All Florida golf courses look alike? Hardly! Whoever said that never had a tee time on Old Corkscrew in Estero, The Rookery on Marco Island, Crandon Park in Miami, Lost Key Golf Club on Perdido Key or Hawk's Landing in Orlando. Here are some of Florida's most scenic courses ...
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Florida golf courses have taken a lot of bad-mouthing. They're too flat, too watery, too boring, critics have said.
I say nay. They're boring only to the unobservant. Florida is a beautiful state, with much more varied topography than most visitors realize. Some of the most scenic golf courses follow the natural lay of the land, getting the most out of the graceful contours, while other make their own contours with man-made machinery.
Writing about all the scenic courses of Florida could fill a book. Here are some of our favorites, with later additions to follow:
• Old Corkscrew Golf Course in Estero: This is a new course bound for glory. It sits unmolested in an old-Florida setting, a standalone course with no real estate to mar the views. Colorful wading birds like roseate spoonbills, herons and egrets stalk food in the marshes, surrounded by cypress, palmetto and palm. Throw in a smattering of empty farmland for variety.
• Hammock Beach Resort's Ocean Course in Palm Coast: Jack Nicklaus used bulldozers to raise the tees and greens, lifting them above the dune line to give spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, one of very few courses able to do so. Give credit to the owners for keeping the dunes as the only obstacle to picture-perfect ocean views.
• The Rookery at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort on Marco Island: Perched on the edge of the 10,000 islands, the vast expanse of the southwest part of the state makes itself known via the wide marsh views. This is a beautiful, low-key layout with wild, native grasses like Fakahatchee, fountain grass, yellow "dune daisies" and the brilliant red of firecracker weed.
• Crandon Park Golf Course on Key Biscayne in Miami: Located on a pristine island environment with seven saltwater lakes and views of the Miami skyline. The course is dotted with palms and mangrove and other exotic, tropical growth, not to mention exotic wildlife like iguanas and crocodiles.
• The Golf Club at North Hampton in Fernandina Beach: Arnold Palmer's firm moved about a million cubic yards of northeast Florida dirt to create the dramatic hills that line most fairways, topped with wild grasses like cord, purple love and leather fern. Ten spring-fed lakes, frequently held back by boulders, and the wild grasses whipping in the wind give the course a natural feel.
• Golf Club of Amelia Island: This club is very much in harmony with the well-heeled resort of the same name. The fairways are a deep green, with little pockets of bright flowers interspersed throughout the course. Fountains flow from lakes and ponds. But the real attraction is the ancient gnarled oaks, some of them so old they must have provided shade to the Timucuan Indians who inhabited this area so long ago.
• Amelia Island Plantation Ocean Links on Amelia Island: It's barely 6,000 yards long, but this is another of those rare Florida golf courses with up-close-and-personal views of its most precious asset, the Atlantic Ocean.
• Islandside, Longboat Key Club & Resort on Longboat Key: This course is so close to the Gulf, you can hear the grouper moan. It's one of those old-time Florida courses you used to see on postcards; you can picture Jackie Gleason teeing off, martini in hand. Construction has marred the views, but there are still the palm and banyan trees framing the holes, and pink and white oleanders bloom along the fairways and canals.
• Island at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor: The Island is more scenic than its more famous sister golf course, the Copperhead. At the Island, you might think you were on the South Carolina coast, with moss-draped Cypress trees and a distinctly Lowcountry attitude. The six holes are dominated by Lake Innisbrook, the middle six have rolling, tree-lined fairways, and the last six are chock full of risk/reward options.
• Lost Key Golf Club on Perdido Key: The course is laid down gently, between downtown Pensacola and Gulf Shores, Ala. It's a narrow, barrier island with sand dunes as white as the reflecting clouds, and it has retained that wild, barrier island feel, even as high-rise condos have risen on the increasingly developed island.
The designers had to take pains to route the course through the natural wetlands that flow through the 150 acres. They did a god job: Lost Key was the first course in the state to earn the fanciest-sounding award from Audubon International, called the silver signature sanctuary.
• Hawk's Landing Golf Club at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort: The golf course takes up 220 acres of resort property and plays around the resort ground and not through them, so that a great deal of the time -- excepting the handful of holes close to I-4 -- you're in a little, green oasis, with queen palms, sand pines and magnolias lining the fairways and grounds.
• Regatta Bay Golf & Country Club in Destin: You won't find many settings more beautiful than where Regatta Bay was laid out, between the rolling dunes guarding the Gulf of Mexico and the languid waters of Choctawatchee Bay. The course does have homes around it, but they are set back tastefully, as if to allow the course to be the star of the show. The cart rides between holes are botanical adventures.
• Diplomat Resort Country Club in Hallandale Beach: Banyan trees are among the thickest and most interesting trees in the world and the Diplomat has tons, many of them imported. The course also has a ton of Royal Palms, so the course has an eclectic, Asian/Florida feel. Throw in beautiful landscaping, a lavish, Italian-style clubhouse, fawning service and a not-so-difficult track, and you have a classic resort course, easy on the eyes and scorecard.
April 21, 2008