The one thing that connects tour pros with the rest of us humble hackers is that we all love a bit of sun on our backs when we tee it up. Which is why whenever we look for a golf holiday destination – or as in the pros’ case, somewhere to live and practice – the number one factor is the weather.
A good selection of golf courses is essential, as is somewhere comfortable to lay our heads between rounds. But even playing the best layouts in the world is no fun when you have the umbrella up and your waterproofs on.
Florida is called the Sunshine State for good reason. Because of that, and its seemingly endless supply of stunning 18-hole layouts, wide choice of luxury resorts, and miles of white sandy beaches, it’s no wonder thousands of migrating golfers flock here from all corners of the globe every winter.
The legendary Arnold Palmer, who knows a thing or two about golf, was one of the first leading players to set up shop in Florida. Around 50 years ago, when he was looking for somewhere to spend his winters away from chilly Pennsylvania, he stumbled across a small town called Orlando. Palmer was instantly smitten by the relaxed pace of life, as much as the climate, and decided this was where he wanted to settle for the rest of his days.
Palmer purchased the land on which the legendary Bay Hill Club & Lodge now stands, and it was only a matter of time before his adopted hometown became to golf what Hollywood is to show business.
Fast forward to today, and Palmer, aged 86, is still in Orlando. But he has since been joined by a high percentage of the world’s top 100 players, many of whom live behind closely guarded gates in the exclusive leafy suburbs of Jupiter, Isleworth and Lake Nona.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Sergio García, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, and old legends such as Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, are just some of the famous faces you might bump into at the local mall.
On top of serving as a base for the world’s golfing elite, Orlando is also a popular gateway for the thousands of incoming golfers looking to play on the 125+ courses that can be found within a 40-mile radius of the city, before they head north, south and west to discover what else Florida has to offer.
As well as attracting some of the best golfers, Florida has also attracted all of the best course designers in the game, with visitors able to spoil themselves on memorable layouts created by big names such as Palmer, Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman and Gary Player, to name but a few. While some of their championship designs host PGA Tour events as part of the Florida Swing [see box, right], there are also plenty of other top-notch venues that are equally worth a visit, don’t charge the earth, and are far less busy.
From the luxury resorts dotted along the west coast around Tampa, to the windy links and buzzing nightlife to be found in the southeastern city of Miami, and the family-friendly resorts in the Disneyfied Orange County, Florida has something for everyone. And with so many great golf courses to play, the only question remaining is whether you stay for a month, or do what the ‘snowbirds’ do, and stick around for the whole winter…
Click through the gallery above to view Nick Bayly's top Florida golf courses…