Great Florida golf is, well, everywhere, but here are some longtime favorites of many a Sunshine State visitor. (Editor’s note: This story was updated in 2019)
Walt Disney World
We know what you’re thinking. And while we’re somewhat guilty of taking pleasure in riding the Peter Pan and Dumbo rides, the Walt Disney World mecca is also home to some outstanding golf. There are 99 holes there, with top-rated golf courses that include the Magnolia and Palm, two courses that regularly play host to the PGA Tour every year. Say what you will about the theme parks, Walt Disney World has some awesome golf courses to boot. www.disneyworld.com
Westin Innisbrook Resort
Like the golf at Disney World, the Westin Innisbrook Resort (just outside of Tampa) screams “Play me!” to the golf enthusiast. There are 72 holes of golf to choose from on a property that’s big enough to account for 900 acres of outstanding golf. The best course is the Copperhead course—an awesome layout stretching 7,300 yards that plays host to the Chrysler Championships every fall. Better yet, accommodations and restaurants are plentiful at the resort, leaving very little reason to leave and go elsewhere. www.innisbrookgolfresort.com
Grand Cypress Resort
There are 45 holes (all designed by Jack Nicklaus) and four combinations to choose from, making Grand Cypress among the nicer upscale resorts in the Orlando area. Our favorite is the 18-hole New Course, designed by Nicklaus, who was intent on paying homage to the Old Course at St. Andrews. It has double greens, pot bunkers, stone bridges and stone walls, just like several of the courses across “the pond.” Some purists may scoff at the notion of such artificiality, even though the course is surprisingly fun to play. It’s also a good challenge, especially for golfers who opt to swing from the back tees. www.grandcypress.com
Doral Golf Resort
After (or before) checking out Little Havana, play Miami’s most recognizable course: the Blue Monster at Doral. Not only is this course storied, but it has been made over during a near yearlong closure at the resort. No doubt it’s better than ever, as are the remaining four courses to choose from. Accommodations are plentiful at Doral, and with five courses to choose from, it’s a safe bet you’re never going to play the same shot twice on any course. www.doralresort.com
Tucked about an hour north of Tampa, World Woods seems light-years away from the buzz of the city. Tom Fazio took an excellent piece of land and made his own magic with the Pine Barrens Course, 18 holes that cut through dense forest and over expansive waste areas, consistently providing a treat for the senses. Just a few holes into the round, and you’ll quickly see why Pine Barrens is considered one of the top 100 courses in the world. www.worldwoods.com
World Golf Village
For those who can’t get enough golf, the World Golf Village in St. Augustine is where to find it. It features two courses (King & Bear and The Squire), an IMAX theater, a Renaissance Resort and the anchoring World Golf Hall of Fame (as seen in the commercials with Gary Player). Visitors can walk over a replica Swilcon Bridge, walk through a Trophy Room and even play a famed course, such as St. Andrews, through a computer simulator. All this is just the beginning…www.wghof.com
Arnold Palmer Invitational. Don’t let the name change fool you. The Arnold Palmer Invitational (formerly the Bay Hill Invitational) is still the same tournament it has always been, thanks to the guidance of the King himself, Arnold Palmer. Dubbed as the best preview to see which stars are playing their best in time for the Masters, Tiger Woods has left an indelible mark on this event having won it four times in row, though not once since ’03. We don’t doubt he’s hungry for another streak. By the way, if you can’t make it to the tourney, stay at the Lodge and play both courses at Bay Hill for yourself.
The most famous course in Florida, Pete Dye’s Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass has gotten a few updates over the years since it became the Players Course in 2007, and the adjacent Valley Course, Dye’s Valley, is worth a play, too. Much of the renovation work took place underground, with the exception of a few new bunkers and tee boxes on a few select holes. Nevertheless, the island-green 17th hole remains untouched and is still among the most visually daunting short par-3s ever conceived. To not try it once would be a huge mistake. www.tpc.com
“Whoa.” That’s probably the first thing you’ll say to yourself after seeing the spectacular beauty of the renovated Breakers resort in Palm Beach. The resort plopped down a smooth $225 million in improvements about a decade ago, resulting in a property that exudes the high-class living of the folks who both live in and visit the upscale Palm Beach neighborhood. In addition to some stunning accommodations and amenities (no point listing them, since they have everything), there are two courses to choose from. The Ocean Course, which is Florida’s oldest course, and the Rees Jones Course, located 10 miles away. www.thebreakers.com
Ocean Hammock Resort
The Ocean Hammock Resort is a golfer’s paradise overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville). There are two courses to choose from, both of which have gained notoriety for having some stunning natural beauty. The Ocean Hammock Course is considered the only oceanfront course in Florida to have opened in 70 years, and thanks to a Jack Nicklaus design, it hosts several high-profile events and qualifiers, year in and year out. The sister course is Palm Harbor, the shorter and more mature course of the two. Designed by Bill Amick, the layout looks easy, but don’t be deceived—it’s tougher than it looks. If time permits, Daytona is a short drive away. If you’re a NASCAR fan, you’ll understand. If not, stick around and enjoy the lodge and beach. www.oceanhammock.com
Orlando can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re a first-timer. Visit one of the best Orlando Websites online at www.orlandoinfo.com. If you can’t find it there, it doesn’t exist.
5 Best Stay-And-Plays In Florida
1. Walt Disney World Resort
Trust us. The resort’s 99 holes are all excellent, and you’ll have time to catch up with the family in Fantasyland that afternoon.
2. Bay Hill Club & Lodge
Known as the home of Arnold Palmer, Bay Hill is a treat to play. Just knowing who’s played (and won) there is enough to make it worth your while.
3. Grand Cypress Resort
Luxurious accommodations can be found at the Grand Cypress Hyatt, as well as great golf, racquet sports and much more. The New Course is a real hoot to play.
4. Westin Innisbrook Resort
The Innisbrook compound has four great courses and four superb restaurants. What more do you need? How about six swimming pools and 11 tennis courts? It’s all here.
5. Doral Golf Resort
Come play the Blue Monster, but don’t neglect the other fine courses that make Doral one of the best stay-and-plays in Florida.
5 Local Favorites To Play
1. Championsgate (National)
Greg Norman cut 36 holes out of some rolling terrain that was made to resemble what he called an “Australian links” course.
2. Falcon’s Fire
Understated and underappreciated, this Rees Jones design is a classic beauty. Expect great service and excellent course conditions year-round.
3. Celebration Golf Club
Having a course designed by one Jones family member is pretty good, but two of them on the same 18? Check out what Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. can do.
4. Shingle Creek
Tee it high and let it fly at this Orlando gem, but make sure you hit the green in the right spot. The greens are tricky and sometimes rather quick.
5. Eagle Pines
Designed by Pete Dye, this Disney course has a lot of water, shaped fairways and lots of pine straw. Don’t worry, it’s not too scary.
7 Other Things To Do In Florida
1. Kennedy Space Center
Not only can you watch a shuttle launch from here, but the center has tours of the International Space Station and much more.
2. Daytona International Speedway
The famed NASCAR loop has something going on almost every week from January to early March.
From Little Havana to South Beach, you’ve got to see it to believe it.
4. Ernest Hemingway’s Home
That’s right, you can see for yourself the Key West home of the legendary Ernest Hemingway. It’s a museum as well.
5. Busch Gardens
This Tampa institution has wildlife, safari tours and an amusement park chockful of exciting thrill rides.
6. Peanut Island
Did Kennedy intend on using the bomb shelter beneath the island? You be the judge.
7. Amelia Island
We admit! There’s great golf found at this beautiful locale in the very northeast corner of the state