The Breakers (Rees Jones Course)
Located 10 miles west of the famed Gilded Age seaside resort and light years beyond the antique 18-holer that encircles the hotel, this solid, straightforward layout, superimposed by Rees Jones onto a pre-existing 1968 venue, is beautifully framed by palms, oaks, and pines, with five acres of water in play. Stretching to 7,104 yards, this well-groomed spread is a versatile test marked by broad fairways, subtly contoured greens, and flashed-face bunkers. The quartet of par threes, three of which play over water, is outstanding.
Biltmore Golf Course
Reopened in 2007 following a $5 million facelift by Brian Silva, the revived course on the doorstep of the Biltmore Hotel 15 minutes west of Miami fully captures the strategic intent of Donald Ross’s 1925 design. Silva retained the original routing, but all greens, tees, and bunkers were reconstructed and grassed to contemporary standards. The walker-friendly, links-style layout, accented by palms and other tropical trees, is swept by ocean breezes. Clever angles and well-placed bunkers create a “risk-reward” element at nearly every hole.
Fort Myers Country Club
A 1917 Donald Ross design reopened last fall following a $6 million makeover directed by Steve Smyers, this historic downtown muni, located across the street from the Caloosahatchee River and lined in places by royal palms planted a century ago by Thomas Edison, is infused with all things Ross. These design flourishes include wide welcoming fairways, subtle crowned greens, and well-placed bunkers. The totally revitalized, walker-friendly “Fort” now stretches to 6,780 yards (par 70), with five par threes and three par fives in the mix. The clubhouse displays memorabilia from the era of its two most famous snowbirds, Edison and Henry Ford.
Situated in a swank enclave on Florida’s southwest coast known for its exclusive private golf communities, this 15-year-old Rees Jones-designed course, attached to the Naples Grande Beach Resort, is one of the few public-access venue in the neighborhood. Jones, who built three miles of berms to shield the housing-free course from adjacent roadways, created a traditional, well-balanced layout that skirts a large natural lake and weaves through a forest of mature oak, pine, and cypress trees. The layout’s strategic nuances and risk-reward options are fully realized from the tips at 6,955 yards.
North Palm Beach Country Club
North Palm Beach
At a degraded municipal facility that was more brown than green, Jack Nicklaus, who lives nearby, charged village authorities the grand sum of $1 to stretch its tired, worn-out public course by nearly 700 yards and create a true Florida classic 10 years ago. This beguiling, well-strategized layout winds through oak hammocks and sprawls across the Seminole Ridge, with two holes routed beside the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s plenty of room off the tee, but the undulating greens are the great equalizer.
A Jack Nicklaus-designed course originally built as a private club (it’s now open to the public), Old Corkscrew, located between Naples and Fort Myers, is a strategic tour de force parted through native oak hammocks, tall slash pines and ball-gobbling palmettos. Wildlife—swamp fox squirrels, wood storks, and alligators—is abundant. The greens, which resemble blistered potato chips, are among the most undulating Nicklaus has ever built. At 7,393 yards from the tips, Old Corkscrew carries a course and slope rating of 77.6/153, one of the highest in the state.
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club
Ponte Vedra Beach
This vintage beachfront resort is home to the Ocean Course, a classic Golden Era layout designed by Herbert Strong in 1928. While not long by modern standards at 6,811 yards (par 72), the Ocean Course is a breezy, low-profile track with 99 well-placed bunkers and pulpit greens that demand accurate approach shots. The island green at the par-three 9th hole, inspiration for the 17th at nearby TPC Sawgrass, was the first ever built.
Florida’s Panhandle, a former pirate’s playground “entrepreneured” by Chicago gangsters during Prohibition, has always been a red-headed stepchild to the Sunshine State’s more elite getaways. The exception is Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a solid 72-hole getaway headlined by the Raven, a beautifully landscaped Robert Trent Jones Jr. design marked by slash pines, ornamental grasses, and cluster bunkering inspired by Seminole, the exclusive club in North Palm Beach. There’s water in play on 13 holes, but forced carries are rare from the forward tees.
Located 35 miles north of Orlando in a sleepy college town, this Ron Garl-designed course boasts a rare-for-Florida 80-foot elevation change. Thick oaks, tall pines, sandy waste areas and pristine lakes frame the rolling fairways. Home of the men’s and women’s golf teams at Stetson University, this 7,149-yard layout is a walker-friendly, shotmaker’s track that calls for sound strategy in return for par. This is especially true on and around the large swift greens, many of them guarded by bunkers and close-cropped swales that appear airlifted from Pinehurst. The $30 rate for walkers after 12 p.m. is a steal.
World Woods (Rolling Oaks)
Ninety minutes north of Tampa is a sprawling, middle-of-nowhere complex headlined by Pine Barrens, designer Tom Fazio’s paean to Pine Valley and one of the state’s top-ranked public venues. In its shadow is Rolling Oaks, a classic parkland-style course by Fazio, its gently rolling fairways framed by huge moss-draped live oaks, coral rock outcrops, and natural sinkholes. Come spring, azaleas and dogwoods planted beneath the hardwoods conjure the look of Augusta National.