WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Palm Beach County, Florida is among the wealthiest areas in the United States, and as you might expect, there are some pretty swanky resorts and country clubs. But you don't have to be a one-percenter to take a golf vacation in the Palm Beaches area or play golf there.
Sure, a stay at The Breakers Palm Beach resort will cost you -- as will the round on the Breakers Ocean Course -- but there are plenty of affordable hotels and more importantly, good values in public golf. And to go with it are scores of great dining choices, miles of beaches and plenty of other activities and sights.
Think munis for value and quality golf
Surprisingly, the municipals in Palm Beach County are among the best in the United States, which means not everyone who lives in the Palm Beaches has carte blanche. Certainly they were built for the locals, but visitors should also check them out. The only caveat is, especially in season, that they're very busy, so you've got to reserve your tee times at least a few days in advance.
The crown jewel of the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department's golf course collection is Osprey Point Golf Course, a 27-hole Roy Case design that opened in 2011. More than 10 years in the making, local officials figured out to appease environmental concerns while building a golf course that appeals to both locals and visitors alike.
It's so popular that tee times usually sell out several days in advance of each day, and for good reason. At less than $60 in season and less than half of that in the summer, the course is one of the best deals in south Florida.
Before it became a golf course, the area, which is now Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park, was used for both farming and shellrock mining. Now the park has many amenities, including an amphitheater and an Audubon International Signature Course on the edge of the Everglades.
Grassed in Seashore paspalum from tee to green, the course is not only beautiful but environmentally friendly. Paspalum, a salt-water resistant turf species, can be irrigated with brackish water and it also serves as a filter to for runoff.
The three nines at Osprey Point -- the Hawk, Falcon and Raven -- range from 3,312 yards to 3,480 yards. Each has wide, firm fairways that allow players of all abilities to access the greens. There are four sets of tees with the forward tees playing to a player-friendly 4,800-4900 yards per 18.
The other good test in the Parks Department system is Okeeheelee (or "quiet waters" in the Seminole Indian language), a 27-hole of championship course also designed by Case. There's water on most every hole.
With green fees peaking at around $45 in season, it's also a bargain, and like Osprey Point, Okeeheelee is also part of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for golf courses, which means there's plenty of wildlife, including osprey, alligators, cranes and nonnative iguanas. The course also features excellent practice facilities, including a 30,000-square-foot putting green.
There are five sets of tees on each of the nines, which include the Eagle, Osprey and Heron with the Heron-Eagle combination as the longest 18-hole layout, playing more than 6,900 yards from the tips.
The exceptional Palm Beach Par 3
Perhaps no Florida golf course is more unique than the Palm Beach Par 3, originally designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee and recently renovated by Ray Floyd. This all-paspalum 18-hole course features nine holes pretty much on the Atlantic and nine on the Intracoastal. In other words, views abound, but just as good, it's a fun test of golf that you can play in two to three hours.
It's also in terrific shape, lessons are available and best of all, there's a new clubhouse that provides even better views of the Atlantic. Inside the clubhouse is al Fresco Restaurant, which opened in January 2014. Besides its weekend buffet, the lunch and dinner menu offers mouth-watering American Italian cuisine so good that most of its customers aren't golfers. This isn't surprising considering that the same family that owns the longtime popular Renato's and Pizza al Fresco restaurants in the area runs the clubhouse restaurant.
Another short muni, albeit just nine holes, is in Boca Raton. Located between the Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway the Red Reef Executive Course isn't up to Palm Beach Par 3 standards, but it does have some ocean and harbor views and makes for a perfect warmup test and it costs little to play.
Hit the historic trail
Another great municipal value is West Palm Beach Golf Course, which is part of the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Opened in the 1920s, it was West Palm Beach's first golf course. But after the government purchased it during World War II, a new location was found closer to the city. Designed by Dick Wilson, the new course opened in 1947 and was soon hosting the PGA Tour's West Palm Beach Open Invitational. Arnold Palmer, Gardner Dickinson and Gay Brewer are just a few of the past winners at the annual Palm Beach event. Former PGA Tour player Mark McCumber restored the course in 2009.
Another good muni value is Delray Beach Golf Club, a historic course originally designed by Donald Ross and open to the public at a very reasonable rate. This championship layout is fraught with water hazards, elevated greens and gentle doglegs.
And if that wasn't enough in the muni department, you'll definitely want to play North Palm Beach Country Club, renovated by Jack Nicklaus in 2006. This links-style course is one of only two Nicklaus signature municipal courses in the United States. It's a difficult test from 7,000 yards, but there are five sets of tees for everyone to enjoy. The design incorporates elevation changes, rolling fairways and undulated, well bunkered greens.
Spend your money on dining
So now that you've saved all this money, you might as well splurge on a good meal or two, and there's no shortage of great eateries in the Palm Beaches.
One of the best is PB Catch in Palm Beach. This most authentic seafood house offers an incredible raw bar that supports only local and sustainable fishing.
Its sister restaurant is also memorable, but very different. Pistache is a classic Parisian eatery with a Mediterranean twist, offering casual French fare in an upbeat atmosphere. Located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, it also offers views of the Intracoastal Waterway and Centennial Park to guests dining al fresco on the covered patio.
Another favorite in Palm Beach is Del Frisco's Grille, which serves American grill cuisine, an expansive wine list and handcrafted cocktails.
There is no shortage of hotels in every price range. A central location, if you're playing a lot of golf courses, works well. An example is the Hyatt Place West Palm Beach/Downtown. This business-casual hotel offers exceptional service, quick dining and a shuttle to attractions in West Palm Beach, including City Place and the bars and restaurants on Clematis Street.
As for other things to do, there's no shortage there either, but a must-see is the Flagler Mansion and Museum. Henry Flagler was an entrepreneur who brought the railroad all the way down the East Coast through Florida and eventually the Keys in the late 1800s. Along the way, he built a number of resorts, including the historic Breakers.