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The Best Places You Can Play in Florida

February 22, 2022
TPC Sawgrass

Florida golf gets a bad rap—it’s too flat and uninteresting, you’ve probably heard. With more than 1,450 courses (including nine-holers), sure, there are a number of tired if not monotonous layouts. The courses on this list, though, belong in a separate category.

We pulled our panelists’ scores from our most recent America’s 100 Greatest and Best in State rankings to determine the Best Places You Can Play in Florida. We stopped this list at 30 courses but could’ve easily went to 50.

There’s a reason Florida is the most popular destination for golfers residing in northern states—and not just because it has the most golf out of any state. There’s some damn good golf—you just have to know where to look.

TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium)

Dom Furore / Golf Digest

TPC’s stadium concept was the idea of then-PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman. The 1980 design was pure Pete Dye, who set out to test the world’s best golfers by mixing demands of distance with target golf. Most greens are ringed by random lumps, bumps and hollows, what Dye calls his "grenade attack architecture." His ultimate target hole is the heart-pounding sink-or-swim island green 17th, which offers no bailout. The 17th has spawned over a hundred imitation island greens in the past 30 years.

Streamsong Red

Laurence Lambrecht

Coore and Crenshaw’s Red course is part of a resort triple-header that gives golfers a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the differences in styles and philosophies of three of America’s hottest design firms. The Red was built from sand spoils created by a massive phosphate strip mine, with some piles forming dunes reaching 75 feet into the air. The Red has a wonderful mix of bump-and-run links holes and target-like water holes. The turf is always firm and fast, but it’s a terrific walk. —Ron Whitten

Streamsong Blue

Courtesy of Laurence Lambrecht

Although congenial rivals, Tom Doak and Bill Coore actually collaborated on Streamsong’s original 36-hole routing, walking the site and mentally weaving holes around stunning mounds, lagoons, sand spits, savannahs and swamp, all elements left after a strip-mining operation. Coore then gave Doak first choice on which 18 he wanted to build, so Doak’s Blue Course includes a few holes routed by Coore. (Coore and Crenshaw’s Red, ranked No. 118, contains some holes originally envisioned by Doak.) —Ron Whitten

Watch Golf Digest’s latest “Every Hole At” course videos below:

Streamsong Black

Laurence Lambrecht

Gil Hanse’s Black Course at Streamsong, Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course of 2018, sits a mile south of the Red and Blue, with its own clubhouse and its own personality. Hanse provided strategic character and variety: There’s a hidden punchbowl green at 9, dual putting surfaces at 13, a meandering creek on the par-5 fourth and a lagoon cove guarding the 18th green. These are the biggest, most complex greens found on our national ranking—some might call them “polarizing,” but we prefer “fun.” —Ron Whitten

Trump National Doral (Blue Monster)

Stephen Szurlej

The linchpin of the famous four-course complex at Trump National Doral Miami previously known as Doral Golf Resort, the Blue Monster had hosted a PGA Tour event annually from 1962 to 2016. The fearsome layout has been given added bite by Hanse and Wagner by creation of new slopes and ridges on several holes and the excavation of new lakes on the par-3 15th and the drivable par-4 16th to add more excitement to the finish. But they wisely left the legendary 18th nearly untouched. Why mess with history? —Ron Whitten

World Woods (Pine Barrens)

Evan Schiller

Some exciting news was delivered to fans of World Woods in January when it was announced the Cabot Group (that of Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links in Canada) was acquiring the 36-hole complex in Brookville, Fla. This former America's 100 Greatest ranking will get a significant facelift in coming years. Back when Golf Digest's named the Pine Barrens Course at World Woods' America's Best New Resort Course of 1994, most panelists said the layout, carved from a sand-based pine plantation, compared favorably to Pine Valley, with similar belts of sand and vegetation lining each hole. Over the years, the course remained a favorite for bargain golfers even as conditions have deteriorated. Now there's reason to be optimistic about the future state of this top-notch Florida complex.

Bay Hill Club and Lodge (Champion/Challenger)

Courtesy: Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge

Open only to members and guests staying at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, the world-renowned Champion and Challenger nines make up the 18-hole Bay Hill course played by the game's best at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Charger, a third nine, offers a shorter, more open (but still challenging) experience. You'll still find Palmer's name and trademark umbrella logo on the range, where you'd find him on a daily basis.

Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa (Conservatory)

Courtesy of the club

Hammock Beach is a Golf Digest Editors' Choice award-winning resort in Florida and has two of the best public courses in Florida: The first being the Tom Watson-designed Conservatory course, which is more inland than the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean course. The Conservatory course is not your typical Florida resort course—it’s equipped with British links-style features throughout and boasts elaborate stone work, waterfalls and streams.

Innisbrook Golf Resort (Copperhead)

The Copperhead course is most famous for hosting the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship every April, but Innisbrook is home to three more championship courses—Island, North and South—with views more like the sand hills of the Carolinas than you might expect in Florida.

PGA National Resort (The Champion)

One of five 18-hole courses at PGA National, the Champion Course hosts the Honda Classic every year. Originally designed by Tom and George Fazio for tournament play, Jack Nicklaus redesigned the course in 2014 then again in 2019. The Champion is one of the toughest annual hosts of a PGA Tour event, including the brutal three-hole stretch (15 through 17) known as "The Bear Trap."

Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa (Ocean)

This Tom Watson-designed track is not your typical Florida resort course—it’s equipped with British links-style features throughout and boasts elaborate stone work, waterfalls and streams.

Omni Amelia Island Resort (Oak Marsh)

Set within vast salt marsh creeks and lined with moss-draped heritage oak trees, the Oak Marsh Golf Course is a classic Pete Dye design. Built around the same time as Dye’s renowned Harbour Town Golf Links at Hilton Head, Oak Marsh is a challenging, but enjoyable wetland course.

World Woods (Rolling Oaks)

Evan Schiller

Like its sister course Pine Barrens, Rolling Oaks is anticipated to undergo a significant transformation with Cabot acquiring the property. As its name suggests, the Rolling Oaks Course features undulating fairways outlined by large Spanish-moss draped trees. Time will tell whether the Cabot group brings in an architect to redesign the course—but it's likely the course will undergo substantial work in the coming years.

Gasparilla Inn & Club

Open to members and guests of the resort, Gasparilla Golf Club rests on the picturesque coast of Charlotte Harbor. Expect a breeze from the surrounding waters to provide a steady challenge at this well-conditioned Pete Dye signature design.

TPC Sawgrass (Dye's Valley)

The Dye's Valley course at TPC Sawgrass has hosted elite professional and amateur tournaments and is worth playing for anyone staying in and around Ponte Vedra Beach.

Old Corkscrew Golf Club

Old Corkscrew, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is routed through the natural landscape of Southwest Florida (no homes!) including cypress trees, tall pines, wetlands, etc., and serves as habitat for dozens of exotic animals.

Tiburón Golf Course (Gold Course)

Dave Sansom

Though plenty of options are sprinkled across Naples, Greg Norman's Tiburón courses at the Ritz-Carlton are on the top of most lists. The Gold course course features stacked sod wall bunkers and no conventional rough and is home to the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship and the PGA Tour’s QBE Shootout.

PGA Golf Club (Dye)

The Dye Course at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie is a links-style course routed through wetlands. Pine straw, coquina waste bunkers and grass bunkers capture the Florida setting, while the layouts of the holes draw strongly on British Isles roots.

Burnt Pine Golf Club at Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort

After routing players through the pine forests and wetlands of the Emerald Coast, Rees Jones wows golfers on the back nine with views of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Much like the differing scenery on each nine, players will be required to hit a different type of approach shot into each green at Burnt Pine G.C. at Sandestin.

Tiburón Golf Course (Black Course)

Dave Sansom

Nestled among the Florida pines, Tiburón Black uses the natural landscape to feature undulating greens and crushed coquina waste areas. The sister course to The Gold, the Black is part of 36 holes that guests of the Ritz Carlton have access to.

Lakewood National is home to two relatively new 18-hole courses designed by Arnold Palmer's design team: the Commander Course and the Piper Course. Bunkering and water hazards are prominent throughout the property, making for a typical Florida golf experience.

Designed by Jack Nicklaus and John Sanford, the team responsible for Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in NYC and Naples Beach Hotel G.C., the new course at Banyan Cay replaces the old Presidents Country Club. The golf course provides ample target lines from the tee box for both the conservative/aggressive and long/short tee shots. The greens are undulating and often very quick. The large run-off areas surrounding the greens allowed for either chipping or putting.

The Omni Orlando boasts two Greg Norman-designed championship courses in addition to a well-lit nine-hole par-3 track—with renovation work being done at both courses in recent years.

World Golf Village (King & Bear)

Dave Sansom

Designed by Bobby Weed in collaboration with Sam Snead (the “Slammer”) and Gene Sarazen (the “Squire”), this Jacksonville 18-hole course is enjoyable for a variety of handicaps. As players navigate the wetlands and natural landscape, they’ll also get an excellent view of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Three stellar golf courses—designed by Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson—can be found at this full-service Orlando-area resort, making it the only destination with three courses designed by these three legends. A manageable drive to the airport makes this a worthwhile addition to any Orlando golf trip.

Jensen Larson

Just 10 minutes from downtown Miami, Crandon Golf at Key Biscane hosted the PGA Tour Champions for 18 years. The dashing Robert von Hagge/Bruce Devlin design twirls through the interior jungle of Key Biscayne with holes that bend around various saltwater lagoons. But the real allure of the location has always remained hidden because, for environmental reasons, golf course views across the bay toward Coconut Grove and downtown Miami remain closed off behind shoreline trees.

Courtesy of the club

Jax Beach muny is just a few blocks from the beach. It was redone in 2018 to include more par 4s and fewer water hazards, making it the perfect stop for a casual round, regardless of skill level.

Courtesy of the club

The only Jack Nicklaus design in Northwest Florida, Bay Point Golf Club takes you on a trip along St. Andrews Bay and through a marshland wildlife sanctuary.

Recently renovated by the Palmer Design Group, Shingle Creek uses knobs, swales and slopes combined with closely mown runoff areas around elevated greens to provide a challenging, par-72, 7,213 yards of engaging golf.

Redesigned by Raymond Floyd in 2009, the Palm Beach Par-3 Course is widely regarded as one of the most fun short courses anywhere. Situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, it hosted an LPGA Pro-Am for 18 years.