Florida for all: 10 totally different golf experiences in the Sunshine State

Hardly 'typical': 10 totally different golf trips to take in Florida

It's a phrase that's certainly overused – "typical Florida golf" – but what does that really mean? Sure, the words conjure up images of flat courses with palmettos, palm trees and sometimes adjoining residential development – and those are certainly prevalent -- but it really doesn't describe the variety in the Sunshine State.

In fact, one could argue that aside from California, Florida's golf scene is as versatile as any state in the U.S. You might be surprised to learn, for example, that there are hills in Florida, substantial ones at times, which feature elevated tees and scenic views. You can also find tree-lined courses with nary a palm tree in sight, or links-like layouts on firm and fast turf. All of the game's top architects, from Pete Dye to Tom Fazio and even Donald Ross, have done some of their best work here.

There are itineraries perfect for families, buddies trips and romantic getaways. You could, if you wanted to, book a Florida golf package each year to a new destination for the next 10 years and experience something completely different.

Here's an example of 10 unique golf trips within the state:

TPC Sawgrass and the World Golf Village

St. Augustine and nearby Ponte Vedra Beach are home to the World Golf Hall of Fame and PGA Tour respectively, which means a trip here comes with a journey through history as well. Start at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra and play the home of The PLAYERS Championship on Pete Dye's famed Players Stadium Course, but be sure to take time to tour the 77,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style clubhouse, which houses hundreds of historic golf artifacts.

You can take history a notch higher at the World Golf Hall of Fame, where the greats of the game are enshrined as well as exhibits that showcase the development of the equipment, plus memorabilia from the great tournaments around the world. There are two very enjoyable golf courses, The King and Bear, and The Slammer & Squire at World Golf Village, as well as terrific golf schools, dining, shopping and plenty of other things to do, making this a perfect golf vacation for families or couples.

Streamsong Resort

Grow-in progress photo of Streamsong Black taken in December 2016. The course is scheduled to debut in autumn, 2017.

Streamsong Resort and its Red, Blue and Black courses are unlike anything in Florida. During peak season, these links-style layouts with generally wide fairways built on an old phosphate mining site are walking-only. The beauty, shot values and designs by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, Tom Doak and now Gil Hanse attract the most avid of golfers to this remote spot 30 miles due south of Lakeland. Perfect for buddies (there's also stream and lake fishing as well as skeet shooting), Streamsong is also a great romantic golf getaway for golf couples who take their game as seriously as they do fine dining, luxurious accommodations and spa treatments.


No surprise here: Orlando is the top destination for families for obvious reasons. The home of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios (where you can now see the incredible Wizarding World of Harry Potter) and Sea World, also has a tremendous variety of courses to fit every budget. You can choose from resorts like the swanky Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Orange Lake, Tranquilo at Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria, Rosen Shingle Creek, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Lodge & Club, ChampionsGate or Grand Cypress Resort. Disney World even has 63 holes of its own. The array of public tee times is endless, starting with the 36 holes of Orange County National, historic Dubsdread and the recently redone nine-hole Winter Park Country Club, which is perfect for families.

Tampa, Brooksville and Sarasota

The par-5 fourth hole on the Pine Barrens course at the World Woods Golf Club is loaded with waste bunkers from tee to green.

The Tampa Bay area represents one of the best regions for value golf packages in the state, which makes it a great destination for buddy trips. Starting with the home of the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship, Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor offers up four golf courses, including the heralded Copperhead Course, and condominium-style accommodations, perfect for groups. North of Tampa near Brooksville, you'll find the 36 holes at World Woods Golf Club, which has two nationally ranked Tom Fazio designs (Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks), a short course and great practice facilities.

To the south, you can spread out to Clearwater, Bradenton and Sarasota, which has dozens of public golf courses, beautiful white sand beaches, offshore fishing expeditions and some of the best weather in the state.

Ultimate Itinerary: Tampa

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Ultimate Itinerary: Tampa

Destin and the Emerald Coast

An emerging golf destination in the past couple of decades is what's known as the Emerald Coast, the corner of the Panhandle that includes Destin and the Panama City area. The 2,400-acre Sandestin Golf Resort in Destin not only has four quality golf courses, but nearly 2,000 units of accommodations or vacation rentals to go along with bike trails, pure white sand beaches and other activities, making this a perfect value destination for families. Another terrific family spot, perhaps a little more upscale, can be found just north in Panama City at Watercolor Inn (where much of the movie, The Truman Show, was filmed). Two outstanding championship golf courses -- Camp Creek (Tom Fazio) and Shark's Tooth (Greg Norman) are main draws, plus the Origins Golf Club, a delightful flexible short course designed by Davis Love III.

Florida Historic Golf Trail

For a great buddies road trip, follow Florida's Historic Golf Trail, made up of 50 of the state's most historic courses. A good place to start would be 36-hole Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills. The El Campeon course is celebrating its 100th year, and the experience is unlike anything else in the state with plenty of rolling terrain, elevated tees and tricky, undulating greens.

Of course, this is just a small part of the Historic Golf Trail. A little father northwest, you can check out vintage Ocala Golf Club, which goes back to 1931, head east to play the Donald Ross-designed Daytona Golf Club or if you're really up for a road trip, drive a few hundred miles south all the way to Key West Golf Club(1923), the southernmost golf course in the United States.

Palm Beach County, Treasure Coast

There is no region more golf-rich than the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast. Any talk of golf in this area has to start with the private high dollar clubs and hotels like the historic Breakers, PGA National and PGA Golf Club up the road in Port St. Lucie. These are great couples spots (although PGA Golf Club with its tremendous practice facilities and four courses makes for a great buddies trip) with their highly maintained golf courses, spas and romantic dining. But there's no shortage of public facilities either, starting with the oceanfront Palm Beach Par 3 Course, one of the best short courses in the country, the Jack Nicklaus-designed North Palm beach Country Club, Banyan Cay (formerly President C.C.) and municipal 27-hole Osprey Point Golf Course.

Miami and South Florida

For a couples trip, it doesn't get any more stylish than Miami and South Florida. From South Beach to Ft. Lauderdale, the nightlife, restaurants and the dress codes are all bigger than life, starting with Trump National Doral Miami, where President Donald Trump has spent millions redoing the golf courses, including the famed Blue Monster. There's also the delightful Turnberry Isle, which features two perfectly manicured Robert Trent Jones Sr., layouts recently renovated by Raymond Floyd, as well as the historic Miami Biltmore Hotel and Golf Course in Coral Cables. While the 90-year-old hotel is one of the most recognizable structures in South Florida, the Donald ross gem, renovated in the last decade, is not to be missed.

Amelia Island

North of Jacksonville, another great romantic getaway can be found on Amelia Island. With two beautiful resorts as well as a few public courses, plenty of ocean views and beaches, and the charming historic town of Fernandina Beach, there's plenty to love about the island. Starting with Omni Amelia Island, which recently underwent an $85 million renovation, there are two courses, including the Bobby Weed-designed Ocean Links Course, which has several holes along the Atlantic. The Ritz-Carlton provides beach access as well, and no detail was spared. All 446 guest rooms have private balconies with coastal or direct ocean views. It also boasts exquisite dining, a first-rate spa and the private Golf Club of Amelia Island, a Mark McCumber design (accessible to resort guests), is right next to the hotel.

Naples and Fort Myers

Perhaps the most high-end of all the state's destinations is Naples, home to many exclusive clubs but also solid resort and semi-private courses. The area has great beaches, shopping and dining to go with a variety of golf from high-end and good public plays to go with its exclusive private clubs. Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples offers 36 holes of Greg Norman-designed golf at Tiburon Golf Club (the Gold Course is home of the Franklin-Templeton Shootout), plus all the luxurious pampering you'd expect from a Ritz-Carlton, which makes it ideal for a couples getaway. Just north of Naples in Estero is another Jack Nicklaus design, Old Corkscrew Golf Club, a high-end semi-private experience.

Some of the other highly ranked facilities in the area include the Ron Garl-designed Heron's Glen Golf & Country Club in North Ft. Myers; Panther Run in Ave Maria; Verandah Golf Club, The Golf Club at Magnolia Landing and Shell Point in Ft. Myers; as well as Forest Glen, Esplanade G & CC and Valencia G & CC in Naples.

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Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Hardly 'typical': 10 totally different golf trips to take in Florida