Florida is the golf mecca of America. The Sunshine State has more than 1,250 courses, more than any other state, and most are open to the green-fee paying public. All Square has visited three of its PGA Tour destinations.
TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course
This iconic Pete Dye design is the official home of The Players Championship and boasts one of the most famous holes in golf. The 17th, with its island green, has drenched hopes of victory and forged champions in equal measure. This is the par 3 where Tiger Woods made the extraordinary “better than most” putt and where Bob Tway once needed 12 strokes to get the ball in the hole. In fact 93 golf balls sank in the water during the 2007 championship.
The grounds opened in 1980 and the Stadium Course was built with the ambition to separate the best from the great – and this really shines through in the design. The course requires both shot shaping capability and nerves of steel. It’s also a great experience for hobby golfers, though maybe not from the back tees which stretch the course to a mammoth 7,189 yards.
Many of the best players in the world today live in the gated community in Ponte Vedra Beach near the course, just outside of Jacksonville. Everything here is set up to help professional golfers. The grounds are also home to the plush Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa which sits just behind the 14th green.
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is famous for its final three holes, called ‘The Snakepit’. Many of the world’s best golfers have fallen victim to this evil stretch which has made The Valspar Championship one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour. And watch out for the alligators!
But where TPC Sawgrass had an endless amount of cash to make the Stadium Course the ultimate test, architect Larry Packard had anything but money when he was handed the task of building the four courses at Innisbrook: Copperhead, Island, North and South. Only a small amount of land was moved to create the layout which opened in 1970, therefore the routing – which uncharacteristically for Florida runs through woods – still feels truly genuine today.
What really stands out is its playability for both professionals and amateurs, as well as its superb condition. Players walking on these beautifully manicured fairways will see beautiful flower arrangements to rival Augusta National. More than 80 people work daily preparing the course for guests and members.
‘Arnie’s place’ is one of the real classics of American golf. Arnold Palmer purchased the grounds in 1974 and owned it until he passed away in 2016. The values of ‘The King’ still live on at the resort. When you check in to the hotel you are given a little piece of paper with house rules, and a collared shirt and no hats are both on the dos and dont’s list.
For many years Bay Hill has been the home of The Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour. The design of the huge 7,400-yard layout is still very much Arnie’s work today. The course stretches around a number of man-made lakes which help form a couple of iconic dogleg holes on the front nine, and even though it may not be as scenic as many other famous Florida venues, it still has one of the Tour’s most difficult finishing holes with its green surrounded by water and devilish bunkers.
The resort also has a 70-room hotel, luxury spa, tennis courts and excellent food and drink options, making it the ultimate destination for those dreaming of the perfect sunshine bathed golf vacation.