An introduction to Florida
This is our series of posts looking at the best public golf courses. And one state people ask about time and time again, is what are the best public golf courses in Florida?
There are some top class golf courses in Florida. In fact, the Sunshine State has the most golf courses of all states in the US. Therefore it stands to reason there are going to be some pretty damn good golf courses open to ‘joe public’.
Regardless of where you are heading in Florida, you’ll find some great public golf courses. Be it Tampa, Orlando, the Palm Beaches, Jacksonville or anywhere else. Many have been designed by world renowned golf course architects and there are a number of Top 100 layouts too. Let’s get into it.
|Groups||PGA National Resort|
|Value for money||Streamsong Resort|
|Clubhouse||Trump National Doral|
|Views||Hammock Beach Resort|
The best public golf courses in Florida
|1||TPC Sawgrass (Stadium & Dye’s Valley)|
|2||Streamsong Resort (Black, Blue, Red)|
|3||World Woods Golf Club (Pine Barrens & Rolling Oaks)|
|4||Trump National Doral (Blue Monster)|
|5||PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion)|
|6||Camp Creek Course|
|7||Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course)|
|8||Hammock Beach Resort (Ocean Course)|
|9||Bay Hill Club & Lodge|
1. TPC Sawgrass (Stadium & Dye’s Valley)
Up in Jacksonville, northeast Florida on the Atlantic coastline, is the superb TPC Sawgrass. This is a resort with two superb championship golf courses. It is also home to the iconic PLAYERS championship, often considered the 5th major.
The quality of the golf here is right up there with some of the best resorts. This is all the more mind-blowing when you consider in the early 1970s, this whole area was just worthless boggy swampland.
And it would be wrong to start anywhere else but the Stadium course. This beast of a layout was designed by Pete Dye and was immediately recognised as a truly outstanding golf course. That recognition continues today.
The course is ranked within the US Top 50 golf courses and as host to the PLAYERS championship, people the world over recognise many of its holes. No hole would be more recognisable than the island green on the 17th. You’re looking at just a green and a heck of a lot of water.
Off the back tees the course is just short of 7,300 yards. With mammoth bunkers, water aplenty and well protected greens, the choice of tee box could be the most important thing you do all day.
If you’re looking to tone it down slightly, Dye’s Valley is a safer choice. Don’t get me wrong, it is still challenging, with water an ever-present hazard and featuring large strategically placed bunkers. But it is more approachable to anyone who doesn’t have a single-figure handicap!
Likely it would get significantly more accolades if it wasn’t the sibling to one of the best public golf courses in Florida.
2. Streamsong Resort (Blue, Red, Black)
This special resort is located within a 16,000 acre site right in the heart of Central Florida. It’s about an hour’s drive from Tampa, or an hour and a half from Orlando.
The site is pretty unique as it was previously an old phosphate mine. This has meant the topography is very atypical for a Floridian resort with giant sand hills creating surreal elevation changes.
Streamsong Resort is a relatively new player on the block, certainly in the golfing world. For example, the first of its three 18-hole championship layouts opened for play in 2014.
The Red and the Blue courses were first to open. They were designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and Tom Doak respectively. Last to open was the Black course designed by Gil Hanse.
All three of the layouts have received huge acclaim. So much so, many analysts claim all three should be listed in the U.S. Top 100 golf courses.
The Red course certainly is, and consistently comes out on top. It is also insanely challenging, with long par 4s, tricky greens and plenty of water. To score well here you simply need every aspect of your game to be on point.
The Blue is in a similar vein to the Red, maybe with more of an emphasis on sand, with raw bunkering stretching across most holes. The greens are large with some awesome options for pin positions inevitably changing the way you approach the green.
And finally the Black, which actually offers something slightly different to the Red and Blue courses. It opened in 2017 and has wide expansive fairways, mammoth bunkers and large undulating greens. What a great addition to the resort and just adds another punch of fun!
There are some great stay and play packages which the resort offers. These are without doubt some of the best value for money offers you’ll find.
3. World Woods Golf Club (Pine Barrens & Rolling Oaks)
A good hour’s drive north of Tampa on Florida’s west coast, lies the 36-hole golf club of World Woods. This really is in the middle of nowhere but this seclusion helps to create a special character to the site.
And fear not. This seclusion does not in any way impact the quality of the golf. Both Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks are superb with many golf connoisseurs having both courses in Florida’s Top 50 golf courses.
To create two world-class golf courses, who better to call upon than the famed Tom Fazio who has a litany of courses in the various ‘best of’ lists.
Both courses are laid out in rolling hills and heavily wooded terrain, already something you wouldn’t really associate with Florida. Pine Barrens is the more challenging of the two, with large bunkers, distinct elevation changes and vast waste-areas.
Moving on to the sister course, Rolling Oaks is a fundamentally different proposition. Not just in the design, but also in the aesthetic. Although both courses are positioned right next to one another, they both sit on completely different soil types.
So where Pine Barrens features large sandy run-offs with pine trees the ever-present foliage, Rolling Oaks as the name suggests is characterized by large Spanish-moss covered oak trees. There is also a blanket of dense azaleas creating a canopy similar to that of Augusta National.
Without doubt two of Florida’s best public golf courses. Although if you are visiting here, make sure you book a hotel in advance as there isn’t a huge amount of choice close by.
4. Trump National Doral (Blue Monster)
As soon as you arrive at the Trump National Doral, you’ll be well looked after. There is 5* service at every point. Yes this is a feature at many Trump courses and this resort in the outskirts of Miami is no different.
The Blue Monster is one of four golf courses at the resort, all of which are open to the public. It was for many years a regular feature on the PGA Tour, hosting the World Golf Championships before it got rebranded and moved to Mexico.
The course has been around for decades, having originally opened for play in 1959. Throughout its history many great architects have exerted their influence on the layout. But what we have today was inspired by Donald Trump’s ‘small’ $200 million investment. This purchase and subsequent redevelopment happened shortly after Doral fell into bankruptcy.
Gil Hanse of Streamsong Black and Castle Stuart in Scotland fame, was brought in to breathe new life into the Blue Monster. And it is fair to say this investment has elevated the course to new heights.
But don’t expect this to be a walk in the park. Quite the opposite. This is an absolute beast of a proposition. From the championship tees the course stretches to over 7,600 yards. Water comes into play on every single hole and there is inevitably always a strong breeze blowing across the site.
5. PGA National Resort & Spa (Champion)
Another epic golf resort, except here there are a mind-blowing five 18-hole championship courses. Yet the one most people are coming to play is the Champion course, host venue to the Honda Classic.
The resort is located approximately 25 minutes drive up the coast from West Palm Beach. This is a part of Florida littered with top class courses. For example you’re only 20 minutes away from the world class Seminole golf club.
The Champion was originally designed by Tom and George Fazio, but was completely redesigned on two occasions by Jack Nicklaus. So much so, this is now without doubt a Nicklaus course.
But the Fazio layout hosted the highest profile tournament in the resort’s history, the 1983 Ryder Cup. It was also host to the 1987 PGA Championship. That said, these major tournaments weren’t a massive surprise. George and Tom had designed the course specifically with match-play in mind.
The layout is immensely challenging and not one for higher handicaps. The par 70 layout stretches to nearly 7,200 yards from the backs, another course where tee selection will define how much you enjoy the round.
The other four courses here are all top class, with the Palmer Course very popular. This is a resort which puts public golf on the map.
6. Camp Creek Course
Just north of the resort city of Panama City Beach, is Camp Creek Course at the private members club of Watersounds Club. This superb Tom Fazio designed layout is regularly scooping up ‘best courses you can play’ accolades. When you come and play here, you’ll understand why.
For starters the location is stunning. This is a site which climbs the hillside and is a blanket of green, with mature oaks, wildlife corridors and a real attention to detail when it comes to the planting scheme. This creates a wonderfully verdant environment which is a pleasure to be immersed in.
The course opened in 2001 and aside from the many recognitions from golf publications, Camp Creek has also hosted US Open Qualifiers. At nearly 7,200 yards from the back tees, this is no pushover and throughout your round, you’ll notice there are very few flat lies.
From the tee box, you’ll be able to see the green. Fairways aren’t too penal but it is on your approach play where you need to be striking it well. Many greens are tiered and feature discreet undulations.
Granted this is a bit out of the way, but if you do make the journey here, make sure you also play the sister course Shark’s Tooth, designed by Greg Norman and another top class public golf course you can enjoy.
7. Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead)
Innisbrook Resort is located on Florida’s west coast. Just under an hour’s drive from downtown Tampa, between the neighborhoods of Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs.
Another golfing mecca, there are four 18-hole courses onsite, with the Copperhead layout the apex course onsite. It regularly features as one of Florida’s best golf courses as well as one of the top courses you can play in the U.S.
This is also home to the annual PGA Tour event the Valspar Championship, which often attracts some of the best players on tour. And when you play here, you can understand why. This is not easy, whilst the closing stretch of holes are some of the best on tour.
The site is also very unlike your typical Florida layouts, with the sandhills more reminiscent of somewhere like the Carolina sandhills. The design by Larry Packard is top class, as is the conditioning, something the resort upholds to the highest standards.
This is more than a great day out. Stay and play to make a weekend of it whilst enjoying one of two of the other courses onsite.
8. Hammock Beach Resort (Ocean Course)
The Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa is located on Florida’s east coast, between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach near to St Augustine.
First and foremost, the hotel here is wonderful. This is oceanfront luxury overlooking a gorgeous unspoilt part of the coastline. Great for families or couples looking to escape the stresses of modern life, the Hammock Beach Resort is hugely popular.
There are also two fantastic championship golf courses onsite, the Jack Nicklaus designed Ocean Course and the Tom Watson designed Conservatory Course. Both are awesome fun, but it is the Nicklaus Ocean course which gets the attention here.
The course is renowned primarily for its four finishing holes, nicknamed ‘The Bear Claw’, which are considered the most challenging on the course. But the holes which run inland are certainly not easy.
Water comes into play on many of the holes and I’m not talking about small streams or ponds. These are vast lakes running the length of the fairway. And where water isn’t a hazard, you’ll find fairways which choke out the approach to the greens requiring precision approach play.
Like many of the courses on this list, the Ocean Course has received many awards from all the top golf publications. This is definitely one to add to the list.
9. Bay Hill Club & Lodge
The eternal home to the legend that was Arnold Palmer, Bay Hill Club is a special place.
There are 27-holes onsite with three loops of nine, the Champion, Challenger and Charger. It is the Champion & Challenger layouts which are considered the championship 18-holes. It is also this combination which plays host to the Arnold Palmer Invitational which takes place every year.
The layout was actually originally designed by the relatively unknown Dick Wilson, although once Palmer had purchased the resort, he slowly but surely made a number of changes over the years. It is now absolutely considered a Palmer course.
From the back tee boxes, aptly named the Palmer tees, the course extends to a tidy 7,400 yards. Even from some of the closer tee boxes, this is still a tough course to score well at, something Palmer would have been immensely proud of.
To play here, you do need to be a guest at the resort. Fortunately, the Lodge is charming and exudes a very comfy and friendly atmosphere.
10. Crandon Golf
If you are in Miami, you simply cannot overlook Crandon Golf. When it comes to public golf courses, there really is very little like this place.
For starters, the location. The course is positioned on Key Biscayne, a barrier island off the coast of Miami. To get to the island you traverse the Rickenbacker Causeway, which in itself is worth the drive for the ocean and city views.
The course has been around since 1972 and was designed as a joint effort between Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin, of which the former returned in the 90s in a renovation project.
Lush tropical foliage surrounds the site, as do multiple lakes including salt water ponds and an abundance of wildlife.
And don’t think that this is a course to play purely for the aesthetic. The layout is challenging and for many years, 18 to be precise, it was a regular stop-over for the Senior PGA Tour with the likes of Gary Player, Ray Floyd and Lee Trevino gracing the fairways.
What is the best public golf course in Florida?
The best public golf course in Florida is the iconic Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. The golf course was designed by Pete Dye and is the host venue to the PGA Tour’s annual PLAYERS Championship. The club is located 25 minutes drive from central Jacksonville on the Atlantic coastline.