Where the Golf Pros Play -- and You Can, Too
Florida’s tournament courses are also open to amateur golfers.
How many college football fans get to run around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, pretending to be Tim Tebow? How many baseball fans get to take a few swings at Yankee Stadium? Right – very, very few. Not so in golf. Golf fans can play the same legendary courses on which Hall of Famers have made history.
Here in Florida, the PGA Tour has a rich history, and you can play the same courses where Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and other greats of the game have played.
The pros don't pay to play these gems. The rest of us have to pony up, so we've included green fees, though you can usually do better by booking packages.
PGA National Resort and Spa
Palm Beach Gardens (Honda Classic, Feb. 25-March 3, 2013)
The tournament has been around for what seems like eons (OK, since 1972), and by the time it moved to PGA National in 2007, it was known as the Honda Classic. Since then it has been among the tour's top-10 in scoring difficulty.
Holes 15-17 on the Champion course, where the tournament is held, are known as the "Bear Trap," and are among the toughest on tour.
Green fees: Starting at $334. You must be an overnight guest or have a membership to play.
TPC Blue Monster at Doral
Miami (WGC-CA Championship, March 6-10, 2013)
The rough is the name of the game here. That's why you'll see a lot of the pros using fairway woods off the tee. If you play this course near tournament time, you'll see the kind of difference serious rough can mean to your scorecard.
Dick Wilson designed it, with renovations by Raymond Floyd, and the course has hosted a PGA Tour event every year since 1962. It's nearly always in top-notch condition, whether the pros are showing off or not.
Green fees: $210-$325
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook – a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort
Innisbrook (PGA Tour Event. Dates not yet set for 2013.)
The tradition of the Copperhead Course is growing, but is maybe not as famous as some other Florida courses, such as the Blue Monster. But, the pros certainly know about it.
Ernie Els said Copperhead is "the best golf course the PGA Tour plays in Florida," a notion seconded by Stewart Cink. Curtis Strange said, "I could play this course for the rest of my life and enjoy it – it has that much character."
Green fees: $150-$250
Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge
Orlando (Arnold Palmer Invitational, dates not set for 2013. Usually played the third week of March.)
If you want to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the golf gods, look no further. Arnold Palmer owns the course, and past winners of his tournament include Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples.
Bay Hill is a 27-hole complex made up of the Challenger, Charger and Champion nine-hole courses; the Challenger and Champion comprise the Championship Course on which the tournament is played. Water hazards are ubiquitous – ask John Daly who got wet six times on No. 6 during a tournament.
Ponte Vedra Beach (The Players Championship, May 7-13, 2012)
The 17th at the Stadium course is the hole that gets all the publicity – and spawned a hundred imitators – but those who haven't played the course should know the rest of it isn't exactly a walk down easy street.
It's a typical Dye design in that he has built in unseen hazards and other tricky, visual delights to mess with your eyes. The closing stretch is one of the most difficult in golf.
Green fees: $245-395
If You Go
PGA National Resort and Spa: 800-863-2819; 400 Avenue of the Champions, Palm Beach Gardens; pgaresort.com
TPC Blue Monster at Doral: 305-592-2000; 4400 NW 87th Ave., Miami; doralresort.com
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook – a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort: 800-492-6899; 36750 U.S. Highway 19 North, Innisbrook; innisbrookgolfresort.com
Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge: 407-876-2429; 9000 Bay Hill Blvd., Orlando; bayhill.com
TPC Sawgrass: 904-273-3235; 110 Championship Way, Ponte Vedra Beach; tpc.com/sawgrass