Beyond the big names: There's great golf in Florida by unheralded course designers

While golfers understandably flock to courses in Florida designed by golf architect icons such as Pete Dye, Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus, the Sunshine State also has an impressive menu of layouts by lesser known designers.

If you've never played a course designed by architects such as John Sanford, Mike Dasher, Gordon Lewis, Gary Koch and Bill Amick, you haven't fully experienced great Florida golf. Spending endless hours on site -- designing with creativity and innovation and placing a strong emphasis on playability for all skill levels -- are the traits they have in common.

Luckily, courses by unfamiliar designers are located in different parts of the state so you don't have to travel far regardless of where you reside or are visiting.

Orlando

Many golfers are unaware that golf broadcaster and former PGA Tour player Gary Koch is also a course designer. To be sure, his famous "better than most" line can apply to his golf designs as well.

In the Celebration area near Walt Disney World, Koch's Mystic Dunes Golf Club has two distinctive nines, the dunes-style front nine has the feel of an Irish links course, while the Lowcountry-style back nine is dominated by wetlands and oak forests. Koch offers lots of possibilities for run-up shots to greens with impressive collection areas.

At Mission Inn Resort & Club, about a 35-minute drive from Orlando, the Las Colinas Course , which Koch designed in 1992, is a shotmakers delight with large undulating greens and spacious fairways.

Kissimmee

Winter Park-based designer Mike Dasher has several excellent plays in the Kissimmee area situated near the major theme parks.

Dasher is a master at incorporating natural features and creating man-made features that don't appear contrived. Elements such as expansive native sand areas and tall grasses add simple beauty and challenge to his designs.

Dasher courses in the area include Providence Golf Club and Highlands Reserve in Davenport, The Reserve and Crane's Bend Course s at Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, and North Shore Golf Course near the Orlando International Airport.

Ormond Beach

Carved out of a postcard-like setting of ancient oaks, soaring pines and native vegetation, the Bill Amick-designed Halifax Plantation Golf Club in Ormond Beach on the Atlantic Coast is one of the state's more picturesque courses.

Amick -- a Daytona-based architect whose motto is "I want to see smiling golfers on the 18th green" -- has designed more than 75 courses, including other high-profile Florida layouts such as Hidden Lakes in New Smyrna Beach and 7 Rivers Golf & Country Club in Crystal River.

Ocala

One of the most popular golf courses in Ocala is the Gordon Lewis-designed Candler Hills Golf Club .

At Candler Hills, Lewis routed an exceptional layout on former ranch land with subtle rolling hills. He artfully designed the greens to allow for difficult pin placements for tournament play and easier and more accessible ones for amateur golfers.

If you like spectacular features on a golf course, John Sanford's Juliette Falls in the town of Dunnellon has four waterfalls, stunning rock formations and brightly colored wild flowers. It's a fast and firm track that seduces you with beauty and challenges you with a variety of shot angles.

Based in Jupiter, Sanford has more than 60 new design and renovation projects to his credit. In his portfolio of Florida designs are The Links at Madison Green in Royal Palm Beach and The Links at Pointe West in Vero Beach.

Naples and Fort Myers

Veteran course designer Gordon Lewis is based in Naples and he has fashioned some excellent layouts there.

The Lewis line-up in the Naples area includes Arrowhead Golf Club , which has 16 lakes, rolling fairways and large greens; Quail Village Golf Course , a short, 5,000-yard, par-69 layout; and Magnolia Landing Golf & Country Club in North Fort Myers, a lush course that weaves through natural pine forests and oak groves.

A prolific designer in his home state, Lewis has designed more than 20 golf courses in Florida . Some of his designs in the Fort Myers area include the Bear Course and Bobcat Course at Forest Country Club and the Royal Course and Sabal Course at Heritage Palms Golf & Country Club .

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.
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Beyond the big names: There's great golf in Florida by unheralded course designers
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