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North Florida’s Top 5 Golf Courses

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Those of us who live in Florida and love golf are fortunate to have many great courses throughout the state, and to have so many of those great courses available for public play. Asked to name my five favorite courses in the state, the challenge was to narrow my favorites to only five.  Here goes, with the idea in mind to confine the list to those courses within easy reach of Gainesville and readily accessible. My top five:

5. Pine Barrens Course at World Woods Golf Club

Brooksville

World Woods is a massive golf facility in the beautiful countryside just outside Brooksville and contains two championship courses, a 9-hole “short course,” a 3-hole practice course and a 36-hole putting course in addition to a 23-acre practice facility. Plan to spend the day!

The Pine Barrens Course is my favorite of the two championship courses at the 2100-acre complex. This beautiful piece of property allowed golf course architect Tom Fazio to design one of his favorite layouts. There are many challenging holes with amazing similarities to Pine Valley. Unlike most Florida courses there is very little water to contend with other than on the fun par-3 third, which plays over the only lake on the course. The par 71 design has only one par-5 on the back nine but it is a challenging 580 yards, so one is enough!

Be sure to play the Rolling Oaks Course as well. It is not as challenging as Pine Barrens, but still fun to play. Book it for 36, but play the Pine Barrens first while you’re fresh.

4. Ocean Course at Hammock Beach Resort

Palm Coast 

I love the hotel and looking out towards the ocean, and I especially like the challenging finishing holes at this beautiful golf resort on perhaps the least developed stretch of the Atlantic Ocean in Florida.

The six holes along the ocean will take your breath away, but make sure you pay attention because any errant shots are going to cost you. The final four holes create a great finishing challenge, and it’s no wonder they call that collection of holes the “Bear Claw.” In my opinion, this layout is some of Jack Nicklaus’s best design work in Florida.

3. Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass

Ponte Vedra Beach

The Valley Course, which opened in 1987, was designed by and named for Pete Dye, who designed the Stadium Course at TPC five years earlier, and it shares the impressive clubhouse and amenities at TPC Sawgrass.

All the attention goes to the Stadium Course, rightfully so, yet many of the pros that play in the annual Web.Com Tour event on the Dye’s Valley Course say this one is equally as difficult. If the rough is up and the small greens are up to speed, you better have all facets of your game in gear.

Note: The Dye’s Valley Course is closed for renovation until September 21, 2014, but book ahead of time and plan to be among the first to play it when it reopens.

2. Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort 

Palm Harbor

The Copperhead Course is the gem of the
four 18-hole courses at the Innisbrook resort that sits just north of Clearwater near the Gulf of Mexico.

This is definitely one of my favorite courses in the whole state of Florida. The terrain is not like you are in Florida at all. Some of the holes remind me of Pinehurst. The narrow fairways and tiny greens give the best players in the world fits every March during the PGA Tour event, Valspar Championship, played on this course. Usually, scoring in single digits below par has you in contention late on Sunday, which is unusual for a Tour event.

Copperhead is a fair but stern test with plenty of length, even though a par 71 with three par-3s on the second nine. Put this one on your bucket list for sure.

1. Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass

Ponte Vedra Beach

What more do I need to say – this course, and its signature 17th hole, is one of the best known courses in the country, let alone Florida. No list of favorites would be complete without this one on it – or at least not mine!

The Stadium Course has gone through many changes over the years, but the overhaul to the clubhouse and the greens in 2007 have been a huge hit for the PGA Tour and its signature event. The biggest purse on Tour and the memorable 17th are part of the allure that is the Players® Championship. I think every golfer should have a go at 17, then try to par the long and demanding 18th. After being there, you will realize that those that play on the PGA Tour really are highly skilled and those Champions have earned something special in their careers.

While 17 and 18 are the best-known holes, I think it’s fair to mention a few less well known, but excellent, holes at the Stadium Course to look forward to playing as well. Some of my other favorites:

Hole 4 – not a long par-4 but fun and challenging. Accuracy off tee is a must and then a very accurate second is required to a green protected front and left by a bulk headed water hazard. Be very cautious reading your putt after you do arrive there!

Hole 10 – a par-4 that might look a little familiar so pay attention as it was designed to be a mirror image of hole 1. So are you better playing to the right or left?

Hole 13 – difficult but fun par 3 that is not long but with the 2-tiered green and water along entire left side, be careful.

So go play! Find the tees that best compliment your game at these outstanding courses and enjoy this wonderful game on some of Florida’s best.

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