Coastal Georgia and South Carolina supply great golf with a Southern charm. Florida supplies great golf with everything else.
Perhaps no other region in the country has such a varied and stunning definition as the great Southeast. Depending on who you are and where you’re from, the states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina probably have a different meaning to you. Take a 13-year-old kid from Wisconsin, for example, and Florida to him is all about thrill rides, waterslides and Jet Skis. To a middle-aged boating enthusiast from New York, the region is paradise for power boating, deep-sea fishing and sailing. But for the rest of us, the self-professed mass of golf freaks, addicts, aficionados, hackers and players, the Southeast means eclectic, Tour-proven golf, especially if you’re talking about hot spots like Kiawah Island in South Carolina, the Golden Isles of Georgia’s coast (including Sea Island, Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island), and the Sunshine State’s flagship destination cities of Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. When Spanish gold explorers came looking for precious metals off the coast of this region some 400 years ago, little did they know the gold they were about to find would manifest itself in the rich array of top-tier resorts and golf courses that visitors enjoy today. Truly, the blend of coastal layouts and inland courses that take full advantage of the natural, wild environs of the area are, as a group, without peer.
Located midway between Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., the Georgian town of Brunswick and its four Golden Isles (there are actually a total of 15 islands, or “hammocks,” as locals refer to them) are home to some of the South’s most historical landmarks. Replete with legends and lore that have inspired countless Civil War ghost stories, it’s also a place where some of the world’s most iconic men, such as J.P. Morgan and William Rockefeller, took retreat from the daily grind to relax and enjoy a little Southern hospitality. And speaking of hospitality, there remains plenty of it today. Visitors seek the area for its world-class seafood, turn-of-the-century architecture, art galleries, fishing piers and a huge variety of water sports. The golf, as you can guess, is as illustrious as the area’s past.
Just to the north across the South Carolina border lies the city of Charleston and golf’s East Coast Shangri-la: Kiawah Island Resort and its five award-winning golf courses. Kiawah has been heralded not only for its aesthetic qualities, but also for the level of excitement the resort has contributed to competitive golf. In perhaps one of the most memorable moments in golf, Kiawah’s Ocean Course is where Bernard Langer missed his infamous six-foot putt, granting the Ryder Cup to the Americans in 1991. The Ocean Course, a Pete Dye design, features seaside views from almost everywhere, including 10 holes that play along the beautiful—yet distracting—ocean shore. Following are four additional designs by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Clyde Johnson, Gary Player and Tom Fazio. All five courses are known for their knack to look tranquil, but at the same time levy a few hefty challenges on unsuspecting golfers.
A trek inland and south takes one to Orlando and its 45 million annual visitors who seek adventure, exhilaration and entertainment at one of the nine major theme parks in the area, countless hotels (more than 110,000 rooms and counting) as well as offshoot attractions that sprinkle the swampy city surroundings. Popular tracks like Bay Hill and Grand Cypress will have you drooling for more. For even more salivating temptations, cruise east to the seaside town of Daytona Beach, home to not only 20-plus great golf courses, but one of the most outrageous stretches of sand on Earth.