The stunning Florida Keys is an island chain which reaches out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Officially the islands start not far south of Miami Beach, arcing south-west from there. And in this blog post, we’re going to explore the handful of golf courses in the Florida Keys.
The actual length of the Florida Keys is around 220 miles. This officially stretches from Virginia Key, up in the Atlantic Ocean, right down to Loggerhead Key. This is the furthest western point in the Dry Tortugas.
Although from a road perspective, the drive from one end to another is approximately 120 miles. And boy is this one heck of a scenic drive, crossing over 40 bridges and many artificial causeways.
But we’re here for one thing, and that is to explore the golf courses on the Florida Keys. Land is at a premium along the chain of islands, so there are only five courses (four clubs) on this list.
The best private golf courses in Florida Keys
1. Ocean Reef Club (Dolphin & Hammock Courses)
We kick off our list of golf courses in Florida Keys with the superb Ocean Reef Club. Located in Key Largo, pretty much as far north-east as you can go by road, this is a magnificent location.
The whole northern tip forms part of the Ocean Reef Club, a private gated community. Within, surrounding the upmarket homes, is a rich and diverse botanical scenery. Mangroves, tropical hardwoods, creeks and much more.
Golf first appeared in Key Largo when a basic 9-hole course was created. Fast forward to today, and despite the premium on land throughout the Florida Keys, the club has two championship 18-hole courses! These are the Dolphin Course and the Hammock Course.
The Dolphin course opened in 1969 and was designed by the reputable duo of Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin. More recently, in 2001, it underwent an extensive renovation headed up by Chip Powell.
The course is divine and offers sumptuous scenic vistas. The water-lined fairways pass coconut palms, mahogany trees and plenty of other natural vegetation including tamarind.
At 6,600 yards, it is more forgiving off the tee with the main challenge coming when you reach the undulating greens.
The Hammock Course is just as magnificent as it meanders through a vast wildlife sanctuary. This includes mangroves, tropical hardwood hammocks and plenty of vast lakes and creeks. So much so, there is water in play on fourteen of the eighteen holes!
Also designed by Von Hagge and Devlin, the Hammock Course is only 6,100 yards from the backs. But what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in its requirements to be consistently accurate, both off the tee and playing approach shots. This is without doubt the more challenging of the two courses.
Together, the Hammock and Dolphin offer real variety. And expect nothing less than top class conditioning.
2. Card Sound Golf Club
This private, non-equity golf club is located within the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. This is pretty much as far up as you can go towards the northern tip. Running along its northern boundary are dense mangroves whilst to the south is the Ocean Reef Club Airport runway.
Card Sound is a distinctly private and exclusive club renowned for its seclusion.
Similar to the two courses at Ocean Reef Club, Card Sound was designed by the same duo, Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin. However this layout opened five years later, in 1974.
Set within a lush tropical landscape, the routing is classic and traditional in style. Probably not surprising the era in which it was designed. In 1999, the course benefitted from a Brian Silva-led renovation. The routing was largely kept the same, with instead the playability being vastly improved.
Water hazards are an ever present threat, coming into play on more than half the holes. Likewise, there are a number of immense bunkers which on occasion run the whole length of a fairway or literally surround a green.
From the back tees, Card Sound stretches to over 6,500 yards. Again, like the courses at Ocean Reef Club, what Card Sound arguably lacks in length it makes up for elsewhere. It demands precision, strategy and accuracy. If not you could walk away with a nasty looking scorecard.
The best public golf courses in Florida Keys
3. Key West Golf Club
Next up is the superb and ever-popular Key West Golf Club. From here, you’re a mere 4 or 5 miles from the most southerly point in continental U.S. This is as far down the Florida Keys as you can get, certainly by road.
Even more enticing is the fact Key West Golf Club is the self-proclaimed ‘Gateway to the Caribbean’. Or as they like to state, the only Caribbean golf course in the United States!
And this is a course with historical pedigree, part of the ‘Florida Historic Golf Trail’. Key West Golf Club originated in the early 1920s, with the first 9-hole layout designed by William Langford and Theodore Moreau.
Langford and Moreau had initially outlined plans for an 18-hole layout, but due to financial difficulties, this was shelved. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the additional 9-holes were added to create the 18-hole layout we have today.
Some twenty years later in 1983, the course was completely redesigned by Rees Jones and his co-designer Keith Evans. This is the routing we have and can enjoy today.
The course is routed through 200-acres of beautiful native foliage with an abundance of wildlife. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a nice day out. This is a challenging layout which requires you to be on your game.
There is plenty of water and a lot of bunkers in play. A number of fairways don’t have rough…they just have dense mangroves. The signature hole for example is the ‘Mangrove Hole’. A par-3 which is 143 yards, but with nothing but mangroves from the tee to the green!
This is a splendid course and at just $65 for a twilight round, good value.
4. Florida Keys Country Club
And so we move on to the last on our list of golf courses in Florida Keys. As we travel down the chain of islands, just before arriving at the historic seven mile bridge, we eventually arrive at Marathon and Boot Key.
Overlooking Boot Key Harbor, is Florida Key Country Club. Originally called the Sombrero Yacht and Golf Club, it first came to life in 1956.
Building the course was no mean feat, with over five million cubic yards of dredged coral and marl required to provide the base for the course. This provided 135 acres for the chosen architect, Mark Mahannah, to draw out a routing.
Mahannah’s design firm was responsible for designing approximately 50 courses worldwide. A number of those were in far flung countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Mexico and Taiwan. But he was also responsible for many within the US. Florida Keys Country Club being one of them.
Molding an 18 hole layout within this plot of land can’t have been the easiest of feats. Yet manage he did, producing a course yardage around 6,500 yards. Fairways were lush and lined by palm trees.
Sadly, at the time of writing, the course is currently down to just 9-holes. This is due to major storm damage with no obvious long term solution in the pipe to reopen the other nine . So for now, it is effectively a glorified 9-hole course, with different pin positions when playing the ‘back nine’.