OK, maybe you've heard of some of these courses, but compared to Florida's famous golf resorts, these qualify as hidden gems. Most golfers, even many of those living in the four corners of the earth, have heard of Florida resorts like Doral and TPC Sawgrass, for example, but that's just the top of a very deep list.
This might be the most difficult list I've ever come up with because I've played so many out-of-the-way resort courses, beautiful and challenging layouts tucked away in idyllic corners of the state, places many visiting golfers might not know existed. Then again, some of these courses are at well-known resorts, just overshadowed by more famous siblings.
But, enough of me whining. Here's the list, in no particular order, and please see the slideshow below of these gems:
- El Campeon, Mission Inn: One of the oldest courses in Florida, with very interesting elevation characteristics. One of the friendliest and most varied resorts you'll ever visit.
- Island course at Innisbrook: Overshadowed by the PGA Tour-ready Copperhead, the owners poured a lot of money into the Island course and it is now one of the prettiest courses in the state, and a good challenge to boot.
- Belleview Biltmore: A classic Donald Ross design, with the tricky crowned greens the architect was known for.
- Renaissance Vinoy: Another old charmer, this short resort course can bite you in the old-school ways, with sand, water and tight fairways.
- Legacy course at Reunion Resort: Most critics rave more about Tom Watson's design here, but I like the Arnold Palmer track with its bold palette of green, white and orange. I think it's a better play, too.
- Camp Creek at the Watercolor Inn and Resort. Simply one of the better courses in the state in a beautiful part of the Gulf coast, near a very underrated resort.
- Hammock Beach: The Conservatory course is overshadowed by the Ocean course - mainly because of the scenery - at this superb, oceanfront resort. I love the Ocean course, but the Tom Watson-designed Conservatory is a big, bold track in the wilds of Flagler county that's an adventure to play.
- Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa: I love the Asian/Floridian feel of the Diplomat course. It's an interesting, exotic mix that requires precise shot-making and it also has some of the best service you'll ever experience.
- Longboat Key Club: I love both courses at this fascinating, smaller resort in one of Florida's most idyllic locales, but if you forced me to play only one, it would be Harbourside.
- The Rookery at Marco: You almost feel like you're at the end of the earth at this stunning Marriott Beach Resort course, but you're actually perched on the edge of the Ten Thousand Islands in southwest Florida, one of the last truly wild places in the country.