Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club
With so many options to choose from, golfers looking for a quality experience in greater Orlando run the risk of menu fatigue. Like diners navigating a lengthy wine list, what players actually want is something that stands out from the rest. Mystic Dunes, located just beyond the glow of Walt Disney World two miles away, is our sommelier’s choice. It is distinguished by its rough-and-tumble terrain, the result of enormous prehistoric sand ridges that cut north-south through central Florida. Its Gary Koch–designed course plays rhythmically between two distinct landforms, one featuring gradual elevation changes and sandy soils supporting native grasses and scrub, the other a lower-lying wetland area.
But what makes the course really pop are its wild putting surfaces. These three-dimensional forms can rise or fall six or more feet from one edge to another—with hollows, spines and separate tiers in between. The green surrounds are equally complex: cut into slopes with shaved run-offs, mown at fairway level or built up by gaping bunkers.
Because the greens create so much drama, the fairways, often sloping and interrupted by waste areas, are kept comfortably wide. The front nine rims the central wetland, and the back carves through the dunes, showcasing some of the course’s greens, including those at the short par-four fifteenth and the 249-yard par-three seventeenth.
If boldness and originality mark the golf course, comfort and convenience describe the accommodations, which consist of more than seven hundred one- to three-bedroom villas. Also on the property are two restaurants, four pools (including a two-acre water park) and numerous other outdoor activities. —Derek Duncan
7850 Shadow Tree Lane, Celebration, Florida. Architect: Gary Koch, 2001. Yardage: 7,012. Par: 71. Greens Fees: $85–$175. Rooms: from $193. Contact: 866-311-1234, mysticdunesgolf.com.
SouthWood Golf Club
Although tens of thousands of visitors pass through the state capital each year for a variety of purposes, including legislation, lobbying and college football, golf has not typically been one of them. But given the caliber of this Fred Couples and Gene Bates design—one of finest in northwest Florida—that is clearly an oversight. What’s more, for the first time since it opened in 2002, SouthWood now has on-site cottages open to the public.
In both climate and culture, Tallahassee has more in common with its northern neighbors than it does with much of its own state. From the hardwood trees and long, sloping hills to the plantation-style clubhouse, the course spreads out like a snapshot of the Deep South. Holes wend up and down hillsides, fairways course through open meadows and shaded groves, marshes encroach on each of the first four holes, and players must maneuver the ball around massive sentry oaks.
SouthWood, the home course of the Florida State University golf teams, is an aggressive-driver’s dream. Some holes call for drives that favor one side of the fairway, and others challenge golfers to carry center-line hazards.
The cottages—five well-appointed one- and two-bedroom units designed to complement the clubhouse—may help the course finally attract the measure of attention it deserves. Instead of playing and immediately taking off, visitors can soak up the Southern atmosphere and the engaging golf. —Derek Duncan
3750 Grove Park Drive, Tallahassee, Florida. Architects: Fred Couples and Gene Bates, 2002. Yardage: 7,172. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $55–$75. Rooms: from $199. Contact: 850-942-4653, stjoegolf.com.