opinions of fellow PGA professionals. There are many fine courses outside my top 10. I encourage you to try to play them all.

1) World Woods, Brooksville

Located in Brooksville, an hour north of Tampa International Airport, World Woods is a golfer’s paradise. This Tom Fazio-designed complex is in a natural setting with no adjacent homes.

The two championship courses are Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks. Pine Barrens is a top 100 golf course that’s often compared to Pine Valley. Rolling Oaks is not as highly rated but still a great layout. Additionally, there is a nine-hole short course and a three-hole warm-up course adjacent to one of the best driving ranges in the country.

2) Orange County National, Orlando
A 45-hole facility, Orange County National in Orlando has played host to the PGA TOUR Q-school finals. The Panther Lake and Crooked Cat championship courses are complimented by the nine-hole Tooth course and a huge practice facility that’s unrivaled in the Orlando area.

3) Polo Trace, Delray Beach
Polo Trace
offers a unique links-style layout designed by PGA TOUR player Joey Sindelar and Karl Litten. The course offers gentle elevation changes and is the only course I’ve played that has back to back to back par fives (holes 9, 10 and 11).

4) Southern Dunes, Haines City
A top 100 course, Southern Dunes is located in Haines City, about 22 miles from Walt Disney World. This Steve Smyers layout is built on a central Florida sand dune and features rolling fairways with huge greens complexes. It’s a test for even the best players.

5) SouthWood, Tallahassee
Built on a former plantation, SouthWood is Tallahassee's best public course. PGA TOUR player Fred Couples and architect Gene Bates did a wonderful job of routing the course through rolling pasture land framed by ancient live oaks.

6) Crandon Golf, Key Biscayne
Crandon Golf is a Devlin/Von Hagge design located on beautiful Key Biscayne. This Australian design team routed a wonderful course through the low-lying mangroves, offering challenging holes with some great vistas. Even if your game is not sharp the day you play, you can't help but enjoy the tropical scenery.

7) Kelly Plantation, Destin
Kelly Plantation is a Couples/Bates design located in the beautiful Northwest Florida town of Destin. Adjacent to Choctawhatchee Bay, this award-winning course meanders through unique North Florida wetlands with little environmental impact.

8) Waterlefe, Bradenton
Located in Bradenton, Waterlefe offers a great course that borders the beautiful Manatee River. The golf course designer, Ted McAnlis, took great care in routing this course so as not to disturb the natural setting along one of Florida's prettiest rivers. In winter, it is not uncommon to witness manatees along the 15th tee.

9) Eastwood, Fort Myers

Eastwood is a city-owned and -operated Devil/Von Hagge design located just off I-75 in Fort Myers. Unique to Southwest Florida, this course is set in an undisturbed, natural setting with no homes and plenty of wildlife. The designers did a great job of creating rolling fairways on an otherwise flat tract of land. The greens complexes are well guarded by bunkers and the occasional water hazard.

10) PGA Golf Club, Port St. Lucie
PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie offers 54 holes of championship golf and one of the best golf learning centers in the country. Tom Fazio designed two of the courses, while Pete Dye designed the third. The Fazio courses offer traditional Florida-type layouts, while the Dye course is more of a Carolina-style course.

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