I passed a personal milestone recently. Kicking off a trip to Miami, the Soffer Course at Turnberry Isle Country Club became the 100th Florida golf course I've played.
Living in Florida as I have since 2014, I've been fortunate to travel fairly extensively throughout the state, sampling its surprisingly broad suite of golf course offerings.
Sure, there are plenty of courses with flattish, palm- and palmetto-lined fairways, lots of water and blinding white-sand bunkers. But there are also plenty of fun, classically playable layouts that any golfer would be glad to play every day (from about October through April, at least). Public, private, resort, municipal...there are compelling examples of golf courses of each stripe in the Sunshine State.
Based on my travels so far, leaving out the private courses and only nominating one course per facility, here's an eclectic, alphabetized list of my favorites:
Biltmore Golf Course - Coral Gables
Accessible, classic golf is tougher to find than we golf fanatics would prefer, but thanks to architect Brian Silva's brilliant restoration of Donald Ross' 1926 original south of Miami, a walkable, strategic delight awaits members, guests of the classy Biltmore Hotel and outside visitors alike. Architecture buffs will find it a masterclass in fairway bunkering. $180-$280 peak green fees.
World Woods gets most of the attention in this hamlet an hour north of Tampa, but for my money, Brooksville just beats it out for pleasant parkland golf with a twist. That twist comes in the form of a quartet of holes that Bobby Weed routed through an old quarry. They'll take your breath away, along with a golf ball or two. You have to see this stretch of golf to believe it. $42.
Crandon is a such a throwback to the 1970s that I wonder whether disco balls descend from the coconut palms when night falls. The Robert von Hagge/Bruce Devlin design is pretty straightforward off the tee, but meandering greens and profuse (though shallow) bunkering makes for some strategic intrigue. The hundred-yard-long runway tees on several holes are eye-catching, too, as is the volcano-style par-3 eighth. $176.
Municipal golf is in the midst of something of a renaissance over the past decade, and "The Fort" is its Southwest Florida representative. Steve Smyers breathed new life into the historic Donald Ross design in 2014, and now the course does upwards of 70,000 rounds under the direction of Richard Lamb, who has overseen the course for more than 40 years. $50-$75.
Hammock Beach Resort (Ocean Course) - Palm Coast
Florida resident Jack Nicklaus has left his mark at several facilities across the state, and Hammock Beach has a gem of a Jack track. With half a dozen holes with greens, tees or more set on the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean Course is scenic and quite playable; the windy site likely prompted Nicklaus to lighten up on the greenside bunkering a bit. Finishing up on either the ninth or 18th holes is hard to top for scenery. $160.
Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course) - Palm Harbor
Playing courses the PGA Tour plays is fun, especially when they're reasonably playable for us mere mortals. Copperhead is tough, but the Larry Packard layout's straightforward nature and large greens means that mid-handicap players can get around the surprisingly (to the first-timer) hilly terrain. Visitors will also discover superlative holes that seldom make the TV broadcast, like the up-and-over par-5 fifth. $250.
PGA Golf Club (Dye Course) - Port St. Lucie
Every time I make the 30-minute drive from my home in Vero Beach to play the Dye Course, I both discover some unnoticed nuance of the place and get to lap up the features I've enjoyed from the very first play, like the sublime bunkering along the fairway of the par-5 seventh hole. Superintendent Dick Gray, who has turned disappointing conditions into near-perfection throughout the facility, deserves a tip of the hat for helping the course become its best self. $170.
Streamsong Black - Bowling Green
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Streamsong Black is to golf courses what Tom Waits is to musicians. Both are bizarre, eccentric and easily dismissed by those with rigid tastes. But if you can dismantle some conventionality, you should adore both. Streamsong Black is not the “best” golf course, but it is very important because it advances golf course architecture as an artistic medium much like @tobaccoroadgolf does.
Any of Streamsong's three courses could justifiably be named someone's favorite - it's one of golf travel's great debates - but my favorite is the Black, for its audacity. Architect Gil Hanse turned the green sizes and contouring up to about 15 here, and the result is the most strenuous workout your putter is likely to ever get. Thankfully, the tee-to-green formula is milder than at the Blue or Red courses. $275.
Golf Advisor's own Matt Ginella deserves credit for helping his home borough of Winter Park invest in its quaint, old golf course a few years ago, and architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns deserve wide acclaim for executing a design vision that turned a 2,400-yard routing into a course that is on the cutting edge of the game, specifically because of some traditional golf values - the ground game, the walking game, the community game. $21.
World Woods Golf Club (Rolling Oaks Course) - Brooksville
Brooksville Country Club is a revelation, but World Woods is what golf media and visitors have come to regard it as: an expansive golf nut's haven, with two "big" courses, a huge driving range and a short-course/practice-loop/putting-course complement that was well ahead of its time. As for the main attractions, I prefer the Rolling Oaks Course to the more famous Pine Barrens (for reasons of greens, terrain and course flow), but reasonable golfers can disagree. $119.
There may be some seemingly controversial omissions on this list. In some cases, they're well-known courses I've played that I like, but don't love as much as some. In others, I simply haven't made it to several of Florida's other top-flight layouts. Here are 10 courses I've noted in my research that I sense might give the above 10 a run for their money, and I'd love your thoughts on them and others as well:
- Gasparilla Inn & Club
- Juliette Falls
- Ocala Golf Club
- Palatka Golf Course
- Streamsong (Red)
- TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium Course)
- TPC Sawgrass (Dye's Valley Course)
- Trump National Doral (Blue Monster)
- Victoria Hills Golf Club
- Windswept Dunes Golf Course