Most people headed to Orlando have Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter on their minds, but there’s a lot more to the Central Florida area than theme parks. For traveling golfers, there are dozens of public-access courses within a reasonable drive of Orlando that offer a slew of water hazards and good-player street cred among talented local players.
But as long-time residents (and I count myself among these golfers) might tell you, many of the courses start to look similar after a few go-rounds. Locals in the know seek out a different and interesting experience, and that is reflected in those Central Florida courses that have made it onto Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list.
Instead of water, water everywhere, several of the courses on the list feature a bit of elevation change – certainly not expected at most Central Florida courses. Other top tracks have hosted professional events, and one is a simple muni with greens that draw golfers from around the country.
For the sake of this article, we have defined Central Florida as the inland area from just north of Orlando and stretching southwest toward Tampa, but without considering courses too near either the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.
This definition loosely follows the Interstate 4 corridor.
And instead of relying on one player’s favorites for details, this accounting of top courses incorporates comments from Golfweek’s Best raters and what they like about these Central Florida courses.
Each of the nine courses on this list has been rated highly enough to make it onto Florida’s Best Courses You Can Play list, which includes 30 courses around the Sunshine State, and their rankings are included.
WHERE: Bowling Green, Fla.
DESIGNERS: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
YARDAGE/PAR: 7,148; 72
THE SKINNY: Built on the site of a former phosphate mine about 85 miles southwest of Orlando in a relatively empty expanse of the state, the Red (and the neighboring Blue) appears to play across the surface of the moon more than a typical Florida wetland. The sometimes-immense landforms pitch the golfer among expansive sandy waste areas with long native grasses and dunes created by decades of phosphate mining, and the firm turf allows for a ground game into most greens.
GOLFWEEK RANKING: No. 2 on Florida’s Best Courses You Can Play list
A RATER SAYS: This course blew me away! I would play this course over and over again: It’s fun, playable and the scenery was remarkable. The best design out of the three (at the resort) in my opinion. The design takes advantage of the scenic elements, requires risk-reward strategy and demands shotmaking. … Unlike most Florida courses, the Red has many elevation changes. Coore and Crenshaw have done an amazing job designing the gem that is both beautiful and interesting. – Gary Nurenberg, New York