'Snowbird School:' Polk County

    By Tim McDonald

    As part of an occasional series geared toward our visiting golfers/snowbirds, I like to highlight different counties and regions and their golf options, in case you're still deciding where to visit in Florida.

    If you're one of Florida's regular Michigan snowbirds, you've probably familiar with Polk County because the Detroit Tigers have their spring training site in Lakeland.

    If not, here's a little deeper look into the county and its golf, Located geographically almost in the dead center of the state, between Tampa and Orlando, Polk County is a largely rural area, much different from Florida's big cities.

    You can be close to the big-city attractions of Tampa and the theme parks of Orlando – as well as their numerous golf courses – but return to the rolling, serene hills of Polk County.

    As for the golf, there are more than 500 holes within a 50-mile radius. Lakeland is the home of Ron Garl, one of Florida's more celebrated architects who has some outstanding designs nearby, including the Club at Eaglebrook.

    But, the best course is without a doubt Southern Dunes in Haines City. Other top courses include Highlands Reserve, the Golf Club of Bridgewater and Diamondback Golf Club, south of Haines City. I've played them all and every one is a bargain.

    Like other off-the-beaten-path golf destinations in Florida, green fees are very reasonable here, especially when you consider the quality of the golf.

    The average January temperature here is 61.2 degrees, which accounts for the fact the county was once one of the most visited areas in the state by winter tourists. That's why you'll see the names of some of the best of the golden age golf architects on several area courses.

    So, if you're looking for a laid-back, rural area with excellent golf options, while still being able to take the children and grandchildren to Space Mountain, Harry Potter et al, you couldn't pick a much better place than Polk County.