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Cheap, close and unpretentious: Florida's best municipal golf courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Sometimes you just want to take your hacks without taking a wallet hit. Florida golf is loaded with quality municipal courses like Crandon Park, Daytona Beach Golf Club and The Golf Club at Cypress Head where you can get in a quality round for well under a C-note.

Crandon Park Golf Course
Crandon Park Golf Course in Key Biscayne offers great views of the Miami skyline.
Crandon Park Golf CourseHilaman Park Municipal Golf CourseCleveland Heights Golf Course

For years, golf has been evolving into a game for rich swells, but plenty of us are still content to head for the local municipal golf course and take a few hacks along with a few swings.

Munis come in all shapes and sizes, but they have several things in common. Such as ... well, allow me to quote a muni lover's response to a report in a Florida Today blog about Melbourne, Fla. city officials mulling name changes for the town's publicly owned tracks.

"Changing the names of the municipal golf courses is stupid," the anonymous poster wrote. "People (like me) who play at these courses could care less about the name. We play there because they are 1) cheap, 2) close to home and 3) unpretentious."

Well said. We haven't played all the cheap, close and unpretentious courses in Florida, but we've played quite a few. Here are our favorites.

Crandon Park Golf Course, Key Biscayne: You don't often find governors playing munis, unless they need to shore up support among the common folk. But when Jeb Bush was Florida's chief executive, he was a regular at Crandon Park.

"He'd probably tell you this is one of his favorite courses," said Carlos McKeon, manager of golf operations for Miami-Dade County. "We have a rule when the governor plays: If you can't see your ball, you just take a drop."

With an upscale clubhouse and a great Robert Von Hagge/Bruce Devlin design, Crandon Park ranks as one of the best munis in Florida, if not the country. And you don't have to be the president's brother to play here. In the summer - most of the year here - you can get on for $30 after 10 a.m.

Jacksonville Beach Golf Course, Jacksonville Beach: This is the sort of place where the regulars laugh and joke at their favorite corner table in the clubhouse as they wait for tee times on a dreary winter morning.

Thoroughly renovated in 1987 and regularly tuned up since (many of the fairways and greens have been redone in the last four years), Jacksonville Beach G.C. is kept in solid shape. The $35-$43 green fees ensure a steady stream of paying customers, to the tune of about 60,000 a year.

Ironwood Golf Course, Gainesville: Unlike the development-driven courses that dot the Gainesville area, Ironwood is a pleasant walk in the park - or, more specifically, the woods, since there are all sorts of critters ambling around.

Widely denigrated as "Ironweed" when the city bought it in 1992, the course has undergone continuous improvements. The top green fee is a terrific deal even by the standards of one of Florida's less expensive golf markets.

Bent Creek Golf Club, Jacksonville: For years, the Golf Club of Jacksonville on the city's less-than-upscale west side was a decent course. When Billy Casper's management group took it over, it morphed into a very good one, with a new name.

At 6,609 yards with a 131 slope rating from the gold tees, Bent Creek is no bear, but nor it is a cupcake. Locals will tell you it plays a few shots easier with the removal of hundreds of trees over the years. But it is also heavily mounded, which adds flavor to the flat Florida terrain and can waylay the wayward.

Green fees are cheap, and the lighted driving range is one of the best around.

Daytona Beach Golf Club, Daytona Beach: They used to show up at Daytona Beach's municipal course at 3 a.m., hunched up in lawn chairs or even camping out, waiting for a tee time.

That was a century ago, when this was pretty much the only game in town. But Daytona Beach G.C. still draws crowds.

This is pretty much everything you want in a muni: good conditioning, cheap green fees, an active involvement with youth and the ability to handle the hordes. And a fair challenge - the two courses have their share of good golf holes.

Hilaman Park Municipal Golf Course, Tallahassee: Hilaman Park is located in the heart of Tallahassee, and at first you might feel like an apartment hunter being shown the surrounding complexes.

But slowly the course meanders away from the hubbub, like a relative sneaking away from a family argument, and Hilaman turns into a pretty picturesque layout, with some nice elevation changes and interesting holes.

The club finished green, tee and bunker renovations in 1999.

The Golf Club at Cypress Head, Port Orange: The name makes it sound like a ritzy resort course, or a la-di-da affair in a swank neighborhood with CEOs strutting around like peacocks.

But The Golf Club at Cypress Head is all muni, and all good - a course most resorts would be proud to show off. The affordable green fees are gravy.

The Arthur Hills/Mike Dasher layout sports characteristic Hills greens, fast and well-contoured. Many have some pretty dramatic slope and undulation.

Deep Creek Golf Club, Punta Gorda: Deep Creek has the look and feel of an old-time favorite revered by its regulars. They're out here every day, most of them seemingly over 60, hitting it 100 yards straight down the fairway, not worrying about the pace of play and having a ball.

"I've played here for 16 years, I ought to know it," said Joe Parry, an Ohio transplant who moved to the area 26 years ago. "They keep it in good shape, and it's close to my house."

Deep Creek is short, cheap and fun, as long as you don't mind up to five-hour rounds when the gangs show up.

Cleveland Heights Golf Course, Lakeland: Don't let the almost-downtown location fool you -- Cleveland Heights feels well out of the way, what with all the alligators, hawks and eagles about.

Built in 1927, the course hosts about 80,000 rounds a year, so don't expect pristine conditions. But the design by W.S. Flynn -- a contemporary and obvious devotee of Donald Ross -- is interesting and varied, and the staff are genuinely enthusiastic about their course, which isn't always the case at munis.

And get this: There's a "steam bar" where you can get steamed oysters. What other muni has steamed oysters?

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Orlando Golf Course *

    S.Feroze wrote on: Aug 14, 2008

    Can anyone help with a website for a under$50 greenfeees golf course in Orland near the Disney resort area,we can drive there ,I want to join a group and even have a group lesson.Advice welcomed


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