Florida golf is filled with sightly venues

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

ATLANTA, Ga. - "Florida's Mountain Golf Course," "Like Playing in North Carolina," and "The First Nine is Like Hilton Head, the Second Nine is Like Scotland" - these are the types of slogans that are commonly used to advertise Florida golf courses.

Their purpose is to trigger thoughts of idyllic, faraway destinations, to, ironically, sell Florida golf by invoking imagery of beautiful places distinctly not Florida. Perhaps this type of salesmanship is necessary for clubs to create separation from the dozens or even hundreds of competing courses in their market. As has been explored before in this space there is a general misperception that golf in the Sunshine State is all about condominiums and palm trees (see: "What is Florida Golf?").

Yet pitching local courses by comparing them to things that they're definitely not, no matter how effective, is mildly insulting because it assumes a lack of indigenous quality (do other states use Florida to market their courses - "The Palm Beach of Central Ohio"?).

At the risk of being an apologist or doing the bidding of otherwise hard-working public relations firms, various boards of tourism, or whomever, we offer this list of camera friendly courses as proof that there is beauty in Florida, or at least as counterpoints to an unfriendly stereotype. No matter how whimsical or frivolous such an exercise may be (or informal, or subjective) these layouts are likely to leave an impression. Be they inspirational, chock full of eye candy, or simply dumb blondes, here are some of the most sightly venues for Florida golf.

Stunning by the Seaside

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most people would agree that beaches and ocean views are quite appealing.

Ocean Hammock - When Ocean Hammock, approximately an hour's drive south of Jacksonville, opened in 2001 it was hailed as the first Florida course to be built on the Atlantic Ocean since Seminole Golf Club opened in 1927. That proclamation isn't entirely true but what is less debatable is that with six holes bordering the dunes and the roar of the sea just beyond, this Jack Nicklaus-designed course is a visual treat from beginning to end.

Hammock Dunes - Ocean Hammock's private neighbor to the south, Hammock Dunes (designed by Tom Fazio) contains several holes with views of the ocean (though none play as close to it as at the Nicklaus course). Nonetheless its proximity of the Atlantic is invigorating and a new Rees Jones course, scheduled to open in early 2003 bordering the Intracoastal Waterway, promises to be equally photogenic.

Amelia Island Plantation - The Ocean Links and Long Point courses both possess holes bordering the Atlantic Ocean (and is the reason that Ocean Hammock's aforementioned claim isn't accurate). Aside from the ocean holes - Tom Fazio's Long Point has back-to-back par-3s on the dunes and the Pete Dye/Bobby Weed Ocean Links has the same, with three more to boot - these courses are also brimming with natural vegetation and a dense, almost enchanting tree cover.

Living Incognito

One of the drawbacks of golfing in Florida is the abundant housing ubiquitous to almost every golf course. Isolation in itself can be beautiful and layouts devoid of housing, such as these, are rare treats. Diamondback Golf Club - Diamondback is near Haines City but it feels like it's in the middle of nowhere. The compact routing of this 1995 Joe Lee course twists around, over, and through the core property's thick vegetation with no homes on the interior or exterior.

World Woods Golf Club - This 36-hole Tom Fazio complex is a monument to golf purity, fully reveling in the underrated wooded, sandy terrain of West Florida.

The Dunes Golf Club - The development surrounding The Dunes (just a few miles from World Woods) never really got off the ground - a mere 20 homes align one side of the fifth through eighth holes - so the raw exposed sand blowouts and dense surrounding forest remain undisturbed.for now.

John's Island West - Another Tom Fazio art piece - this one in Sebastian, near Vero Beach - John's Island West is built along a peculiar sand ridge that runs down the state's southeast coast. The course is strategic and adventurous and cozily sequestered from the surrounding development.

Forest Lake of Ocoee - In the middle of Orlando's urban sprawl (well, not quite the middle) is a delightful course surrounded by pasture, farmland, and a freeway. Designed by the team of Clifton/Ezell/Clifton, the serenity of Forest Lake, particularly the wonderful stretch of holes between 11 and 17, is panacea to the glitz and hype that many have begun to find abhorrent about this city.

Something From Nothing

Before they were courses these pieces of land looked nothing like the lovely layouts they've now become. Hats off to industry.

Camp Creek - Fazio scraped away a scrubby pine forest on a 500-plus acre in Seagove, midway between Destin and Panama City Beach, to fashion this stirring course. Camp Creek is 1 mile from the Gulf of Mexico but the sandy ridges and hollows that were created make it seem like its right on the dunes.

Emerald Dunes - Another Fazio earthworks project, this West Palm Beach public favorite was transformed from an unremarkable flat tract of land near the Florida Turnpike into a tumult of sand, water, and unlikely elevations highlighted by a steep "Super Dune."

Trump International - Or, Theater of the Not-So-Sublime. Donald Trump paid $40 million for Jim Fazio to churn 3 million cubic yards of flat West Palm Beach gunk into jungles, hills, 45-foot elevations, lakes, and a magnificent waterfall.

Into the Woods, or, Nature
These courses make the best out of natural, under-the-radar Florida landscapes.

El Diablo - A very outdoors-y type of course in West Florida. The quiet Jim Fazio delight traipses through the long hills and woodsy terrain outside the diminutive town of Citrus Springs.

Victoria Hills - Ron Garl designed a gorgeous layout in the oaks, pines, and hills in Deland, 30 miles northeast of Orlando, implementing on each hole diverse styles of regional bunkering found throughout the U.S.

Just Plain Pretty

There's really no particular reason or singular landform to explain why these courses are so lovely, but they sure turned out well.

Pablo Creek - The flat landscape of Northeast Florida is almost exclusively covered with pine, flatwoods, wetlands and swamps, and thick underbrush. Tom Fazio managed to make it look beautiful at the private Pablo Creek, one of the area's best efforts of using the ground cover to create vibrant, sharply framed golf holes.

Jupiter Hills, Hills Course - Sand and loblolly pines give definition to Jupiter Hills, a 1970 George Fazio design that basically launched the career of his nephew Tom Fazio, in turn making all the above listed glamour possible. Many will tell you this is their favorite course in Southeast Florida.

Bay Island Course at Bonita Bay Club - This Arthur Hills design just north of Naples plays over, around, and through just about every form of wil dlife and vegetation that exists in Southwest Florida.

(Author's note: Seriously, we're not trying to shill for Tom Fazio, but when you combine his inclination to build visually pleasing golf holes with the properties and budgets he's privy to work with, what do you expect from a list about "beauty"?)

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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