Golf is a game of history. So every golfer should know that long before shepherds were knocking featheries around Scottish linksland, Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida with soldiers, pigs, a priest and new irons. He promptly knocked three balls into the water surrounding the TPC Sawgrass 17th green, flung his clubs into a thicket of pines and resumed searching for the Fountain of Youth. Itll be easier than finding my swing, he said.
Were kidding, of course. Any historian can tell you theres no way Ponce got a tee time on such short notice at the TPC, a must-play on one of the richest golf coasts in the New World. Make that two of the richest, giving Florida a unique geographical dilemma. East or west ' which is the better side for a fall golf getaway?
Golf isnt the only factor, of course. As de Leon could have attested, theres a lot more to Florida than sand traps ' and he didnt even live to see attractions like Walt Disney World, Kennedy Space Center and Jackie Gleasons Mausoleum that draw 80 million tourists a year to the state.
The inscription on Gleasons gravesite is his trademark, And Away We Go. But to where? Florida has 1,197 miles of coastline, 1,000 golf courses and a half dozen distinct cultures.
Before our road trip, a word or two about Orlando: Never mind. Nothing against central Florida as a golf destination; you could drive to many fine resorts without putting more than 20 miles on your rental car. But if you really want to experience the variety that is Florida, you need to go coastal.
Whether you head toward the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico is a matter of taste. For an idea of the differences, consider who lives where. The east coasts residents include Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Price and once hes through with his $40 million fixer-upper, Tiger Woods. The west has John Huston.
To put it another way, are you more into substance, like the varying, natural landscape? Or are you into style, like one of the worlds most amazing topographical features? Were speaking, of course, of Donald Trumps hair.
Atlantic Coast: How Sweet It Is
Trumps mane can be spotted on the east coast, usually at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the northernmost spot of the cultural mishmash that is south Florida. Its not hard to find frijoles negros (black beans), a real bagel shop and $14 martinis on the same block, thanks to untold thousands of immigrants from Cuba, South America, New Jersey and whatever planet produces the Beautiful People who traipse along Miamis South Beach.
And golf architects. Actually, they have it tough in Florida, where their canvases usually are plots of flat pine brush. The highest point in Florida is only 345 feet above sea level, or roughly the height of the ice sculpture at Dorals nightly buffet.
Doral is the granddaddy of Floridas golf resorts, home of the Blue Monster and for a time, Gleason himself. The course has been redone so many times that the Great One wouldnt recognize it, but history alone makes it worth playing.
Head north and youll hit Ft. Lauderdale and the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, a favorite vacation spot for celebrities, recently reopened after a $100 million renovation. Another hour north is PGA National Resort, which has hosted a Ryder Cup and two PGA Championships and is the current haven of the nomadic Honda Classic.
The quickest way up the coast is I-95; the scenic route is A1A. Jimmy Buffet named an album after this two-lane stretch, so you know it has certain native charms. Like mom-and-pop hotels, fluttering sea oats, surf shops and traffic.
Try to stay awake at the wheel driving along the central coast: Theres nothing to see for hours unless you get to Titusville and NASA has a rocket launch scheduled. For all its waterfront, Florida has few golf holes on the ocean. It seems almost any developer with a bulldozer can build a waterfront condo, but a par 3 almost requires an act of Congress. When it opened in 2000, the Nicklaus course at Ocean Hammock was the first seaside course built in Florida since 1930.
The historic district of St. Augustine, Americas oldest city, is a nice change from prefabricated tourist options that have made Florida the worlds leading exporter of mouse ears and alligator wrestlers. St. Augustine even combines history with golf at the World Golf Village, where youll never play like Sam Snead, but you can at least gaze at one of his hats.
You know all about the Sawgrass Marriott Resort. Before dying, every golfer has to try to hit the island green. Added bonus: You might spot Vijay Singh on the range hitting his 94th bucket of balls that day.
Other than golf, this is the area of Florida that tourism forgot. For decades Jacksonville was the punch line for redneck jokes. In truth, the downtown, with the St. Johns River flowing through it, is more scenic than 99 percent of the cities on earth. And restaurant options have expanded beyond Waffle House, although youll still find one at every highway exit.
And then theres Amelia Island Plantation, an enclave outside Fernandina Beach. Its the kind of sumptuous resort you have to see to appreciate, which means it would feel right at home on the opposite side of the state, or at least the southern part of it.
Gulf Coast: Circuses, mythical creatures and Ernie Els favorite layout
The Ritz-Carlton Naples is a luxurious place to start on the west coast, although youre only cheating yourself if you dont head into the Everglades and check out the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. The Skunk Ape is Floridas version of Bigfoot. Skeptics abound, but theres no scientific evidence that Mickey Mouse is real either, and that hasnt stopped the sale of millions of his T-shirts.
The way southwest Florida is growing, you might soon find the Skunk Ape sipping a latte at a Starbucks. Imagine a modern-day Oklahoma land rush, only most of the Sooners are retirees from the Midwest looking for arthritis-friendly weather.
Built in 1930, the Naples Beach Golf Club was the first golf course in the area, which remained relatively quiet (compared with South Florida) for decades. Until recently. A new course has not been built for every new resident in the past 20 years. It only seems that way.
But that doesnt mean every city looks and feels the same, mainly because there are no real cities. Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Bradenton have historic cores surrounded by miles of real-estate developments. Tourists come here for the beaches, not the attractions.
Circus pioneer John Ringling was one of the first. He bought a few islands and set an aristocratic tone that still rings around Sarasota. If you want to spend $450 for a pair of sunglasses, St. Armands Circle on Lido Key is a good spot. For a bit less, Longboat Key Club has 45 plush holes.
Leaving Sarasota, you can take I-275 and enjoy the view from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Youll end up in St. Petersburg, which isnt entirely comprised of retirees, but you will have no problem finding an Early Bird Special.
One of the toughest layouts in Florida, and one of the most revered on the PGA Tour is at the Innisbrook Resort, home of the PODS Championship. The best golf course the PGA Tour plays in Florida, Ernie Els says of the Copperhead layout.
This is where the look and feel of the Gulf Coast start to change, and you know youre no longer in Sarasota when you see the Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs, near Innisbrook. For years Tarpon Springs main industry was fishing sponges from the Gulf, and Spongeorama pays homage to this timeless pursuit with a gift shop, exhibits and a film that explains why the wool sponge is the Cadillac of Sponges.
Heading north from Innisbrook, youll realize why you never hear much about the mid-central coast. The area makes Titusville look like Manhattan. Its mostly marsh, rocky beaches and abandoned fishing trawlers blown ashore by the last hurricane.
You also wont find golf resorts, but in an area where Florida starts to roll with elevation changes, you can stumble onto one of the states most distinctive courses. The clubhouse at World Woods, about 10 miles north of Brooksville, wouldnt qualify as a cart barn at Sawgrass, but golfers come from all over to play Tom Fazios Pine Barrens layout.
From there the coast meets Floridas last golf frontier. Panhandle residents dont like it when their area is referred to as the Redneck Riviera. But the sugar-white beaches are as good as any in the Mediterranean. Who could blame all those folks from Alabama and Mississippi for coming down and enjoying them?
Theres plenty of golf, although the ultimate destination is the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, 72 holes between the Gulf and Choctawhatchee Bay. To which your buddies back home would say Choctaw-what-chee? The area doesnt carry the cachet of Key Biscayne or Boca Raton, so if your goal is to impress, choose the east coast.
But if you want to taste as much of Florida as possible, choose the, umm... Pardon the copout, but it really is a matter of taste. If youre into bag tags and celebrity spotting, go east. If youre into hidden gems, superior beaches and glorious sunsets, go west. You wont end up like Ponce de Leon. On his first trip to Florida, he came ashore on the east coast. His second voyage, which began on the west coast, was ended quickly by a poisoned arrow.
Ponce never found the Fountain of Youth, but he explored a peninsula that would become a fountain of golf. Youll discover plenty of riches whichever coast you take. And if youre really lucky, you might even spot the Skunk Ape.
by David Whitley, LINKS Magazine
Florida golf abundant in North South East and West
McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.
McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.
McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.
''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''
Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.
''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''
McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.
''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.
''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''
The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.
Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel
If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.
Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:
When in the Middle East... pic.twitter.com/lNv1Lh79E0— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 16, 2018
If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:
Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."
Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."
I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H
And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.