Hidden gems: The 10 best under-publicized golf courses in Florida

Florida's golf course menu features more than 1,300 choices, so chances are you'll overlook a few gems no matter how diligently you research.

Amazingly, there's an excellent list of courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Fazio and others that sometimes don't get the publicity they so richly deserve.

Here are 10 exceptional under-publicized courses to consider:

1. Camp Creek Golf Club in Panama City Beach

Occupying a pristine chunk of north Florida land peppered with palm trees and lush foliage, Camp Creek Golf Club personifies the proverbial "walk-in-the-park" golf experience. There are no homes on the course, giving golfers the feeling they're playing in a wilderness sanctuary. Enhancing its appeal is Tom Fazio's design mastery. Every hole is unique and challenging.

2. Victoria Hills Golf Club in Deland

If you're tired of flat Florida courses, this Ron Garl design is the perfect prescription. The rolling hills and elevated tees make Victoria Hills Golf Club look more like West Virginia than central Florida. The hundreds of Augusta pines, oak hammocks and lakes add to the course's beauty and challenge.

3. RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento

A 35-minute drive from Orlando, RedTail Golf Club is decidedly away from the tourism corridor and it doesn't have a big-name designer. One of the Orlando area's best-kept secrets, it was designed by the late Dave Harman, an underrated architect who also fashioned courses at Orange County National and Shingle Creek Resort. Encircled by ranch land and few houses, RedTail is a links-style layout with mature oak trees, lush native foliage and lakes.

4. Juliette Falls in Dunnellon

Off the beaten path about 25 miles southwest of Ocala, Juliette Falls is one of Florida's most visually appealing courses. Amazing waste bunkers framing several holes, waterfalls and rock formations on this John Sanford design provide an engaging setting for a round of golf.

5. Bella Collina in Montverde

Bella Collina doesn't overtly advertise its limited public play, so it's unknown to many golfers. Once an ultra-exclusive private club, the course has opened the tee sheet somewhat in recent years. Designed by Nick Faldo, it's set in a valley surrounded by hills with sloping fairways, blind shots, and spectacular bunkers and waste areas dominating the experience.

6. The Conservatory Course at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast

While the Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course at Hammock Beach Resort grabs most of the headlines, don't overlook The Conservatory Course, a Watson design that has a little bit of everything -- elevation changes, innovative mounding, coquina sand bunkers, waterfalls, lakes and babbling brooks.

7. North Palm Beach Country Club in North Palm Beach

Here's a Nicklaus signature design you can play without staying at a luxury resort or playing on a guest privilege at a private club. Opened in 2006, this links-style layout is one of only two Nicklaus signature municipal courses in the United States. Set along the Intracoastal Waterway, North Palm Beach Country Club has elevation changes, artfully designed green complexes and superb shot values.

8. Ocala National Golf Club in Ocala

Once named the Golden Hills Golf & Turf Club, the course was remodeled by Rees Jones in 2003. Set on land with natural ridges and valleys, Ocala National Golf Club is speckled with large, mature oak trees with Spanish moss and tall pine trees. With its many elevated tees and greens, it provides an antithesis to traditional flat Florida courses.

9. Highlands Reserve Golf Club in Davenport

Sitting on one of the highest points in Florida, Highlands Reserve Golf Club has dramatic elevation changes. Creatively designed by Florida-based architect Mike Dasher, the course has no water or out of bounds. And with its wide fairways, you can grip it and rip it off the tee. Elements that play havoc with your score are sometimes gusty winds and large, undulating and speedy greens.

10. Fort Myers Country Club in Fort Myers

Designed by Donald Ross in 1916, this municipal course received a $5.8 million makeover in 2014. Designer Steve Smyers stayed true to Ross' original design. He modernized Fort Myers Country Club in a variety of ways, including adding elevated bunkers and greens, new water hazards, increased turf quality and a revamped drainage system.

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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Hidden gems: The 10 best under-publicized golf courses in Florida