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Florida's islands offer great golf in naturally beautiful settings

Ed SchmidtBy Ed Schmidt,
Crandon Golf Key Biscayne
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Crandon Golf Key Biscayne features palm trees, tropical foliage and holes overlooking the bay. (Courtesy of Crandon Golf Key Biscayne)

If you don't have the time, inclination or money to play golf in the Caribbean, Florida's many islands offer a superb alternative.

Architects like Pete Dye, Bobby Weed and Robert Cupp Jr. worked diligently to design golf courses that blend easily with their surroundings. Many of the island courses are minimalist designs that take full advantage of the spectacular, naturally beautiful terrain.

From resort-dotted islands to residential oriented ones connected to urban centers, Florida has a wide variety of settings with golf course options at all price levels.

Amelia Island golf

Enveloped by rolling sand dunes, moss-draped oak trees and pines, Amelia Island, located 30 miles north of downtown Jacksonville, is dotted with golf courses and historical attractions and framed by wide beaches.

If you want to meet some local islanders, play Fernandina Beach Golf Club, a 27-hole complex regarded as one of the nation's best municipal golf facilities, or The Golf Club of Amelia Island, a Mark McCumber/Gene Littler parkland-style layout with mature woodlands and wetlands.

For resort play, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is home to the Weed-designed Ocean Links course, which has 10 holes with lagoons or marsh wetlands, and the Dye-designed Oak Marsh Course, where sinewy fairways, bulkheaded greens, salt marsh creeks and coquina shell cart paths create a memorable golf experience.

Key Biscayne golf

Set six miles southeast of Miami, Key Biscayne is a seven-mile-long and two-mile-wide barrier island with pristine beaches, lush foliage and beautiful homes. Home to celebrities and Miami movers and shakers, there's an air of privacy and exclusivity on the island.

Golfers gravitate to the Crandon Golf Key Biscayne, a Bruce Devlin/Robert von Hagge design that hosted a Champions Tour event for nearly 20 years. Tall palm trees, dense tropical foliage, mangrove thickets, seven saltwater lakes and holes overlooking Biscayne Bay dominate the golf experience at Crandon.

Florida Keys golf

Home to some of the world's best dive locations, two state parks and a national park, Key Largo attracts a wide range of sports enthusiasts.

For golfers, the options include Card Sound Golf Club, a Devlin/von Hagge course that opened in 1976, and the luxurious Ocean Reef Club, which offers the Dolphin Course, a target-style layout with fairways framed by coconut palms and mahogany trees, and the Hammock Course, a scenic beauty where water comes into play on 14 holes.

In Key West, the Rees Jones-designed Key West Golf Club immerses golfers in a garden-like setting highlighted by the "Mangrove Hole," a daunting 143-yard par 3 that requires a shot over a field of thick tropical mangroves.

Merritt Island golf

Connected to Titusville, Cocoa and Melbourne by causeways, Merritt Island is home to NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island National Refuge and The Savannahs Golf Course.

Designed by Gordon Lewis, The Savannahs is a tight layout with water and wetlands providing hazards on 13 holes. At 6,507 yards from the tips, you don't have to be a big hitter, but you better have a solid short game to hit the small, contoured greens.

Marco Island golf

A 17-square-mile island situated 18 miles south of Naples, "Marco"-- as the locals call it -- has a well-developed tourism infrastructure with resort hotels, rental homes and high-rise condominiums.

The Rookery at Marco, designed by Cupp Jr., is known for its fast, consistent greens, superb conditioning and abundant wildlife that includes alligators, bald eagles, blue herons and many other types of water birds.

After a round, some favorite "Marco" pastimes include shell hunting, dolphin watching, snorkeling and sunset watching.

Santa Rosa Island golf

A 40-mile-long barrier island near Pensacola, stunning white sand beaches rim the Santa Rosa Island and turquoise Gulf of Mexico waters.

The Santa Rosa Golf & Beach Club is a spectacular way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Florida Panhandle. A member of Audubon International, the course weaves through natural habitats and native areas. Holes 3-5 are routed around dunes and within a few hundred yards of the Gulf of Mexico.

Sanibel Island golf

Near Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, which is connected to Captiva Island, is a wonderland of unspoiled beaches, bike paths, a historical village and a national wildlife refuge.

The Sanibel golf menu features the Sanibel Island Golf Club (formerly named Beachview Golf Course), a short layout at 6,006 yard from the back tees that demands accurate tee shots; The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, where water hazards influence every hole; and The Sanctuary Golf Club, an Arthur Hills design that is a designated Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

More photos

Key West Golf Club - hole 16The Rookery at Marco - wildlife

Ed Schmidt, publisher of The Golf Travel Guru Blog, is the author of two books on Florida golf and more than 2,500 articles and columns on golf resorts, courses and destinations around the world. Follow Ed on Twitter at @golftravelguy.

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