From the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and points between, Florida is the perfect vacation destination if golf is on your itinerary. Balmy year-round temperatures make it possible to play golf nearly every day. Many of the best resorts are in and around Orlando. Also, with a combination of award winning white sand beaches, a multitude of theme parks, great restaurants and resorts, the Sunshine State is ideal when bringing along a non-golfing spouse (that’d be me!) or the kids. Here are some of my favorite golf resorts in the Orlando area and beyond.
Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf and Spa Resort
This posh resort is located on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Palm Harbor. The picturesque setting, with 900 meticulously manicured acres of rolling greens, lakes, and ponds, has four championship golf courses. Copperhead, the most lauded of the four, is noted for its tree-lined fairways and rolling terrain, with signature par-5s that will leave you scratching your head as you jot down that double-bogey on the scorecard. Keep your ball in the fairway because this course plays long and the rough can be punishing. No matter what your final scores might be, you’ll find yourself wanting to play this course again and again.
In addition to golf, the resort has six swimming pools, including the Loch Ness Monster Pool (which features a 15-foot waterfall), two winding water slides, sand beach areas, and a grill for casual dining. Another big draw: the 18,000 square foot Indaba Spa, with its meditation labyrinth, relaxation courtyard, treatment terraces, and steam rooms.
Trump National Doral Miami
This resort has undergone a $250-million dollar renovation since it was purchased by the Trump Hotel Collection in 2012. The goal of the renovation was to restore the property to its former grandeur; Donald Trump, his two sons, and daughter, Ivanka, all have hands in overseeing this massive facelift.
Host to the PGA Tour for more than 50 years, Doral sits on a sprawling 800 acres and has five championship golf courses. The most famous of these is the Blue Monster, with deep Bermuda rough, intimidating bunkers, and a variety of water hazards that will have you wishing you had brought more balls. In fact, the 471-yard, par-4 18th hole has been named one of the top 100 golf holes in the world by Golf Magazine.
Feel like a Trump and rent a cabana at the Royal Palm Pool. For US$150 a day, you can experience life like the rich and famous, complete with butler service, assorted beverages, fresh fruit, and a 55-inch flat screen television. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to take advantage of the 48,000-square-foot Spa at Doral, which has 33 treatment rooms and offers more than 100 signature spa services for men, women, and couples. If you ever contemplated getting that caviar facial (seriously), Doral is the place to get it.
Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa
This resort, in Ponte Vedra Beach, about 18 miles southeast of Jacksonville, has two championship golf courses: THE PLAYERS Stadium Course, known as TPC; and Dye’s Valley Course. TPC is considered by professional golfers as the “Fifth Major” because of its challenging layout that features breathtaking par-5s. But it is the infamous par-3, 17th hole, with its unforgiving water hazard, that has dashed the hopes of many professionals over the years. Imagine the thrill of getting a par on this hole? My husband did and we’re still hearing about it!
As for accommodations, The Villas at Sawgrass feature one- and two-bedroom layouts, with kitchenettes and outdoor seating on a patio or balcony. A short drive away is the World Golf Hall of Fame, which celebrates golf’s greatest players and contributors. The attraction also has a golf simulator through which you can test your skills on virtual replicas of some of the world’s most elite golf courses (including the Old Course at St. Andrews and The Plantation Course at Kapalua).
Viewfinder Tip: Many of Florida’s finest golf resorts are within close enough proximity to each other; enabling you to try out multiple courses during your Florida vacation.
PGA National Resort & Spa
This resort, in Palm Beach Gardens, has five championship golf courses: The Champion, The Palmer, The Fazio, The Squire, and The Estates. If you’re looking to improve your skills, the resort also has a club-fitting lab and The TrackMan Combine Assessment, a standardized test that enables players to identify strengths and weaknesses in their games. Speaking of weaknesses, PGA National boasts quite an array of food and wine options. There are nine culinary concepts in all, from pool- and spa-side venues to Ironwood Steak and Seafood, which has one of the most impressive wine selections in all of South Florida. This restaurant offers 36 different wines by the glass with 13 different varieties from 19 different growing regions and 6 different countries. It also features wines produced by PGA TOUR legends Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, and Luke Donald.
Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort
Located on a barrier island just off the Northeast Florida coast, this 1,350-acre private luxury resort sports three championship golf courses. Of the trio, the Oak Marsh and Ocean Links are public. If you appreciate nature and panoramic ocean views you’ll love these courses; all of them are Audubon International Certified Sanctuaries and wildlife flourishes here.
Elsewhere at the resort, outdoor enthusiasts can kayak and paddleboard through Amelia Island’s marshlands. Other activities include bicycle rentals and sunbathing along 3.5 miles of unspoiled beach. The destination also includes a nature center, a 10,000-square-foot family pool, a Splash Park water playground for kids, Camp Amelia, Gamers teen lounge, Heron Cove’s Adventure Golf, and an adults-only infinity edge pool. We love that the property has a teen concierge; teens can text, email or chat via Twitter with the Teen Concierge before and during their visits.
Reunion Resort and Club, A Wyndham Grand Resort
This resort is just six miles from Walt Disney World in Orlando. It is the only destination in the world with three signature golf courses designed by golf legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom Watson. And it is a great location if you’re looking for a golf getaway with the guys or you are bringing the family along to hit up one of Orlando’s many theme parks. When we visited, the guys played golf during the day and everyone else headed out to spend the day at a theme park. We met back in the lobby sushi bar in the evening. Every morning from our balcony we caught the sunrise as hot air balloons floated past. By night we watched the fireworks spectacular from Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge
This private resort, also in Orlando, is one of the most popular courses on the PGA Tour. It also is where Arnold Palmer lives in the winter. The course itself rambles along the shores of Butler Chain of Lakes, spotlighting 27 holes of championship golf on 270 acres. For an experience that allows you to live like the pros do, hire a caddie. Fees for this service start at US$60, plus gratuity. Your caddie will read your putts, rake bunkers, clean golf balls, fix ball marks, and give you yardages. (The caddy also won’t tell anyone if you end up with a triple-bogey.)
The 70-room lodge is charming, with all the amenities you would expect from a private club, including a full-service salon and spa, four Har-Tru tennis courts, two DecoTurf tennis courts, and a heated junior Olympic-size pool. Like us, Arnold Palmer has a passion for fine food and excellent wines, and you’ll find his influence at the three top-notch restaurants on property.
LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, A Noble House Resort
This luxurious resort sits right on the beach near Naples. It is a private resort and guests are able to play at the exclusive par-72, 18-hole championship golf course that is located three miles from the resort. The fairways of this course are lined with a kaleidoscope of bougainvillea. The place is a plush and lush tropical paradise.
Accommodations at LaPlaya embody seaside elegance with wrought iron beds, luxe bedding, custom fabrics, and handcrafted tiles. Sunsets on the west coast of Florida are spectacular, and this is a great spot from which to watch them. If you like to enjoy a cigar with the guys after a round of golf, the resort has a cigar menu with more than a dozen to choices, including one of the most sought after cigars in the world: Opus X, by Arturo Fuente. This hefty smoke will set you back about US$75.
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
This resort sits on 2,400 acres that stretch between the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay on Florida’s Emerald Coast. With more than 1,000 rooms, the place is so massive that it has its own zip code. Elsewhere on the grounds sit four championship golf courses: Baytowne, The Raven, Burnt Pine, and The Links. The Burnt Pine Golf Club is particularly impressive, with 7,001 yards of undulating fairways and tiered greens. Towering pines and million-dollar mansions flank the front nine, and the back nine opens up to breathtaking views along the Choctawhatchee Bay.
The resort is separated into four distinct areas: Beachside, Bayside, Lakeside, and the Village. The wharf-side Village is the heartbeat of Sandestin, with shopping, dining, nightclubs, and bars. The beaches here are stunning; to say the water has an emerald hue just doesn’t do it justice. It is some of the most beautiful colorful coastline we have seen anywhere.
Streamsong Golf and Clubhouse
Last, but not least, this resort, a reclaimed phosphate mine, is about 30 minutes from Orlando. There are two golf courses with intertwining layouts, and both were designed for walking golfers. The philosophy behind these courses is simple: When you walk the course you are able to enjoy every step of your round. One of the courses, Streamsong Red, has been called an 18-hole masterpiece, and has contours and undulations like no other in Florida. The course also features deep-water ponds, towering sand dunes, and wild grasses, making for some very stimulating golf.
The guest rooms and suites in the on-site lodge have floor-to-ceiling glass, so be sure to ask for a water view. Outside the resort, there are trails for hiking or bird watching, outdoor fireplaces, and a lakefront fishing dock. This is a spot from which you can stargaze easily, with city lights nowhere in sight. That makes it just another one of Florida’s top golf resorts with something for everyone.
For what do you look in a golf resort?