Because of environmental concerns and the cost of coastal real estate, sticking a golf course on the beach or the rocks overlooking the ocean is usually an expensive proposition. So for that reason, U.S. courses with ocean views are actually pretty rare, when you consider how many golf courses there are in America.
But as rare as they are, they certainly exist on each coast, which includes not just the Pacific and Atlantic but the Gulf of Mexico as well.
And since golf courses right on the beach are few and far between, for the purpose of the following list, we're giving it a little bit of latitude. The course must be within a few minutes walking distance to the beach, on a bay or intracoastal waterway. In other words, you've got to be able to smell the salt air.
With that said, here's a rundown of nine golf courses on the Gulf Coast, from South Padre Island, Texas, all the way to the tip of Florida:
Palmilla Beach Golf Resort, Port Aransas, Texas
Located just a few miles from Corpus Christi on the south Texas coast, Palmilla Beach Golf Resort might be the best example of ocean golf on the entire Gulf of Mexico. This Arnold Palmer championship design has a real links feel to it and it’s just steps away from the beach.
Wind is a huge factor, so you'll want to play the ball low and on the ground as much as possible. From several vantage points you can see the sea. The clubhouse restaurant is well above average, and in the summertime, the venue hosts live music from significant recording artists.
Kiva Dunes Golf Club, Gulf Shores, Ala.
You can't see the ocean at Kiva Dunes Golf Club on the Alabama coast, but you sure can feel it, because it's only a thousand yards away. What you can see are natural dunes, wetlands, an alligator or two and a terrific Jerry Pate-designed championship golf course.
The course plays around 7,100 yards from the tips, and even though the fairways are wide, the constant sea breeze brings the course's many hazards into play. There is a great variety of par 4s, and the par 3s have a lot of bite, including Pate's favorite: the 13th, a 175-yard, Redan-style hole with native plants, sand and deep bunkers surrounding an elevated green that slopes front to back.
Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort, Destin, Fla.
There are four golf courses at Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort, and all of them are influenced by the Gulf. But none more than Sandestin's Links Course. Designed by Tom Jackson, this 6,700-yard golf course works its way around Choctawhatchee Bay.
There's water on 14 holes, plenty of sand, wind and trees, so you have to be able to control your ball flight. Best of all, though, there are plenty of great views: No. 7, no. 8 and no. 9 are particularly scenic.
Great Southern Golf Club, Biloxi, Miss.
With a history that goes back more than 100 years and a course designed by Donald Ross, Great Southern Golf Club is an affordable and nostalgic option on the Mississippi coast. It's also the closest to the water, literally right across the street from the Gulf of Mexico with views of the sea from several holes.
The land where the course sits was once owned by Jefferson Davis, and it was originally nine holes with sand greens with sea shell tee boxes. The original clubhouse, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was recently rebuilt and now features a golf shop and the 1908 Bar & Grill.
Moody Gardens Golf Course, Galveston, Texas
The old Galveston Muni became Moody Gardens Golf Course in 2008, thanks to generous funding by the Moody Foundation. Located just a block from the beach, the new Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy design raised the course several feet, made the many water hazards visible, and resulted in redesigned bunkers and greens to make the course the best municipals in Texas.
Best of all, it's now all-paspalum, which pay dividends just a couple of months after it opened when the course was flooded by seawater from Hurricane Ike and escaped relatively unscathed.
Lost Key Golf Club, Pensacola, Fla.
Located on Perdido Key between Pensacola and Gulf Shores, Ala., Lost Key Golf Club has water on just about every hole and some pretty good vistas as well. The course was redesigned by Arnold Palmer Design in 2006, which included re-grassing with Sea Dwarf Paspalum.
With wind usually a key factor and fairways that can be narrow at times, you'll want to play it from a conservative tee. And fortunately there are five choices. (Locals sometimes call it Lost Golf Balls because of how easy it is to dunk it in the water.) Lost Key was the first Florida golf course to be certified as an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary.
The Resort at Longboat Key, Fla.
The Resort at Longboat Key, which is just north of Sarasota on the west coast of Florida, has the 27-hole Harbourside Course and 18-hole Links Course, both of which very much bring the Gulf of Mexico into play.
Harbourside, which was originally designed by Willard Byrd with renovations in 2005 by architect Ron Garl, is inside the barrier island but has plenty of water views. The Links Course (formerly known as the Island Course) is right on the Gulf. Designed by William F. Mitchell, the 6,700-yard par 72 opened in 1961 and features water on all 18 holes.
Raptor Bay Golf Club, Bonita Springs, Fla.
One of two partner courses with the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point (the other is the private Colony Golf & Country Club), Raptor Bay Golf Club is a semi-private course that was designed by Ray Floyd and opened in 2001.
The course isn't right on the beach, but it's just a couple of yards away, meaning you get plenty of ocean breezes. It's also next to a nature preserve and has Gold Signature Sanctuary Certification by Audubon International. The most unique aspect of Raptor Bay is that there are no traditional sand bunkers, only large, waste areas that hug fairways and greens.
South Padre Island Golf Club, Port Isabel, Texas
South Padre Island Golf Club isn't right on the beach, but it's close enough. Opened in 1997 and designed by Chris Cole and Stephen Caplinger, the holes work around the Laguna Madre on the west side of the bay inside Padre Island, just a few miles from the wide-open Gulf of Mexico.
There is zero protection from the wind, and the golf course -- located on the southern-most tip of Texas -- was built to accommodate those types of conditions. On the few occasions during the winter and early spring when a cold front reverses it, it's a completely different golf course and plays most difficult. Ninety-nine percent of the time, however, shorter holes are playing into the wind, longer holes are playing downwind and other holes are meant to make-up for the lack of scoring you get from the difficult holes.