By Kevin McGeever

The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is a microcosm of golf in Florida: a peninsula of green nearly surrounded by water and bathed in sunshine. 

Look at the photos. Isn’t it lovely? Now try and keep your ball dry.

Featured every year with the PGA TOUR’s Players Championship and appearing probably every day in golfers’ Instagram feeds, this hole is diabolical.

Professionals can hit a 140-yard wedge to a tiny target with their eyes closed, but they have deposited more than 1,000 balls in the water here since the 2003 Players. There’s something about a title on the line and being surrounded by 10,000 spectators who would just as soon see a hole-in-one as a golf ball drowning in a watery grave.

The Stadium Course at Sawgrass is one of the Sunshine State’s more than 1,400 public courses that are available to all golfers. Come and see what would you score at one of the most famous golf holes in the world. Come play the Bear Claw at Hammock Beach’s Ocean Course and dare the towering sand dunes at Streamsong. 

The courses that we are sharing here annually host a dozen PGA, LPGA, and Champions tournaments. The architects include golf royalty such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and visionaries such as Coore & Crenshaw and Gil Hanse. 

Start planning your Florida golf vacation now.

 PGA National - Palm Beach Gardens
-Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

 

SOUTH

The Park West Palm

7301 Georgia Ave.
West Palm Beach, FL 33405
Telephone: 561-530-3810
Map

For most of 70 years, the Dick Wilson-designed West Palm Beach Golf Course was considered one of the country’s best municipal courses — or “munis” — before it closed in 2018. Then a group of local citizens along with Seth Waugh, CEO of PGA of America, had a remarkable idea.

They reimagined “the property as a community gathering space with a number of amenities that include, in addition to golf, youth activities and educational programs, shopping and dining,” Golf Digest reported when The Park opened in April 2023. Tiger Woods, one of the donors, hit the inaugural tee shot.

The Park West Palm is an inspiring social experiment wrapped in a day-night golf entertainment.

The founders’ philosophy is front and center on the website.

“Open Golf. [o-pen golf] adjective - where people of all backgrounds, abilities, and circumstances have equal opportunities to experience and enjoy the game.”

The summer camps, clinics, school-year tutoring, and The Path — an outreach program dedicated to helping young people develop life skills — serve 2,500 children who reflect the diversity of the West Palm community.

“This is by far the best public golf course operation that I have ever been a part of or played,” said Clay Myers II, the Park’s head golf professional.

The golf experience is different, too.

“Un-Florida like in all ways,” PGA of America wrote in February 2024. “It's not just the lack of water that makes The Park stand out in South Florida. There's a ton of width throughout the course that opens it up to hit all sorts of shots. Bunkers lurk, but they don't stifle creativity. Putts from 50 yards off the green are welcome.

“The par-3 Lit 9 (free for children under 12), an 18-hole putting course, two-acre ‘kids-only’ golf area, and lighted two-sided range are constantly bustling with locals of all ages.”

Finally, the Park West Palm is convenient: located just off Interstate 95 less than two miles south of the Palm Beach International Airport.

Tiburón Golf Club

2620 Tiburón Drive
Naples, FL 34109
Telephone: 239-593-2200
Map

Many of Florida’s public golf courses are paired with resorts that encourage visitors to “stay and play.” 

Tiburón Golf Club and the Ritz-Carlton Naples combine a high-end, family vacation experience with the perks of championship golf.

Women’s and men’s tournaments are held annually on the Greg Norman-designed  Gold and Black courses that are consistently rated among the top 20 golf facilities in Florida. 

The Gold course “features stacked sod wall bunkers and no conventional rough and is home to the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship. Nestled among the Florida pines, Tiburón Black uses the natural landscape to feature undulating greens and crushed coquina waste areas.”

Peacock’s Golf Pass, a membership program that offers golf lessons and discounts among its services, also asks its 800,000-plus members to rank the best public courses in America. This year, Tiburón is No. 1.

PGA National Resort

400 Avenue of the Champions
Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
Telephone: 800-863-2819
Map

There are four 18-hole experiences at PGA National, plus a match-play course and a nine-hole short course.

The Champion, originally designed by Tom and George Fazio and updated by Jack Nicklaus, is the boss — one of the toughest tests on the PGA TOUR and a regular on every list of best golf experiences in Florida and the United States.

Only the most daring golfers might play from the “tips,” but there are options. The Champion has five sets of tees for different skill levels.

Whatever hardship you choose, it would be wise to read the pro’s advice first.

When you and your spouse are not golfing, PGA National is also a world-class resort worth a stay.

One example of a stay-and-play package:

  • Package includes two night stay minimum
  • Breakfast for each guest
  • One Round of Golf daily on your choice of Palmer, Estate, Match or Fazio courses.
  • Package includes unlimited range balls, golf cart, bag storage.

Beyond the resort, you are minutes from beaches, shopping, and eco tours.

 Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor
-Downthe18th.wordpress

 

CENTRAL

Streamsong

1000 Streamsong Drive
Bowling Green, FL 33834
Telephone: (877) 834-4382
Map

Phosphate was mined here in rural Central Florida for more than a century, removing “more than a million tons of phosphate rock out of the area, in the process stockpiling 15 million cubic yards of sand, changing the topography, water flows, animals, plants and entire ecosystem,” Flamingo magazine wrote.

And then the mining company had this idea to reclaim the land and develop a “memorable golf resort.”

Twelve years later, Streamsong’s three 18-hole experiences — Blue, Red, and Black — are ranked among the top 100 courses in the United States. The vision to retain the towering sand dunes and unexpected contours of the land’s previous incarnation belonged to architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Tom Doak, and Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. The Chain match-play course, a par-3 layout, and the Bucket putting test complete the experience — all occurring in the solitude of the central Florida countryside.

Beyond the great golf, the resort offers outdoor experiences such as guided bass fishing, sporting clays, and archery. Streamsong’s spa, a European grotto-style sanctuary, finishes off a busy day.

Streamsong is just an hour from Tampa and 90 minutes from Orlando, but the resort’s website reminds: “No highways, no houses or condos, no obstructed sunrises or sunsets. Just the sights and sounds, the flora and fauna, the water and wind of natural Florida.”

Innisbrook Resort - Copperhead and Island

36750 U.S. Highway 19 N
Palm Harbor, FL 34684
Telephone: 888-794-8627
Map

Copperhead has hosted a PGA TOUR event since 2000. The Valspar Championship is the fourth tournament in the PGA TOUR “Florida Swing,” the spring run that also includes the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches, Arnold Palmer Invitational, and the Players Championship.

In a PGA of America course spotlight from October 2023, Andrew Corry, the director of golf for Innisbrook Resort, addressed golfers who want to play where the pros play: “You’ll experience elevation changes, spectacular green contours, challenging shot placements off the tees, and one of the PGA TOUR’s most daunting finishing stretches — holes 16 to 18, also known as 'The Snake Pit,' where many tournaments have been won and lost.”

Innisbrook is 35-45 minutes by car from Tampa, St. Petersburg, and the Gulf beaches.

To play here, you need to stay here. Your daily 18 holes of golf are often part of a lodging package.

Besides Copperhead, Innisbrook offers golfers another 45 holes: the Island and South courses, each 18 holes; and the 9-hole North Course. 

And besides all that golf, there is the resort and its many amenities for a family vacation or romantic getaway.

There are six pools — including the Loch Ness Pool, which has two waterslides — pickleball and tennis courts, five restaurants, and a full-service spa.

Our spa “is a great option for golfers after a few rounds of golf, as we have massages that specifically target the muscles they use while golfing,” Corry said.

Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge 

9000 Bay Hill Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32819
Telephone: 407-876-2429
Map

Bay Hill’s half-century association with Hall-of-Famer Arnold Palmer, who died in 2016, has made this Orlando club a capital of professional golf. 

The Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the PGA TOUR’s premier events that annually attracts one of the strongest fields of the year, is a longtime fixture of the Florida Swing of spring golf tournaments.

While Palmer turned Bay Hill into a vacation destination, it didn’t hurt that Tiger Woods, arguably the world’s most famous athlete at the time, won eight times here between 2000 and 2013.

Golf Digest says of Bay Hill: “It's rather hilly, a rarity in Florida (although not in the Orlando market) and dotted with sinkhole ponds incorporated in the design in dramatic ways.”

Golf Pass wrote: “Bay Hill is one of the cadre of PGA Tour courses playable by us mere mortals. … the opportunity to play a midcentury-modern classic golf course that has hosted the PGA Tour's best for nearly 50 years holds a timeless appeal.”

Bay Hill’s 27 holes are open only to Club members and registered guests staying at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Each night's stay entitles the guest to an 18-hole round on the Champion and Challenger courses.

There is plenty on-site to occupy guests:

  • 27 holes of Golf (including the Charger course);
  • Arnold Palmer Golf Academy;
  • Two-acre Short Game Practice Facility and Driving Range;
  • Fitness Center, three dining locations and three bars;
  • Six lighted tennis courts;
  • A junior Olympic-size swimming pool; and
  • A Marina with great Bass Fishing on the Butler Chain of Lakes.

Beyond Bay Hill, guests are minutes from I-Drive and the theme parks — Universal Studios, Disney, and SeaWorld.

Cabot Citrus Farms

17590 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Brooksville, FL 34614
Telephone: 352-796-5500
Map

The golf destination formerly known as World Woods is now home to Karoo, Roost, the Squeeze and the Wedge. Two revitalized 18-hole golf courses, one 9-hole course, an 11-hole par-3 course, and a new clubhouse are the features of what is now Cabot Citrus Farms.

Golf Digest published a sneak peek.

Course designer Kyle Franz calls his philosophy at Karoo "adventure golf." Some fairways are 100 yards wide — with 11 double fairways and even a triple fairway at the 18th hole. 

"We wanted to build a huge palette for the average player, but for good players to really score, with the severity of the hazards, you have to make very clear decisions. With a lot of our hazards in the middle, it challenges the player to make a very clear decision,” Franz said. “Often it's a very simple, solid strategy that people can think about and react to immediately."

There are 57 holes on the four courses. The par-3 Wedge will offer nighttime play. Additionally, a massive putting green will come with a soundtrack of background music. New accommodations are under construction now.

Cabot Citrus is a worthy day trip from Tampa (1 hour) and Orlando (90 minutes).

 -Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

 

NORTHWEST

The Raven - Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

9300 Emerald Coast Pkwy W
Miramar Beach, FL 32550
Telephone: 850-267-8155
Map

The Raven combines championship golf — as designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. — and the family vacation possibilities that are abundant at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.

Consider the location. Miramar is one of the beaches of Walton County — a 26-mile string of white pearls that, with the emerald surf of the Gulf of Mexico, creates one of nature’s brilliant contrasts.

You will want to stay to play here.

The Raven is carved through the marshes and pine trees of the resort. From the website: “Experience dramatic changes in color and texture throughout the course, such as large, undulating greens that make club selection an essential part of each round.”

A Golf Digest review, which includes a hole-by-hole course map, says: “Both the fairways and the greens have a fair amount of undulation, creating some uneven lies on approaches and testing lag putts. The course is highlighted by the par-3 sixth, which plays to a generous island green. There are bunkers on each side of the green, saving errant shots from finding the surrounding water.”

Hammock Beach Resort Golf Course, Palm Coast
-Spark

NORTH

Hammock Beach - Nicklaus Ocean Course 

200 Ocean Crest Drive
Palm Coast, FL 32137
Telephone: 866-841-0287
Map

“MOST OCEANFRONT HOLES IN FLORIDA,” says the course website. “The Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course plays six holes directly on the Atlantic Ocean. The photo-worthy views are just the beginning. This award-winning course is home to a four-hole finish nicknamed ‘The Bear Claw’ – the most challenging of the whole course.”

In 2024, Golf Digest ranked the Ocean Course as one of the 30 best courses in Florida.

The 8th hole is a 185-yard par 3 that plays directly toward the Atlantic and the possibility of unpredictable winds. Take an extra beat on the putting green to appreciate the view.

Golf is limited to resort guests. The website offers five golf packages.

The most popular deal — Just Golf — is designed for 2-6 guests. The package includes

  • Discount off Accommodations;
  • One complimentary arrival round at The Conservatory Course;
  • One round per person per night on either the Ocean Course or the Conservatory Course.

The Conservatory, designed by Tom Watson, is a nod to British links golf, with streams, waterfalls, and detailed stone work.

Hammock Beach is easily reachable from Daytona Beach (40 minutes), Jacksonville (60 minutes), and Orlando (90 minutes).

TPC Sawgrass

110 Championship Way
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082
Telephone: 904-273-3235
Map

TPC Sawgrass was built in 1980 to become the permanent home of the Players Championship. The Stadium course, designed by Pete Dye, is the first true golf layout built to enhance the on-site fan viewing experience. 

Golf Digest wrote in February 2024: “The 1980 design was pure Pete Dye, who set out to test the world’s best golfers by mixing demands of distance with target golf. Most greens are ringed by random lumps, bumps and hollows, what Dye calls his "grenade attack architecture. … The 17th has spawned over a hundred imitation island greens in the past 40 years.” (Fun fact: 17 was the brainchild of Alice Dye, Pete’s wife.)

The PGA’s “fifth major” is more than one famous peninsula green. North Atlantic beaches are minutes away. 

Sawgrass’ How to Play FAQ includes costs in high and off seasons.

Driving distances to Ponte Vedra Beach are manageable in a day:

  • Jacksonville, 30 minutes;
  • St. Augustine, 40 minutes;
  • Daytona Beach, 90 minutes; and
  • Orlando, two hours.

Places to Remember