For the sun-starved golfer whose sticks have been stowed away for weeks if not months, there is no better quick winter escape than a buddy trip to Florida: Get away for a long weekend, play thirty-six holes a day when you want to, and unwind in casual acommodations at night. One of the many pleasures of a getaway like this is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Although better known for luxury resorts, Florida has an abundance of outstanding yet affordable places to play. From Fernandina Beach outside Jacksonville to southwest Orlando and PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, here are five destinations to consider the next time you and your golf pals get that inevitable midwinter itch.
Don’t be dissuaded by Daytona Beach’s party reputation; avoiding the masses is easy, and there are enough exciting, affordable courses here to satisfy serious golfers. More adventurous groups, however, will have little problem finding out why college students flock here every March on spring break.
LPGA International, Legends 386-274-5742; lpgainternational.com; $50-$75. Don’t be fooled by the name—this lovely Arthur Hills-designed course will eat erratic players alive with holes that jump across wetlands and snake through lakes and densely wooded areas.
LPGA International, Champions The longer holes on this Rees Jones–designed course are wide open and framed by mounds, but the undulating greens demand well-aimed approach shots and water threatens on ten of the holes.
Victoria Hills Golf Club 386-738-6000; stjoegolf.com; $69–$109. Ron Garl’s lovely Victoria Hills, twenty-two miles southwest of Daytona Beach in DeLand, rises and falls through the property’s mature pines and oaks with unusual grace. Sexy green complexes and several excellent short par fours add luster to this design, host of numerous state and local tournaments.
The Shores Resort & Spa 386-767-7350; shoresresort.com; $139–$259/night. Located in the slightly less harried area of Daytona Beach Shores, this is a well-appointed hotel overlooking the Atlantic and within close range of the area’s nightlife and golf.
Ocean Deck Restaurant (Seafood); 386-253-5224. A spring-break institution, this oceanfront spot serves fresh seafood and has live reggae.
Stonewood Grill & Tavern (Steak); 386-671-1200. This is the original location of a popular chain known for its oak-grilled steaks and seafood.
Daytona International Speedway; 386-947-6800; daytonausa.com. Witness firsthand the incredible scale of what is arguably the world’s most famous racetrack by taking a tour or, better yet, catching a live event—NASCAR and motorcycle series races run through March.
This historic port town on Amelia Island, a former shipping hub once preyed upon by pirates, lies thirty miles north of Jacksonville. It’s convenient to a number of superb courses and has a lively downtown. For a splurge, book a round at the Golf Club of Amelia Island, part of an encompassing Ritz-Carlton resort.
Fernandina Beach Golf Club 904-277-7370; fernandinabeachgolfclub.com; $44–$49. Though it will never match the conditioning of the Ritz-Carlton course nearby, this bargain muni abounds with charm. Winding through inland oaks and pines, its three nines (designed by a pair of club pros) sport small push-up greens and plenty of doglegs.
The Golf Club at North Hampton 904-548-0000; hamptongolfinc.com; $49–$75. Arnold Palmer’s design team pulled out all the stops here, creating holes that play over man-made moguls and fescue-covered dunes to boldly contoured greens—a rarity in this part of Florida.
Laurel Island Links 912-729-7277; laurelislandlinks.com; $40–$55. Slip across the Georgia border to this Low Country course, the second joint design by Mark Love and Davis Love III. Three early holes merge with salt marshes of the broad Crooked River before the layout turns to a secluded inland area.
Hampton Inn & Suites Amelia Island 904-491-4911; hamptoninnsuites.com; $99–$189/night. Convenient to the region’s golf, this clean, modestly stylish hotel along the Intracoastal Waterway is just steps away from lively bars and restaurants.
Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro (Regional); 904-321-2558. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating at this Southern-inflected place near the marina.
O’Kane’s (Pub fare); 904-261-1000. This Irish pub offers a casual, well-executed menu, a fine selection of beers on tap and live entertainment.
Jacksonville Jaguars; 904-633-2000; jaguars.com. Join the tailgaters and vocal crowd at Alltel Stadium to watch Florida’s newest NFL team play.
The Landing; 904-353-1188. This area along the St. Johns River is the hub of Jacksonville nightlife, home to clubs, restaurants and bars.
This area one hour north of Tampa known as the Nature Coast is one of Florida’s fastest growing regions, but it still exudes an aura of undiscovered calm. It also happens to be one of the state’s ideal landscapes for golf thanks to its rolling pine-covered hills, massive live oaks and deep sandy soil.
Skyview at Terra Vista of Citrus Hills 352-746-3664; citrushills.com; $50–$70. The region’s elevation changes are on full display at this course outside Crystal River, where finely manicured holes dodge lakes and climb heights to offer panoramic views.
World Woods Golf Club, Pine Barrens 352-796-5500; worldwoods.com; $115–$145. Tom Fazio peeled back the earth to expose this site’s natural sand base, creating ragged-edged holes that melt into vast open waste areas, challenging the eye. The course, in Brooksville, boasts an excellent and sporty variety of holes.
World Woods Golf Club, Rolling Oaks $105–$135. Mature oaks, a traditional visual presentation and greater elevation changes make Rolling Oaks a true complement to its more flamboyant sibling at Pine Barrens. Many players find it to be several strokes easier, too.
Plantation Inn & Golf Resort 352-795-4211; plantationinn.com; $139–$249/night. Located in Crystal River, twenty miles north of World Woods, this hotel looks and feels like part of the Old South.
Marguerita Grill (Regional); Homosassa Springs; 352-628-1336. This casual spot is revered for its steaks, seafood and affordable prices.
Cody’s Original Roadhouse (Steaks and seafood); Crystal River; 352-795-7223. Cap off a day with burgers and grilled fish at this peanut-shells-on-the-floor kind of place.
Angling Adventures Charter Fishing Guide Service; 352-686-0853; angling-adventures.net. This quiet wooded area doesn’t exactly bustle at night. For a daytime break from golf, take a charter into the Gulf of Mexico to experience the region’s renowned fishing culture.
There is so much going on in Orlando that it helps to focus on a certain section of town. The southwestern area of the city offers an impressive selection of restaurants, bars and lodging, and notable elevation changes in the land have produced some of the state’s finest golf courses.
Mystic Dunes Golf Club 407-787-5678; mysticdunesgolf.com; $65–$150. Television golf analyst and Champions Tour player Gary Koch designed one of the region’s most distinctive courses here by constructing brazenly undulating greens and a powerful mix of long and short holes.
Orange County National, Crooked Cat 07-656-2626; ocngolf.com; $85–$140. This course traverses a higher, more barren and windswept piece of ground. The open fairways are vast, rumpled and speckled with small, randomly arranged bunkers.
Orange County National, Panther Lake $95–$150. Part of the allure here is how the course travels through orange groves, pine forests, lakes and open prairies. Large bunkers and bold undulating greens give Panther Lake its teeth.
Residence Inn Orlando, Lake Buena Vista 407-465-0075; marriott.com; $119–$179/night. This fairly priced hotel offers comfortable, spacious rooms, and it’s centrally located for golf and other attractions in the southwest Orlando area.
Charley’s Steakhouse (Steak); 407-363-0228. Expect generous, satisfying cuts of wood-fired, USDA Prime beef here.
Miller’s Lake Buena Vista Ale House (Pub fare); 407-239-1800. Great bar food, TVs galore and an ample beer selection make this the spot to swap postround stories or watch a game.
Orlando Magic; nba.com/magic.Head to the TD Waterhouse Centre in downtown Orlando to check out the area’s NBA franchise.
PORT ST. LUCIE
Less than an hour north of West Palm Beach, this rapidly growing city is home to a number of courses imbued with a South Florida flavor. The main attraction is PGA Village, a hassle-free one-stop destination with three solid courses, an acclaimed learning center and practice facility, and brand new on-site accommodations.
PGA Golf Club, Dye 800-800-4653; pgavillage.com; $99–$109. This Pete Dye course has the most distinctive look of the PGA’s three eighteens, with each hole ringed by sandy waste areas, small pot bunkers popping up in surprising places and significant ground contour.
PGA Golf Club, Ryder Subtle fairway movements and large putting surfaces make this piney Carolina-style Tom Fazio layout, formerly the North course, feel spacious and accommodating. Both this and the Wanamaker (née South) courses recently underwent comprehensive bunker, green and landscaping renovations.
PGA Golf Club, Wanamaker Also designed by Fazio, the Wanamaker demands an aerial game as it loops through a prototypical South Florida environment of wetlands and encroaching native areas. The eighteenth, a sweeping dogleg right around a large pond, makes for a rousing finale.
Hilton Garden Inn Port St. Lucie at PGA Village 772-871-6850; hgiportstlucie.com; $119–$249/night. Opening in mid-November with spacious new rooms, this hotel is centrally located near the PGA Learning Center, the PGA History Center and PGA Golf Club.
Norris’s Famous Place for Ribs (Barbeque); 772-464-7000. Try the locally famous baby backs at this large down-home restaurant.
PGA Champions Grill (American); 800-800-4653. Conveniently located in the clubhouse of PGA Golf Club, the Grill serves delicious sandwiches, burgers and fish.
Tradition Field; 772-871-2115. Just a few minutes from PGA Village, this is the spring-training base of the New York Mets and home of the minor league St. Lucie Mets.
Duffy’s Sports Grill; 772-873-8150. If you want to catch a game on TV or knock back a beer, this is the place.