History with a swing: Play golf near Florida's historic small towns

When urban stress gets you down or you just want a getaway to a laid-back Old Florida setting, it's time to tee up near one of the state's engaging historic small towns.

After a round of golf, you can stroll the quaint streets, view the sights and enjoy lunch or dinner at a friendly, locally owned restaurant.

Fernandina Beach

Dating back to the 1850s, Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island near Jacksonville was once a vibrant Victorian seaport and later the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry.

Today, more than 50 blocks of the downtown area are lined with 19th century Victorian homes, and Centre Street is dotted with restaurants, taverns and antique shops.

Locals and visitors love to play the Fernandina Beach Golf Course, a 27-hole complex regarded as one of the best municipal golf facilities in the nation. Other excellent options are the Golf Club at North Hampton -- an Arnold Palmer design with wild grasses and rolling terrain evoking an old Scottish links feel -- and Amelia River Golf Club, a superbly conditioned Tom Jackson-designed layout routed around a forest of live oaks, sabal palms, pines and wax myrtles.

Nearby on the 13-mile-long barrier island, the OMNI Amelia Island Plantation, a beautiful, 1,350-acre seaside resort, is home to the Oak Marsh -- a Pete Dye design -- and Ocean Links, a Bobby Weed design with five oceanfront Holes. Another highly rated course is the Golf Club of Amelia Island, a playable design by PGA Tour veterans Mark McCumber and Gene Littler, highlighted by massive oak trees, marshes and picturesque lakes.

Inverness

The County Seat for Citrus County for more than 120 years, this classic Florida town -- 40 miles southwest of Ocala -- is known for its magnificent historic courthouse that was used in Elvis Presley's 1961 movie "Follow That Dream."

When it's tee time, the choices feature Inverness Golf & Country Club -- a park-like course peppered with mature oak trees, pines, palms and cedars -- and LakeSide Golf Course, which has four holes that play around an abandoned phosphate mine and several dogleg holes.

Other options in nearby Crystal River, 18 miles away, include 7 Rivers Golf and Country Club -- a Bill Amick design with five sets of tees -- and Plantation on Crystal River Resort, featuring 27 holes with the Championship and Lagoons layouts.

Mount Dora

Originally settled in 1883, this beautifully preserved town on the shores of Lake Dora, 25 miles northwest of Orlando, is a walkable wonderland of historic homes and hotels, bars and pubs, restaurants and bakeries.

Golfers in the area gravitate to the Country Club of Mount Dora -- a Lloyd Clifton layout known for its beautiful lakes and ponds -- and Mount Dora Golf Club, a venerable favorite dating back to 1945 with varied elevation changes and mature trees.

Thirteen miles away in the town of Apopka, you can tee up at Sweetwater Golf & Country Club, which is nestled along the Wekiva Springs State Park wilderness nature area, and Rock Springs Ridge Golf Club, a Clifton Design Group course with rolling hills, innovative mounding and large, undulating greens.

Sebring

Founded in 1912, this Highlands County town is known as "The City On the Circle" because of its historic district rimmed with restaurants and boutique shops around Circle Drive.

Golf is a way of life in Sebring, not just another recreation amenity to have fun in the Florida sun. Some popular play options include Golf Hammock Country Club, a unique course that's designed around a circle encompassing the clubhouse; Panther Creek, a links-style course with six sets of tees, several water holes and a par-3 island green; and Harder Hall, a classic Dick Wilson design that debuted in 1958.

In Avon Park, a historic town that dates back to 1886, 17 miles from Sebring, is Highlands Ridge Golf Club, a superbly designed 36-hole complex features the North and South layouts.

Tarpon Springs

Situated 13 miles north of Clearwater, Tarpon Springs is a predominantly Greek community known for its famous sponge docks area packed with Greek restaurants, bakeries, art galleries, boutiques and an aquarium.

Some popular golf choices include Crescent Oaks Country Club, a Steve Smyers course built in 1991 that takes advantage of its location adjacent to the Brooker Creek Preserve; Wentworth Golf Club, a layout with a front nine routed through cypress heads, pines and mature oak trees and a back nine with a Scottish-links style; and Tarpon Springs Golf Course, a mainstay in the local golf scene since the 1920s.

In nearby Dunedin, 12 miles away, the historic Dunedin Golf Club, which served as the home of the PGA of America from 1945 to 1962, is a Donald Ross-designed gem that originally opened in 1927.

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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History with a swing: Play golf near Florida's historic small towns