Here's a handy guide to some great public golf courses in the the Sunshine State.
By Kevin Kenney
From Key West to Pensacola, Florida occupies 54,253 square miles of diverse topography, making the state a great place for golfers with varied tastes. From the windswept, low-lying coastal areas in the southern part of the peninsula to the rolling hills of Central and North Florida, you’ll find more than 1,400 golf courses. And thanks to our temperate climate, many of these courses are open year ‘round.
With so many choices, the problem isn’t finding a golf course – it’s choosing a course that suits you. To guide you on your next Florida golf trip, I’ve created a list of some of my favorite public golf courses in Florida.
My compilation of public, non-resort golf courses is based on personal experience and the respected opinions of fellow PGA professionals. And, of course, there are other great public golf courses to try besides these. I encourage you to try to play them all.
World Woods Golf Club, Brooksville
Located in Brooksville, an hour north of Tampa International Airport, World Woods is one of the top public golf courses in Florida and a golfer’s paradise. This Tom Fazio-designed complex is in a natural setting with no adjacent homes.
The two championship courses are Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks. Pine Barrens is a top 100 golf course that’s often compared to Pine Valley. Rolling Oaks is not as highly rated but still a great layout. Additionally, there is a nine-hole short course and a three-hole warm-up course adjacent to one of the best driving ranges in the country.
Orange County National Golf Center, Orlando
A 45-hole facility, Orange County National in Orlando has played host to the PGA TOUR Q-school finals. The Panther Lake and Crooked Cat championship courses are complimented by the nine-hole Tooth course and a huge practice facility that’s unrivaled in the Orlando area.
Polo Trace Golf Club, Delray Beach
Polo Trace offers a unique links-style layout designed by PGA TOUR player Joey Sindelar and Karl Litten. The course offers gentle elevation changes and is the only course I’ve played that has back to back to back par fives (holes 9, 10 and 11).
Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club Haines City
A top 100 course, Southern Dunes is located in Haines City, about 22 miles from Walt Disney World. This Steve Smyers layout is built on a central Florida sand dune and features rolling fairways with huge greens complexes. It’s a test for even the best players.
SouthWood Golf Club, Tallahassee
Built on a former plantation, SouthWood is Tallahassee's best public course. PGA TOUR player Fred Couples and architect Gene Bates did a wonderful job of routing the course through rolling pasture land framed by ancient live oaks.
Kelly Plantation Golf Club, Destin
Kelly Plantation is a Couples/Bates design located in the beautiful Northwest Florida town of Destin. Adjacent to Choctawhatchee Bay, this award-winning course meanders through unique North Florida wetlands with little environmental impact.
Waterlefe Golf & River Club, Bradenton
Waterlefe offers a great course that borders the beautiful Manatee River. The golf course designer, Ted McAnlis, took great care in routing this course so as not to disturb the natural setting along one of Florida's prettiest rivers. In winter, it is not uncommon to witness manatees along the 15th tee.
The Golf Club at Summerbrooke / Tallahassee
Summerbooke is a hidden hidden gem in the Capital City, with great value and an aggressive maintenance plan that has given this fantastic golf course a facelift. A bonus: the resort-style pool, with a 6,000-square-foot deck and covered pavilion area.
Eastwood Golf Course, Fort Myers
Eastwood is a city-owned and -operated Devil/Von Hagge design located just off I-75 in Fort Myers. Unique to Southwest Florida, this course is set in an undisturbed, natural setting with no homes and plenty of wildlife. The designers did a great job of creating rolling fairways on an otherwise flat tract of land. The greens complexes are well guarded by bunkers and the occasional water hazard.
PGA Golf Club, Port St. Lucie
PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie offers 54 holes of championship golf and one of the best golf learning centers in the country. Tom Fazio designed two of these top Florida public golf courses, while Pete Dye designed the third. The Fazio courses offer traditional Florida-type layouts, while the Dye course is more of a Carolina-style course.