As his follow-up to building Michael Jordan’s exclusive Grove XXIII course, architect Bobby Weed recently opened an innovative and environmentally sensitive course called Stillwater outside Jacksonville.
The 18-hole layout features a unique and versatile routing that can also be played in loops of 3, 6, 9, and 12 holes. There’s no rough, only 70 acres of irrigated turf, and 18 acres of shell screenings that help replace traditional cart paths. Most notably, Stillwater is the first all-new course to open in Northern Florida in two decades. And while it’s located in an active adult community, Stillwater is open to public play.
Although Florida has the most golf courses in the nation by a long shot, Northern Florida generally isn’t the first location that springs to mind when it comes to golf in the Sunshine State. That’s understandable with golf-rich areas like Palm Beach, Naples, Port St. Lucie, Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, but the golf along the Florida Panhandle and closer to the Georgia border can be quite exceptional.
Here are six of North Florida’s best public golf offerings.
TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach)
We’ll start with the best of the bunch. Opened southeast of Jacksonville just over four decades ago, TPC Sawgrass is the home of the Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s headquarters, and one of the most iconic holes in the game—the island green 17th hole at the Stadium course. Hall of Fame architect Pete Dye also helped design the property’s second course, Dye’s Valley, with the aforementioned Weed and player consultant Jerry Pate (the winner of the first Players Championship held at TPC Sawgrass in 1982).
World Golf Village (St. Augustine)
The Hall of Fame is relocating to Pinehurst, N.C., but two good golf courses remain at the World Golf Village: The King & Bear and The Slammer & Squire. The former gets its name from its co-designers, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who were both inducted into the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1974. The latter, which opened in 1998, was designed by Bobby Weed with input from two other Hall of Fame players—Sam Snead, who was nicknamed the “Slammer,” and Gene Sarazen, who was known as the “Squire.”
Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort (Miramar Beach)
Along sandy white beaches and the emerald waters of the Gulf Coast, the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort boasts four golf courses that are popular with its vacation rental guests. Burnt Pine is the most well regarded of the group, a Rees Jones design highlighted by breathtaking views of the Choctawhatchee Bay on the back nine. Baytowne, The Links, and Raven Golf Club are the other Sandestin courses, with the Raven neighboring Burnt Pine and offering the only property at which you can find side-by-side courses from Rees and Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Kelly Plantation Golf Club (Destin)
With a coastal setting on a former turpentine plantation, this championship course designed by Fred Couples and Gene Bates weaves along the waterfront and through bayous and towering trees. Many of the trees on the semi-private layout, which also features 11 lakes, still have holes located at the bottom from which the turpentine was drained long ago. Palmettos and magnolias native to the northwest are also prominent throughout, with two sets of tees named after the local flora.
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (Ponte Vedra Beach)
On a pristine stretch of northwest Florida beach, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is closing in on its 100th anniversary. The seaside Ocean Course is the property’s signature experience, with its original Herbert Strong design renovated recently by Weed. The Ocean Course boasts a historic island green of its own and while lagoons are central to the design, the second course at the property is actually called the Lagoon Course. That layout features two different designers: Robert Trent Jones for the front nine and Joe Lee for the back nine.
Omni Amelia Island Resort (Fernandina Beach)
Just north of Jacksonville, nestled on 1,350 acres on the top of a barrier island off the Florida coast, this oceanfront resort has several courses open to the public, including the Pete Dye-designed Oak Marsh course. In fitting Dye fashion, especially having opened in 1972 shortly after the completion of Harbour Town, Oak Marsh is known for tight fairways, small greens, and salt marsh creeks that wind through moss-draped oaks. While there’s also a Tom Fazio private course on property, Omni Amelia Island recently opened a 10-hole short course open to the public and resort guests called Little Sandy.
What are your favorite Northern Florida courses?