Florida's Best 18 Holes
Picking the best 18 holes - one by one.
With more than 1,000 golf courses in the state and counting, picking the best 18 - by hole number, not by whole course - is no easy task. Playing them might be harder!
In assembling the Dream 18, I've tried to achieve a certain amount of balance. It would be easy to construct a course with 18 of Florida's longest holes, but a good golf course has a balance of good short and long holes-those with lots of water and those with tricky doglegs or deep bunkers. I've tried to create a standard par-72 course, and to select holes from every corner of the state. And it goes without saying that these are all courses the public can play.
The result? Our imaginary championship course plays to 6,975 yards from the tips. We think shooting even par would test even Florida's own Tiger Woods.
No. 1. New Course, Grand Cypress Resort - Orlando. Par 4, 362 yards.
Jack Nicklaus designed this homage to Scotland's famed Old Course at St. Andrews, and while it's tough to recreate North Sea conditions in balmy central Florida, this first hole is a pretty faithful rendition. Short and wide open, it's the second shot across the local variation of the Swilcan Burn that calls for precision.
No. 2. Belleview Biltmore Golf Club - Clearwater. Par 4, 408 yards.
This jewel of a course, designed by Donald Ross, is a centerpiece of the historic old resort. The second hole, long, narrow and tightly guarded by trees and ponds, sets the tone. And the typically tiny crowned green will repel all but the most accurate approach shots.
No. 3. Wanamaker course at PGA Village - Port St. Lucie Par 4, 418 yards.
The PGA of America's excellent golf facility boasts three Championship courses by Tom Fazio and Pete Dye at PGA Golf Club, a six-hole short course, the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance and the PGA Museum of Golf. Wanamaker course is a classic Florida layout: rolling terrain with lots of wetlands, palms and palmettos. The third, a beautiful par-four, calls for a carry over water from the tee to a divided fairway and heavily bunkered, rolling green.
No. 4. Pine Barrens at World Woods - Brooksville. Par 5, 494 yards.
This great Tom Fazio-design utilizes sandy, scrubby waste areas like Pine Valley in New Jersey. This risk-and-reward par-five allows a safe route, but those who want to challenge the sandy wasteland can get home in two for a possible eagle with two strong shots.
No. 5. Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation - Amelia Island. Par 3, 152 yards.
While many of the holes on this Bobby Weed-designed course look like typical Lowcountry golf, skirting wild marshes and stately live oaks, this hole and four others border the broad Atlantic beachfront. Open to the breezes, club selection on this hole is always tricky.
No. 6. Championship course, Bay Hill Club & Lodge - Orlando. Par 5, 555 yards.
Always a highlight hole during the PGA Tour's annual stop on Arnie's home course, the long, narrow fairway wraps around a lake from tee to green. Players have to decide how much water to cut off - twice. John Daly guessed wrong during one tournament: He plunked several balls in the drink on his way to a fat 18.
No. 7. Blue Monster at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa - Miami. Par 4, 428 yards.
Palm Trees at the right hand corner of this dogleg left block out drives right or through the fairway that end up behind them. Playing a draw from the tee is best. The position of the fairway bunkers gives average golfers more room to drive the ball. The left-fairway bunker, with its steeper lip is more intimidating for PGA TOUR players. The Green's left side slopes down to the left into a chipping area.
No. 8. Rolling Oaks course at World Woods - Brooksville. Par 3, 174 yards.
If Tom Fazio designed the adjacent Pine Barrens course to resemble Pine Valley, he is said to have had Augusta National in mind at Rolling Oaks. This devilish short hole resembles Augusta's famous No. 12 - over water to a narrow green, with swirling winds. Take a three and move on!
No. 9. Ocean Course at Hammock Resort - Palm Coast. Par 4, 468 yards.
This fairly new course is high profile: Jack Nicklaus designed it and the ninth and eighteenth holes both run parallel to the Atlantic Ocean beach. This extra-tough hole is usually at the mercy of the wind and requires two hearty blows to get to the sand-protected green.
No. 10. Nicklaus Course at the Wyndham Bay Point Resort - Panama City Beach. Par 3, 108-168 yards.
With yardage ranging from 108-168 yards, do not let this short par 3 trick you into making an easy par. An abundant amount of water looms left. A bailout area is to your right, but be careful of the water as well.
No. 11. The International course at ChampionsGate - Davenport. Par 5, 550 yards.
Australian-born Major Champion Greg Norman laid out this course in open, windswept, treeless terrain, and this long par-five, with water lurking down the left, and scrubby waste areas just off the fairway, can play into the teeth of the prevailing wind.
No. 12. King and Bear course, World Golf Village - St. Augustine. Par 4, 412 yards.
This co-design by Nicklaus (Bear) and Arnold Palmer (King) is a most enjoyable ride through the piney woods and wetlands. On this hole, a good drive avoiding water on the left sets up a challenging approach to a small green bordered by more water.
No. 13. Emerald Dunes - West Palm Beach. Par 4, 395 yards.
A newly private club, this Fazio design is well worth playing. The unlucky thirteenth wraps around a lake on the left tee to green, but it's the approach to a tiny green that looks like its floating in the lake that can test the nerves of the coolest golfer.
No. 14. Burnt Pine Golf Club, Sandestin Resort - Destin. Par 3, 212 yards.
Just one of 18 great holes designed by Rees Jones on Chocktawatchee Bay, this is a hit-and-hope shot across the wetlands marshes with the bay and its breeze in the background. The shot must carry at least 200 yards to avoid disappearing in the marsh.
No. 15. TPC Tampa Bay - Lutz. Par 4, 452 yards.
The closing stretch of holes at this Bobby Weed/Chi Chi Rodriquez course is among the toughest in the state and annually challenges the Champions TOUR players. A great tee shot on this long dog leg left par four will be one that hugs the left side of the fairway, safely avoiding the out-of-bounds markers on the right and narrowly avoiding the long lagoon and a large bunker down the left side. The approach shot is then usually a mid to long iron into the narrow green with that same lagoon lurking on the left. No problem!
No. 16. Copperhead course at Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort – Palm Harbor. Par 4, 460 yards.
Good finishing holes should have drama and increasing difficulties, and this one has both. From a hilltop tee, the narrow fairway is protected by water to the right and trees to the left. Finding the ribbon of fairway is just the first problem: One must then thread a long-iron through a narrow gap in the trees to find a two-tier green. Par is a great score on this hole.
No. 17. Stadium course, TPC at Sawgrass - Ponte Vedra Beach. Par 3, 138 yards.
Arguably the most famous golf hole in the world, Pete Dye's infamous island green gives even seasoned golf pros shivering fits at the annual Player's Championship. Check the wind, pick the right club and try to make a smooth swing.
No. 18. Champion course, PGA National Resort - Palm Beach Gardens. Par 5, 528 yards.
In a state filled with great closing holes, this one reigns supreme. Rather than brute strength, one must carefully plan the attack. With thirteen bunkers, lake from tee to green, and an S-shaped fairway - not to mention a usual breeze - it takes three carefully crafted shots to reach the green, which is tiered and tricky.