With year-round sunshine and countless courses to choose from, the state of Florida has earned its reputation as “Golf Capital of the World” with the Southwest quadrant, from St. Petersburg to Marco Island boasts more golf holes per capita than anywhere in the United States.
Here you’ll find a multitude of scenic and rewarding opportunities to test your game. There’s a course to accommodate any player’s requirements, including public, semi-private and private courses with a variety of layout and costs. During the height of the winter season, no golf destination rocks and rolls harder than this southwest Florida enclave on the Golf of Mexico.
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The Sarasota Area
The arts and cultural mecca of Sarasota is also a treasure trove of award-winning golf courses, from the Tom Fazio designed course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club to the prestigious greens at the famed Waterlefe Golf Club just a few miles away. Guests staying at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota have exclusive access to the golf club, offering a challenging 18-hole championship course that takes golfers through a picturesque landscape of lakes and pristine greens punctuated with the salty smells of the nearby gulf waters.
Just a few miles away, the semi-private Waterlefe Golf & River Club in Bradenton beckons golfers to play the 72-par, signature golf holes designed by Ted McAnlis. The course’s challenging outline borders the Manatee River, allowing players to remain competitive with five sets of tees ranging in length from 4,700 to 6,908 yards. The community has been rated 4 ½ stars by Golf Digest, making it a popular spot for golfers of all skill sets.
Another popular semi-private golf community is the Stoneybrook Golf Club, an Arthur Hills designed course. Lush Florida vegetation, sprawling palm trees and towering oaks gracefully blend into the gentle, rolling hills of the course. Tranquil waters and open vistas make Stoneybrook one of the best public courses in the area.
The Oaks Club, a private members club, recently completely a redesign of one of its two courses. The new Heron Course will play between 4,185 and 6,825 yards, slightly longer than the current 6,695 yards. “The revitalized course will have new surface contours, better constructed and strategically placed sand bunkers, interesting greens complexes, and a new teeing system that will accommodate players of all skill levels,” said course architect Jason Straka, who redesigned the course on behalf of Hurdzan/Fry Environmental Golf Course Design.
“Swing” into Boca Grande, found on Gasparilla Island, and find The Gasparilla Inn & Club featuring a magnificent Pete Dye signature 18-hole championship course. Both beautiful and challenging, the par 72, 6,837-yard course is considered the crown jewel of this historic resort. Complete practice facilities are available to all resort guests, and lessons from the club’s PGA professionals can be easily arranged by appointment.
The Tampa Bay Area
The Tampa Bay area offers even more stellar courses to play such as The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort. A favorite among PGA Tour professionals, the Copperhead Course is the most recognizable of Innisbrook’s four courses. Tree-lined fairways and rolling terrain define the course—a lengthy challenge for even the longest hitters at more than 7,2000 yards. The surrounding lakes and ponds are home to abundant wildlife, including fox squirrels, alligators, blue herons, and many other waterfowl, allowing members visitors to enjoy golf as nature intended.
Not far you’ll find TPC Tampa Bay, home to an 18-hole, par 71, award-winning course designed by Bobby Weed with Chi Chi Rodriguez as player consultant. The course gives players an opportunity to play well within their game, with a variety of teeing areas that allow the course to be played from 5,036 yards from the fowrd tees to 4,990 yards from the championship tees.
The Naples Area
In Naples, a region well-known for its numerous golf courses, it takes a very special golf course to attract attention, however Calusa Pines distinguishes itself from its brethren by designing a course that perfectly blends native plant vegetation with sweeping ridges generating outstanding vistas.
Named among the prestigious “Top Ten Best New Private Clubs” in the United States in Golf Digest, Calusa Pines is an absolute blast to play. Perched upon the highest land point in south Florida, this course offers huge elevation. You’ll need to befriend a member to get a game on this private Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed layout, but if you manage, you’ll encounter an exceptional golf experience.
Also in Naples is Tiburón, located at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. Perfectly suited for those who wish to play a British Open style course—firm and fast, but without the thick thatch rough—Tiburón presents an excellent opportunity. The Tiburón is a public facility, certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, with 36 championship holes designed by Greg Norman.
The Gold and Black courses each offer golfers a unique experience with sod wall bunkers, coquina shell waste bunkers and the absence of conventional rough. Following Greg Norman’s philosophy of maximizing the natural allure of the land, each element has been carefully integrated to produce a serene atmosphere in which to appreciate the finer aspects of the game.
Situated minutes from Olde Naples and Marco Island, Eagle Lakes Golf Club welcomes its players with a one-of-a-kind Everglades golf experience. This 7,150 yard, par 71 championship course is sure to match-up well against the lowest handicappers while providing casual players with an engaging experience.
Designed with the surrounding Everglades in mind, Eagle Lakes captivates with an abundance of wildlife, including a pair of American Bald Eagles.
Before leaving Naples, any golfer must try Naples National Golf Course, another Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry creation. This distinguished, 19-hole, member-owned golf club has maintained and cherished golf’s proudest traditions: purity in design, quality of membership, and love of the game.
Back on the mainland, in Estero, you’ll discover the elegant Jack Nicklaus designed course, Old Corkscrew. The course, always in motion, is rated one of the most challenging in Florida and to any golf enthusiasts, the course is a must-play destination.
Whether you want to play, study with a pro, or be part of the gallery, Southwest Florida is an incredible destination for an adventure in golf. Visitors can gain from checking in with their hotels, which often have arrangements for guests to play at some of the private golf clubs. Also, many clubs have systems of reciprocity in place for guests. In fact, many courses are open for public play during the “off-season,” May to October, for those who prefer to avoid crowds. No matter which area you choose to explore or which course you select, the Sunshine State has something to offer any golfer.