Florida's Best Golf Courses
By James Y. Bartlett
These top 18 golf picks take you around the state.
In the Miss America pageant, the judges have to choose one winner from a field of 50 beauties. In baseball, 28 teams play all year long, but only one wins the World Series. In golf, especially in the Sunshine State, you can find a good golf course within a few miles of anywhere.
But choosing the best? That's tough. Instead, I've selected a list that ought not to be missed. All of them are either resort or daily-fee courses, so anyone can play them all. It's up to you to choose your favorite.
With lots of great courses in Central Florida, a few stand out. The Championship course at the Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge is Arnold Palmer's winter home and host of his annual PGA Tour tournament. It's long, tough and always in top condition.
Two of the best daily-fee courses in the area are the ChampionsGate, where Greg Norman's International course is a fine, open design through rolling terrain; and the two courses at Orange County National. Both have extraordinary practice and teaching facilities.
Seaside/South Walton Area
The Rees Jones-designed Burnt Pine course within the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin is a classic resort golf experience. Beautiful views of Chockahatchee Bay from many fairways – and the signature 14th, a par three over the marsh to an island green – add to the pleasure of a round here.
Crystal River Area
The golf facilities at World Woods in Brooksville are unduplicated anywhere in the country. Tom Fazio's Pine Barrens course is magnificent, with fairways running through a sere landscape of piney scrub and sandy waste. The adjoining Rolling Oaks is also very good.
St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area
The Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf and Spa Resort in Palm Harbor features four courses including the Copperhead course: a long, tough layout which hosts the Tampa Bay Championship.
The TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz has hosted a Champions Tour event since 1992 and is the longest continuous stop on the Champions Tour. The larger and unusually fast greens can be infuriating and present the best defense to a good score on a solid, enjoyable golf course.
The 36 holes at Tiburon designed by Greg Norman, are not to be missed. Wide open fairways, but tricky approaches define the game here.
The resort private Waldorf Astoria Naples (239-659-3700, www.waldorfastorianaples.com) – accessible to members and guests staying at the Waldorf Astoria and Edgewater Beach Hotel – is a great Rees Jones layout with surprising holes around almost every turn.
St. Augustine Area
THE PLAYERS Stadium course at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass should be in a museum: it's the finest example of the target golf design anywhere. Never mind the famous island-green 17th - the other 17 holes on this course are a fascinating experience in both mind and ball control.
Flagler Beach/Palm Coast Area
The Ocean Course is the first new golf course in decades to feature holes along the oceanfront and has the most holes along the ocean in all of Florida. Designer Jack Nicklaus did a great job mixing long and short holes through the piney woods and lagoons. The seaside finish ain't bad, either.
Fort Pierce/Vero Beach Area
The multi-course PGA Village in Port St. Lucie (two Fazio, one Dye course) offers hole after hole of lush fairways, hidden pins, lurking lagoons and fast greens.
Palm Beach Area
At the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, the golf menu includes the Champion course, host of the 1983 Ryder Cup Matches and 1987 PGA Championship.
Play where the pros play at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami. The famous Blue Monster course always offers a double-handful of challenging shots, especially on the last.