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The ultimate golfer’s guide to Florida, from A to Z

February 15, 2018

Nothing eases a winter chill quite like a March trip to the Sunshine State, when the PGA Tour makes its Florida swing, beaches glisten, spring-training is going full blast, and… 1,200 beautiful courses beckon. For golfers looking for the best in courses and travel in Florida, let’s spell it out, from A to Z.

A IS FOR ARNIE Nearly 18 months after Arnold Palmer left us, his Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando beautifully maintains Arnie’s aura with mountains of memorabilia, a Top 100 resort course and nearly 40 years of PGA Tour history. For buddies and couples, the cozy lodge and golf facility remain the definitive homage to The King himself.

B IS FOR THE BREAKERS The Breakers in Palm Beach not only rolls out Florida’s grandest hotel and one of its most historic golf courses, it offers up its swankiest room: the 1,700-square-foot Imperial Suite. An eight-seat dining area and wet bar are highlights, but the showstopper is the Atlantic Ocean view, best accessed by five private balconies. Expect to pay the princely price of $8,000 per night in high season.

C IS FOR CRAB Feeling fishy? Florida’s most iconic eatery is Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami’s South Beach. A Sunshine State staple since 1913, Joe’s serves up sweet, succulent stone-crab claws to first-come first-served devotees who save just enough room for a slice of key lime pie.

D IS FOR DISNEY As a getaway for the young and young-at-heart, Disney World can’t be beat. Not only does it beckon with the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, water parks and endless lodging options, its golf is surprisingly magical, too, with three championship 18s (host to the Tour for 42 years) and a nine-hole, family-friendly walking course called Oak Trail.

E IS FOR ESTERO Florida’s best Jack Nicklaus–designed public plays? Our rankings tab Hammock Beach’s aptly named Ocean course, in Palm Coast, where Michelle Wie won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. But strong support also emerges for Old Corkscrew in Estero, five miles north of Bonita Springs, in the Naples area.

F IS FOR FAZIO Tom Fazio can claim design credit for more than 40 tracks in Florida. His most recent must-play resort spread is Tranquilo at Four Seasons Resort Orlando, a makeover of Osprey Ridge, a course he first created in 1992 for Disney’s Bonnet Creek Club. Tranquilo is exclusive to hotel guests, but it’s well worth the splurge to sample elevation changes unusual for the area, not to mention wetlands and wildlife.

G IS FOR GREG NORMAN The Shark (or Greg, if you insist) has enjoyed a remarkable run as an architect, with 12 Florida designs or redesigns among his lifetime tally of 93. The best you can play are: Grande Lakes at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando; Omni Champions Gate’s National and International, near Orlando; and Tiburon’s Black and Gold, in Naples, home to both the PGA and LPGA Tours in 2017.

H IS FOR HOUSTON Baseball fans flock to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a two-year-old state-of-the-art facility that’s the spring training home of the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros, as well as the Washington Nationals.

I IS FOR INNISBROOK Ernie Els is one of many who tap Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead as “the best course the PGA Tour visits in Florida.” Home to the Valspar Championship, Copperhead also has a superb sibling, the Island course, where Phil Mickelson won the 1990 NCAA Championship.

J IS FOR JUPITER Hungry? Pay homage to Tiger’s exploits at his restaurant, The Woods, in Jupiter. Tiger’s personal dinner favorites are the calamari appetizer served, he told me, “not too spicy,” the rib eye “cooked medium well,” and “spinach on the side.”  

K IS FOR KEY BISCAYNE Situated on a barrier island 10 minutes from downtown Miami, and offering sensational views of the city skyline and Biscayne Bay, is Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne. This sand- and water-drenched upscale muni hosted the PGA Tour Champions from 1987-2004, with winners that include bunker masters Lee Trevino and Gary Player.  

L IS FOR LONG POINT Florida’s best kept secret may well be Long Point at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. This semi-private Tom Fazio masterpiece 40 minutes north of Jacksonville darts among forests and salt marshes and features back-to-back par 3s on the Atlantic Ocean.  

M IS FOR MCILROY In a state that leads the nation in outstanding private golf communities, Rory McIlroy’s home turf, The Bear’s Club, in Jupiter, is perhaps the most exclusive. With a strong and gorgeous Jack Nicklaus course, a 40,000-square-foot, Tuscan-themed clubhouse, and famous faces such as Michael Jordan, Michelle Wie and the Golden Bear himself, a game at the Bear’s lair is an envied invitation. 

N IS FOR NICKLAUS The most appropriate nickname for a short stretch of golf holes is “The Bear Trap,” Nos. 15, 16 and 17 at PGA National Resort & Spa’s Champion course. Crafted by Jack Nicklaus in 1990, these amazing scorecard wreckers annually wreak havoc at the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic. 

O IS FOR ORLANDO Course connoisseurs yearning for a stateside St. Andrews Old Course replica need look no further than the New course at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando. With deep bunkers, double greens and loads of semi-blind shots, Jack Nicklaus’s 1988 design is a spot-on homage.  

P IS FOR PGA GOLF CLUB Public-access PGA Golf Club at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie is all you could want for quality, variety and value. Two excellent, affordable Tom Fazio creations (Wanamaker and Ryder)—along with a superb Pete Dye design and a Jim Fazio 18 across I-95—pair with a six-hole Short Course, a 35-acre practice ground and superb instruction.  

Q IS FOR QUARRY No course in Florida is as distinctive as Tom Fazio’s Quarry at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto. Holes 13 through 17 play around and over a yawning, 100-foot chasm lined with white limestone rock. Stay & Play packages let visitors sample this private community course. It’s off the beaten path but well worth the effort. 

R IS FOR REES AND RTJ Sandestin Resort in the Florida Panhandle is an outstanding all-ages coastal retreat, and also the venue to experience golf architecture’s most legendary rivalry. It’s the only resort that features side-by-side championship courses from battling design brothers Rees Jones (Burnt Pine) and Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Raven). Play them both—they’re that good. 

S IS FOR STREAMSONG Streamsong Resort boasts the golfiest vibe at any public-access facility in Florida. Three tremendous courses (including the state’s best new layout, the Gil Hanse–designed Black), outstanding caddies and two world-class clubhouses make the unique if remote destination worth the journey. 

T IS FOR TRUMP Politics aside, Donald Trump has influenced Florida golf like few others. Trump National Doral in Miami is one of the game’s most historic resorts. Its renovated Blue Monster has proven to be a formidable tournament test. Trump International Palm Beach presents an acclaimed Jim Fazio Championship course, and Trump National Jupiter sports one of Jack Nicklaus’s most compelling if underrated designs. 

U IS FOR UNDER-THE-RADAR Under-the-radar is where World Woods sits, thanks to its out-of-the-way locale 50 miles north of Tampa. Still, with two superb, value-priced Tom Fazio designs (Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks), a nine-hole executive course and a massive, 22-acre rectangular practice facility, World Woods deserves must-visit status. 

V IS FOR VICTORIA HILLS The best Florida course you’ve never heard of—and unquestionably one of the best values in the state—is Victoria Hills in Deland, half an hour southwest of Daytona. This 17-year-old Ron Garl track zigzags between towering pines and sprawling sand splashes. The top rate is $59; you can walk it after noon for $30. 

W IS FOR WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME Gary Player and Ben Crenshaw agree: “If you love golf, you’ve got to go” to the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine. The Hall is crammed with memorabilia, interactive exhibits and monuments to the greats, and the surrounding World Golf Village is home to the excellent Renaissance St. Augustine Resort and a pair of terrific layouts, the King & Bear and the Slammer & Squire.

X IS FOR X The most likely hole to post an X on your scorecard is the infamous island-green, par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass’s Players Stadium course. It’s 137 yards of pure terror.  

Y IS FOR YBOR CITY A National Historic Landmark District since 1974, the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa is home to cobblestone streets, Cuban coffee cafes, authentic cigar factories and celebratory nightclubs.

Z IS FOR ZELLWOOD Zellwood Station is a quality public track a half-hour northwest of Orlando. And if that “doezn’t” work for you, the Tampa area’s Zephyrhills Muni, at a top rate of $24, will do nicely.