In November of 2017 I was fortunate enough to play some of the best golf courses that Florida had to offer. While I did not get to see as many as I would have liked in my first trip to the Sunshine State, I did get to see courses that presented some of the best architecture in the state and offered some of the most enjoyable and interesting golf experiences that you can get in Florida. Below are summaries of the courses I played with a group of golfers ranging in handicap from single digit to 20+ which gave me a view of the course not only from my perspective but the perspective of a wide range of golfers varying in caliber. Please feel free to comment on what you like and dislike about this type of post. My goal is to use my experiences in these destinations to inform readers of what I have found to be the best golf experiences in the areas I have visited and what they can expect from each location. Of course each summary will have my own golf nerd flare to it often referring to the architecture of each course but hey, its important to know WHY you like the course so much and that more often than not stems from the design! Enjoy.
Winter Park 9:
Winter Park Golf Course is a 9 hole municipal golf course founded in 1914. The course recently under went an extensive renovation by Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb which is well documented by golf channel here. The course winds through the quaint town of Winter Park, crossing the street six times. My experience playing this course left me with a great understanding of how much this course means to the community and the game of golf. This is the best 9 hole golf course I have played so far. The environment encourages golf to be played by all ages and skill levels. Personally, I'd take my kids here and skip a day at Disney!
WP9 offers a fun, playable experience for beginner or less experienced golfers (I played with a few!) while challenging golfers of all levels with strategically placed bunkering and trees. The bunkering itself is extremely well done and the green conditions and contours were first class. This place checks all the boxes and municipal courses around the world should take note of what was done here.
None. Don't let the short yardage fool you, this place will challenge the better player!
Favorite Hole: #6 Par 4 262yards (pictured bellow)
TPC Sawgrass - Players Course:
TPC Sawgrass, obviously famous for The Players Championship on the PGA Tour is a course designed by Pete Dye specifically to challenge the tour players. Recently the course underwent some "renovations" to enhance the course for The Players which saw all of the greens resurfaced and some undulations softened and modifications to some holes, most notable of which was the 12th which was shortened to heighten the risk-reward drama. When asked what he thought they should be changing, Pete Dye responded with something along the lines of "The golf ball. Leave my course alone." I never had a chance to play the course before the changes but I can say that the course still embodies the challenges and signatures that Pete Dye has become famous for. The deep green side bunkers and run off areas around the greens will challenge even the most accomplished players short game.
It's TPC Sawgrass! One of the best public courses where anyone can tee it up where the tour pros do and truly gain an appreciation for their skill. The course, to me, is very playable but it will punish you if you stray off line, a negative which I feel gets too much focus with some of Pete Dye's courses. There is always a route for golfers of all skill levels to get from tee to green. The greens themselves are beautifully designed with severe slopes to penalize any approaches that are slightly off. The back nine is far superior to the front in my opinion partially due to the picturesque par 3s and finishing holes but also the variety.
Many holes had similar designs. Bunker right, bunker deep left through the fairway. I felt like I had the same tee shot 3-5 times but from there the approach was uniquely different. I also wasn't a fan of the 12th redesign and after talking with our very experienced caddie I found out that the majority of people do not enjoy the change either.
FAVORITE HOLE: (excluding #17 & #18) #6 Par 4, 393 yards (pictured below)
Dye's Valley is the second and often over shadowed course at TPC Sawgrass, also designed by Pete Dye & Bobby Weed. This course is the furthest thing from a push over, it is a beast. When I told one individual that we were going to play Dye's Valley he responded with "How many golf balls did you bring?". As you get deeper into the round you understand why it is considered to be so difficult. There is water lurking on 12 of 18 holes (14 if you are as crooked off the tee as some in our group). The course is a tougher driving course than the Stadium course but the greens offer slightly less break in the putting surface.
Great challenge, excellent conditions. If you keep the ball in play off the tee you will be just fine and enjoy your round much more. Sit back and enjoy the genius of Pete Dye as there are some extremely well designed holes on this course that will stand out even if you aren't a golf nerd like me!
When the caddie says "Ok, same thing here as the last par 4..." its not a good sign for the variety of the holes. I said this was an issue at the Stadium course, but it is far more evident here. The course can test the frustration of the less skilled golfer with the water and difficult bunkering in some spots around the green. Golf should always be tackled with a light hearted attitude, even more so at Dye's Valley.
FAVORITE HOLE: #7 Par 4, 326 yards (pictured below)
Streamsong Red is one of three golf courses at the Streamsong resort located in central Florida and a long way from civilization which is probably why I love it so much. The Red course was designed and built by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and opened for business in 2012. The fairways are wide, lined with natural sandy waste areas instead of rough and many strategically placed bunkers inside and outside of the fairway. In a time when people put too much emphasis on whether a course is hard or easy, Coore and Crenshaw have put a major emphasis on fun and interesting.
In an area with 54 golf holes, all in the same setting and to most look very similar, I can look back and remember each and every hole on the Red course. This is the sign of a brilliant design. There are very few, if any golf holes on this course that are not extremely interesting or enjoyable to play. The par 3s all stand out and require anything from a wedge to a long iron approach. There are two risk reward par 4s on the front nine that I am a sucker for to begin with but they are extremely well designed so that golfers of all skill levels can make a birdie a number of different ways while also flirting with a double. A definite must play golf course in a must visit destination.
Really hard to think of any. The higher handicap may struggle in some areas as the fairway bunkers can be very deep but if they play the proper yardage where they can carry the fairways obstacles with a good shot and have the intended approach to the green they will find the course extremely enjoyable. It also may be a smart more to practice some bunker shots in the short game area instead of beating balls on the range prior to the round!
FAVORITE HOLE: #4 Par 4, 330 yards (pictured below)
Unfortunately we were rained out during the time we were supposed to play the Blue course at Streamsong. I had my rain gear ready to go but did not have anything handy to protect myself from the lightning. The Blue course was designed by Tom Doak and opened along side the Red course. I have heard nothing but great things on the course and it features one of the most photographed holes on the property. The par 3 seventh hole is featured below. It can be seen from the 14th green and 15th tee on the Red course so I took the opportunity to photograph it.
I will use this section to briefly complement the Streamsong Resort on what it has created in Florida. The resort is truly remarkable and features golf courses that you would not expect to see in Florida. It also features guided bass fishing, clay shooting, archery, several restaurants, outdoor pool and bar area and of course a spa. The spa will definitely come in handy when trying to convince your spouse to come to a golf resort in the middle of no where Florida, or at least thats my plan!... My plans do not always work.
Where do I start? The Black course at Streamsong opened in late August of 2017 and it is amazing. Designed by Gil Hanse, the Black course is the third course to open at Streamsong and features some of the largest, wildest greens I have played. The course is considered the most challenging of the three and it is easy to see why. The features of the property are huge and Hanse did not shy away from using these features creating wide expansive fairways up, down, around, and through the natural sand dunes. At the risk of having this section of the post go on forever I will stop now but I could go on for some time about the design, challenge, and beauty of the Black course.
Too many to name. The width of the fairways allow you to often find the fairways but the bunkering or slope of the green complexes often force you to play to a much smaller portion of the fairways to set up a feasible approach to the green. I was just 190 yards from a par 5 green for my second shot but had to lay up because a huge dune the jut out into the fairway blocking me from hitting any low lofted club at the green. I am putting the greens in the Pros category because in my opinion they are fantastic. They are HUGE, wild, and severely sloped but completely fair. You will never have a putt that is not possible to get close or in the hole, some just may be more difficult than others and that is usually because your approach wasn't quality.
Some will argue directly against what I consider Pros to be Cons. The course can be difficult but personally, I have never had more FUN making bogies. The greens take some getting used to and if you let them, they will frustrate the heck out of you. But if you tackle the course with a positive attitude and take your medicine when you need to (you may not be able to get to every green in regulation), this will be one of the best golf experiences you will ever have.
FAVORITE HOLE: #9 Par 4, 450 yards (pictured) & #14 Par 4 298 yards
Crazy punchbowl green on the 9th on the Black course
All in all this trip was fantastic and I would recommend playing each and everyone of the courses above if given the opportunity. They each have something completely different to offer and are all open to the public. Florida is a fantastic destination for golf outside of these courses as well but unfortunately I only had so much time to get away this fall. The only down fall in Florida is the unpredictable weather patterns in the area. We were very fortunate some days and not so much others. It is tough to rate one course higher than another but as you can probably tell Streamsong Black was my favorite experience of the trip. Yes, better than TPC Sawgrass BUT I am also a sucker for the "boldness" of the design that Gil Hanse created and I am also a little sour about missing my 5ft birdie putt on the 17th at Sawgrass!
Thank you for taking the time to read my take on the courses I had the chance to see in Florida. I will be going back to my past experiences elsewhere to share what I find to make an enjoyable golf experience and what destinations offer the best golf courses for your next buddies trip! Next up, northern California. Stay tuned.