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Florida's top 10 golf courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

LEE, Fla. - It may be convincingly argued that Florida is the epicenter of golf in the U.S., practically if not geographically. The Sunshine State has more golf courses than any other state - more than 1,200 as of the latest count.

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The 17th green at the TPC Sawgrass: one of most-photographed golf holes ever.
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Golfers from all over the country flock to Florida in the winter and the state attracts the biggest names in pro golf and in golf architecture year-round. Its drawbacks are terrain that is mainly flat and summers that are mainly excruciatingly hot.

With this many golf courses, you would think you would find many more nationally acclaimed courses. That doesn't mean Florida is void of some great golf; the state has courses that have found their way onto national "best of" lists built on the natural contours of the land, and some that make their own contours.

Here is TravelGolf.com's list of the top 10 courses in Florida, based on personal observation and input from those who have experienced the best the state has to offer.

No. 1 - Seminole Golf Club, Juno Beach: The creme de la creme of Florida golf, designed by the legendary Donald Ross in 1929. No other Florida course comes close, and recent touchups to the bunkering and new turf have only made it better.

Seminole is 6,787 yards long with few trees, but a lot of water, befitting a course inspired by the Scottish links. It's a typically flat, Florida course with slightly elevated tees and greens, and much of its beauty comes from the nearby Atlantic ocean.

It's a private course with green fees in the $200 range. The estimated 20,000 rounds a year help keep its conditioning flawless. Dick Wilson is responsible for the design, with a restoration in 1991.

No. 2 - Jupiter Hills Golf Club (Hills course), Jupiter: Some say Jupiter Hills is the pinnacle of George Fazio's design career. It's not long at 6,479 yards, but the greens are sloped and well-protected by bunkers.

Players who get the chance to play it will remember its 194-yard, par-3 ninth hole, a one-shotter over a ravine to an island green surrounded by dense pine forest. Also a private club.

No. 3 - Black Diamond Ranch Golf and Country Club (Quarry course), Lecanto: Another private course, designed by a Fazio, this one named Tom.

Five holes surround a quarry and two lakes bring water into play. The fairways are framed by live oaks, dogwood, myrtle and magnolia, and the greens are sharply undulating. It's atypical in that it is hilly. The 7,159-yard course has a slope rating of 141 from the back tees. Green fees are in the $160 range.

No. 4 - Westin Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead course), Tarpon Springs: Ernie Els said the Copperhead Course is "the best golf course the PGA Tour plays in Florida," a notion seconded by Stewart Cink. Curtis Strange said, "I could play this course for the rest of my life and enjoy it - it has that much character."

First of all, it isn't a typically flat, Florida course even though it's pretty far from the central highlands of the state. Copperhead has up to 70 feet of elevation changes, and you might think for a fleeting instant you're in the Carolinas. But, the April heat will quickly un-cloud your thoughts and make you remember you're in Florida, and if that doesn't do it, the Spanish moss-draped cypress trees and alligators sunning themselves beside the lakes and ponds will.

No. 5 - World Woods Golf Club (Pine Barrens course), Brooksville: World Woods gets quite a bit of play for being stuck so far out in the woods, but it's worth it.

It's a narrow, difficult course lined with pines and full of long carries over vast waste areas. Trees are always in play, either on one side of the fairway or the other. It's 6,902 yards long, and requires a great deal of touch. A Tom Fazio design, green fees are in the $85-$95 range.

No. 6 - Naples National Golf Club, Naples: A private course designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, the course has well-manicured greens and strategically-placed bunkers throughout the course. Water, sand and pine straw edge the tree-lined fairways, and players rave about the versatility of the course day to day.

It's in the 7,000-yard range from the tips, with a whopping slope of 150, and green fees are a hefty $200.

No. 7 - Pablo Creek Golf Club, Jacksonville: One of the few courses on the First Coast not dominated by over-development, Pablo Creek is a better overall golf experience than the TPC Stadium course, in the minds of many golfers who have played both. Rolling terrain, hardwood hammocks and marsh-side views.

No. 8 - Bay Hill Golf Course, Orlando: Arnold Palmer's home course and the site of the Bay Hill Invitational. Palmer whipped Jack Nicklaus in an exhibition match here back in the 1960s and was so impressed, he ended up buying the place.

There are three nines, with the Challenger and Champion nines hosting the tournament, both designed by Dick Wilson, with later tinkering by Palmer and Ed Seay. It's a semi-private course with guests at Bay Hill Club and Lodge able to play at reasonable rates.

No. 9 - TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium course) Ponte Vedra: The track we're all familiar with from The Players Championship, the course will be closed for about seven or eight months after the 2006 tournament. Not to worry, most of the work will involve improving drainage with only minor tweaking to the course itself.

It's Pete Dye at his best or worst, depending on your opinion of him, where even great shots can produce eventual curses. This is where stadium golf was invented and island greens made famous.

No. 10 - Trump International Golf Course, West Palm Beach: Who says Florida courses have to be flat and dull? Not if you have $40 million, which is what Donald Trump paid to have three million cubic yards of earth moved to create jungles, hills, 45-foot elevation changes and a hell of a waterfall. Another Fazio piece of work, this one by Jim.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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