In the early morning of July 31, 1715, all but one of a dozen ships carrying treasure from present-day Havana, bound for Spain, sank in a hurricane. The disaster, which claimed more than 1,500 lives, also stranded considerable gold and silver riches along the ocean bottom just off the central-southern coast of Florida.
In the 1960s, salvagers made small fortunes scavenging for the remains of these and other nearby shipwrecks, leading to the Vero Beach Press Journal coining the term "Treasure Coast" to refer to a trio of oceanside counties: Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin.
The Treasure Coast does not quite share the name-recognition and sheer population of the "Gold Coast," which runs from Palm Beach County down past Miami. But the somewhat quieter tone of life has attracted retirees, Snowbirds and families to communities like Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie and Stuart for decades. I have lived in Vero Beach since 2014.
Golf along the Treasure Coast is of a high quality, and often less expensive than that found farther south. There are, if you'll pardon the treasure-hunting metaphor, plenty of hidden gems to be unearthed here by traveling golfers willing to explore a bit.
The best golf available to Treasure Coast visitors is at PGA Golf Club, the centerpiece of the PGA Village development in Port St. Lucie. The three-course complex, which plays host to the 2021 PGA Professional Championship, is a prime golf destination. The club mixes in some outside play - both local and through stay-and-play packages via the on-site Perfect Drive Villas - with a large and vibrant membership that absolutely adores the game.
The prime winter season brings dozens of current and retired PGA club professionals down to play in tournaments and generally work on their games. As a result, there is a constant buzz of energy around the club, with as high an average golf-IQ as you are likely to see anywhere. The maintenance staff, led by new superintendent Clay DuBose, keeps all three courses in exquisite shape year-round.
The best of PGA's three courses is the Dye Course, designed by the late master himself and opened in 2000. Though it may be overshadowed in his portfolio by more scenic layouts like Kiawah's Ocean Course and Whistling Straits, plus the prestige of TPC Sawgrass, I would nevertheless put Pete Dye's effort at PGA Golf Club in the upper echelons of his work. The course offers terrific variety among its 18 holes, anchored by four stout long par 4s and as dynamic a set of par 5s as I have seen in Florida. Dye's genius as an engineer shows here, too, as despite being routed around a 100-acre swamp, the course drains beautifully and typically plays firm and fast.
The Tom Fazio-designed Wanamaker and Ryder courses, which the PGA is using for the 2021 Professional Championship, are strong options as well. Recent refinements include the broadening of the bunkering into the bright-white clamshell shapes that mark Fazio's work at several courses, including Seaside at Sea Island resort in Georgia. One other significant change on the Ryder Course has been the shortening of the 10th hole from a short par 4 to a long par 3, granting the club the space to add a fine short-game area to its already strong practice facilities.
In-season rates at PGA Golf Club can top $150, but considering that several prominent South Florida courses regularly charge twice that, you should consider a round here a bargain. If you find yourself in the area in the summer, you'll have to deal with some serious heat and humidity but sub-$60 rates here make PGA GC an incredible value.
10 more notable public golf courses on the Treasure Coast
Sandridge Golf Club (Vero Beach)
Full disclosure here: I play most of my home golf at the Ron Garl-designed Dunes and Lakes layouts at this county-owned facility. It may be a muni, but it is phenomenally well-run, very well-kept and affordable to play, with a large crowd of regulars. All of this comes together to make it feel like a people's country club. Many other munis could learn a thing or two from Sandridge. Of the two courses here, I prefer the Dunes, whose back nine runs over part of the long sand ridge that runs from the center of the state down along the coast. Peak-season green fees: $52.
Vista Plantation (Vero Beach)
Executive courses can be hit-or-miss, especially when they're routed through retirement condo complexes that might as well be called Del Boca Vista. This is a good one, originally designed by Arthur Hills in the 80s. Small, often tilted greens that were replanted with Champion Bermuda in the last few years make the short par 4s and eclectic par 3s here a nice, quick test of your short-iron and wedge game. $33.
Meadowood Golf & Tennis Club (Ft. Pierce)
Sam Snead spent the last couple years of his life living alongside this 1970s Charles Ankrom design, which was originally called Panther Woods. Though it's routed through a residential community, the corridors are pretty spread out so the course never feels cramped. A few flanking ponds that are hidden from view off the tee may snag first-timers. LPGA Tour player Jackie Stoelting can often be seen practicing here; her husband Travis is the head pro. $52.
Fairwinds Golf Course (Ft. Pierce)
This St. Lucie County-owned course was designed by Jim Fazio over the top of a former landfill, capped with sand. It's a fun course that is free of housing, giving it a peaceful and relaxed feel. $55.
St. Lucie Trail Golf Club (Port St. Lucie)
This challenging George Fazio design opened as PGA Country Club in the late 70s, and later became a satellite, fourth course for PGA Golf Club. It was spun off a few years ago and is currently working its way back towards fully private status once it has reaches a critical mass of members. In the meantime, it's well worth playing. $80.
The Fox Club (Palm City)
This formerly private club originally known as Cobblestone has an interesting history. Its early ties to organized crime groups in the northeast make for some colorful stories, including one legend that an enraged wife crashed the family car into the clubhouse out of anger with her philandering husband. Things are calmer now at this Roy Case design where accuracy off the tee is at a premium. $69.
Hammock Creek Golf Club (Palm City)
This Nicklaus Design layout mostly manages to avoid the typical Florida real estate pitfalls of excessively narrow corridors, thereby giving players a sporting chance throughout the round. GolfPass instructor and longtime Golf Channel instruction guru Martin Hall makes his home in the community here. $95.
The Florida Club (Stuart)
New ownership a couple years ago prompted some renovations of this thoughtful, low-profile course originally designed by former PGA Golf Club superintendent Dick Gray and inspired by Gray's longtime friendship with Pete Dye. The closing stretch of 16 through 18 - two par fours sandwiched around a long par 3 - is very strong. $95.
Sailfish Sands Golf Course
Opening around May 1 is the former Red/White course at Martin County's municipal facility. Architect John Sanford took a tired, underutilized 18-hole layout and fashioned a reversible 9-holer whose routing will switch weekly. A new clubhouse and the addition of TopGolf-like technology to the revamped driving range are also part of the $5 million revitalization project. Rates TBD.
Other Treasure Coast golf notes
- Besides PGA Village's Perfect Drive Villas, the only golf resort to speak of in the area is the Marriott Hutchinson Island, which has an executive course on property and easy access to the beach. Lodgings are still easy to find, with plenty of inland and beachside hotels across budget levels, plus longer-term vacation rentals.
- Fly-in visitors to this part of Florida are best served by using Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) and driving between 30 and 75 minutes north, depending on destination. But if you live within range of either Newark, N.J. (EWR) or Portland, Maine (PWM), Elite Airways flies between both airports and the small, mostly private-aviation airport in Vero Beach (VRB).
- Golfers with private club connections can have a whole other world of possibilities opened to them in this region. The density of private courses is not as great as in Palm Beach County, but several terrific private courses are located within the Treasure Coast counties. Here's a sampling:
- Johns Island Club (West) - Vero Beach
- The Moorings Yacht & Country Club (Hawk's Nest) - Vero Beach
- Quail Valley Golf Club - Vero Beach
- The Legacy Golf & Tennis Club - Port St. Lucie
- Santa Lucia River Club - Port St. Lucie
- The Floridian - Palm City
- McArthur Golf Club - Hobe Sound
- Medalist Golf Club - Hobe Sound
- Grove XXIII - Hobe Sound