Southeast vs. southwest Florida: Where should you take your golf vacation?

For golfers sick and tired of shoveling snow, scraping icy windshields and hitting balls off synthetic grass mats at indoor ranges, there's one universal antidote: head to Florida.

Once the initial decision to venture to the Sunshine State is made, the next step is deciding where to hang your golf visor.

The two most popular places for sun, fun and golf are the southeast region, which includes West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and the southwest region, home to communities such as Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples and Marco Island.

To those who've never visited Florida, the state seems like a homogeneous peninsula dotted with palm trees and golf courses and framed by beautiful beaches. Fact is, there are distinct differences in lifestyle, beaches and golf courses, especially when you compare southeast and southwest Florida.

SE vs. SW: Lifestyle differences

The lifestyle and attitudes in the two regions are as different as Nicklaus and Palmer or Woods and Mickelson.

In the southeast, many of the retirees and visitors are from New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, with a high concentration from New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. These visitors and residents dictate the pace of life in the area, which is a bit faster than the southwest.

A sizeable number of visitors and residents from South America also impact the southeast region culturally.

In the southwest, many of the residents and visitors are from the Midwest. There are also a growing number of part-time residents and visitors from Germany and England.

SE vs. SW: Tee times

Golf in southwest Florida is more of an integral part of every day life than in the Southeast, where it's another (albeit very important) choice in a long list of recreation options.

Southwest Florida has a plethora of golf-course developments, which are heavily concentrated in the Fort Myers and Naples areas. Many of them are private so visitors must plan diligently to get tee times on some of the more popular layouts.

Most of the larger developments in the Southeast are situated near Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Southeast Florida has a phenomenal line-up of world-class golf resorts, highlighted by world-renowned properties such as PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, The Breakers in Palm Beach, Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Aventura and Trump National Doral Miami.

A somewhat smaller line-up of golf resorts is available in southwest Florida, which has high-profile resorts such as Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club & Spa, Naples Beach Hotel & Club and the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples.

SE vs. SW: Beach battle

If you want high-energy beaches, the Southeast has internationally glitzy, Atlantic Ocean sandy enclaves such as South Beach in Miami and Fort Lauderdale Beach. For a naturally beautiful option, the Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne is often mentioned as one of the best beaches in the U.S.

Southwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico is home to more family oriented beaches such as the award-winning Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park Beach in Naples and superb beaches on barrier islands such as Marco Island near Naples, Sanibel and Captiva Islands near Fort Myers, Siesta Key near Sarasota and Anna Maria Island near Bradenton.

On average, the Atlantic beaches are a bit warmer in the winter than the Gulf of Mexico, and a few degrees cooler in the summer months.

Living large

For those who want to retire in Florida, the Southeast and Southwest are among the more popular areas.

The Southeast is more accessible by air with three major airports -- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport and Miami International Airport. Southwest Florida has one major international airport -- Southwest Florida International Airport, which is located between Fort Myers and Naples.

By automobile, the Southeast has two major access arterials -- Interstate 95 and the Florida Turnpike. The Southwest's major communities are easily accessible from Interstate-75, which runs north and south through the region.

Florida has no state income tax so residents in both regions benefit from that perk. Counties in the Southwest or Southeast have sales taxes ranging from 6 to 7 percent.

From a cost-of-living standpoint, food, healthcare and housing costs are comparable. However, southeast Florida has more residents and more choices in shopping, restaurants, hospitals, real estate developments and lifestyle components.

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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Southeast vs. southwest Florida: Where should you take your golf vacation?
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