Updated February 2024 to update booking information.
For years, I’ve known that Florida is a big deal when it comes to golf. I’m no Einstein either, it’s not exactly like I discovered fire.
It’s not hard to reason – endless sunshine, low tax rates, palm trees, the ocean, etc. That’s why West Coasters like me flock here every year.
Yes, I plead guilty to the alleged assault on Florida’s public golf courses. I’m just hoping I get my sentence reduced for good behavior so I can go back again, and then again, and. . . you get the picture.
Alright, that’s enough about the figurative spousal imprisonment we can all relate to that’s a product of our golf trips.
Let’s get on with it and highlight the ten best public golf courses in Southwest Florida, as voted on by our loyal readers. . . with a hint of my own inflection.
The Shell Point Golf Club
Golf is a year-around pursuit in Southwest Florida. And The Shell Point Golf Club provides an exceptional experience 12 months a year.
Having played here myself, I can attest (not to my score) that driving into this place is a memorable experience. The smell of fresh morning air, dew still on the grass, the sun ever so slightly evaporating the thin layer of fog clinging to last night’s cloak of darkness.
This place is special.
Once you get past the high that heightens all your senses, get ready for a memorable round of golf.
Six sets of tees, daunting hazards, and superb conditions make Shell Point a complete experience. No matter if you’re new to the game, or have your sights on taking down the club champion, this track won’t disappoint.
I have tingles writing about this place and our readers agree, you need to come see it for yourself.
Valencia Golf and Country Club
Valencia Golf and Country Club has been a Naples favorite since it opened in 1997.
However, a substantial renovation was completed in 2018 and the reviews have been nothing short of glowing.
Unlike a lot of courses in Southwest Florida, there’s room off the tee here. That’s right, let the big dog eat.
Part of that renovation was the resodding of fairways with Championship Bermuda. This stuff is like carpet and even a weekend warrior like me felt a boost of confidence standing over approach shots.
Did I mention the greens? I’d put them up against any public course in the state. TifEagle is the new strain of Bermuda and they roll like glass. Find the speed and watch whitey disappear. Simple as that.
Beyond great golf, the amenities exceed expectations.
Last time I was here, I had a couple cold ones on the Patio Bar and talked smart with the locals. The atmosphere was unbeatable and the service top-notch.
Get here as soon as you can.
Bucks Run Golf Club
Mt. Pleasant is one of my favorite communities in Michigan. That’s due in large part to Bucks Run Golf Club.
Designed by Jerry Matthews, this is a modern layout with a most compelling mix of holes. Risk and reward are plenty. Still, par is a great score on a number of holes too. You won’t be bored when you play here.
Even though it’s evident some of the design has been altered, the land’s natural features are still evident. Native wetlands come into play and have been left more or less as they were before the golf course. Just don’t spend as much time hunting for balls in them as I did last time I played here.
A day isn’t complete without a visit to the 18-holel putting island on Lake Fisher. Here you’ll find bunkers, hazards, and everything else. If you haven’t settled a bit from the round, take the playoff here – it’s a kick in the pants.
Bucks Run has everything you’d expect from a premier public facility and a whole lot more.
Coral Oaks Golf Course
I’m never one to talk about government, politics, or anything of the like. . . I’ll leave that to others.
But I will say that I’m a huge advocate for courses that are effectively run by local, city and state governments. Not only do they provide quality recreation to the community, they drive revenue as well. And trust me, not all are great.
Coral Oaks is a story of shining success though. The city of Cape Coral operates this course that’s one of the most successful in all of Southwest Florida. The partnership between public and private represents everything that can be accomplished with mutual understanding and proactive policy. That alone should tell you that the game is in good hands in this community.
Concerning the golf course, you’ve picked a dandy at Coral Oaks.
Designed by the venerable Arthur Hills, no detail is overlooked from tee to green. The course gets a lot of play, yet remains in immaculate condition all year. That’s thanks to a seasoned superintendent and maintenance crew that knows what they’re doing. The city gets it and has hired the right people accordingly.
I remember last time I was scheduled to play here, my game was in shambles. But I knew they had a world-class practice facility. Long story short, I booked an earlier flight from Phoenix and took full advantage. I was floored by both the range and short game area. Did I find the “secret”? No, I lost a couple bucks to the locals the next day, but I was damned impressed with the facilities at my disposal.
Good on ya Coral Oaks and the vibrant city of Cape Coral. Keep doing you, and I’ll keep coming back. The story here warms my heart as a golfer.
Raptor Bay Golf Club
I looked at Raptor Bay online after I received a cordial invite to come play from one of our readers. My wife was with me, and I gave her the “I need to go look”.
Long story short, I agreed to build up points and my wish was granted.
I added this track on the end of a buddies’ trip and Charlie, my host and Golfer’s Authority OG, didn’t disappoint.
The only problem was he proposed a $10 nassua on the first tee and I obliged. . . I lost all three bets but at least he bought me a beer at the end.
Truth be told, I’ve lost $30 in a lot worse ways. Not only was Mark a great host, but the course experience from door to door isn’t one I’ll forget any time soon.
Modern target golf. That’s what Mark described and precisely how I’d dictate a round of golf at Raptor Bay.
The features are large and there to be seen. But the landing areas are well-defined. It’s a fair test.
I’m just going to tell you that Mark is the man and he’s got some quality friends. I’m concealing his full name for his own good.
But, if you come here to play, chances are you’ll run into the cat – he spends more hours here than at home.
Panther Run Golf Club
Who wouldn’t want to play a golf course called Panther Run? I know I do, but I’ve yet to step foot on property.
With that said, the consensus among our Southwest Sunshiners is that this track is all that and a whole lot more.
Part of a Dell Webb community, this course is built to host the game’s best players, but caters to the everyman whose long drive days might be behind him.
Multiple sets of tees and the ability to run the ball into greens allow everyone to enjoy a round here.
If you remember from Michigan course guides, my best friend from college, Dan, has played here and says we need a southern getaway when he’s snowed in.
Most likely outcome: one thing will lead to another and we’ll end up Panther Run. Hope to see you there!
The Black Course at Tiburon
Greg Norman has designed a lot of golf courses in Florida. Among his best works is the Black Course at Tiburon.
This upscale facility is located in the community of Naples.
The layout is a traditional southeast American design with pine lined fairways and natural sand areas. There isn’t a lot of rough here either. That’s especially true around the greens where closely mown areas afford you a multitude of options to get the ball close.
By modern standards, this course isn’t long, but it requires strategic management and shot placement to score well.
Even though this isn’t the cheapest option, it’s more than worth playing at least once.
The Gold Course at Tiburon
The perfect compliment to the Black Course is the Golf Course, also designed by Greg Norman.
While this track has many of the same southern design elements of the Black Course, it exudes a character all its own.
Water is a prominent feature here and comes into play on the majority of holes. Even though the fairways are generous, missing them can lead to a big number.
The layout is also significantly longer. It rewards both length and accuracy.
Your work isn’t done when you get to the greens either. They’re large and undulating. If you get through 18 holes without a three-putt, your buddies will be digging in their pockets to pay you.
Along with great golf, the amenities at Tiburon are top-notch. This is a spot not to be missed.
Stoneybrook Golf Club
I’m a fan of great layouts, especially those the old ones that are old and have stood the test of time. You know what else gets my blood pumping though? Any course that’s in pristine condition.
That’s what you’ll find at Stoneybrook in the town of Estero.
This is a big hitter’s golf course from all the way back. It measures north of 7,300 yards. As you might expect however, there are plenty of tees for everyone to choose from.
And the fairways are wide open. You’re encouraged to swing away (good news for me).
Don’t be fooled, however. The challenge comes on and around the greens. They’re expansive and undulating. Should you miss the putting surface, be ready to have your short game tested. There are numerous imposing bunkers, and the mounding can make for some tricky shots.
This course is as pure as I’ve come across in Florida and deserves the modest green fee you’ll pay.
Whiskey Creek Country Club
There’s just something sexy about a course called Whiskey Creek. Don’t you agree?
Even though this track is what some call “executive”, it’s a stapled favorite for both locals and visitors. I’ve played here a few times and have never had anything less than a stellar experience. The longest hole is 336 yards from the back tees.
Built in 1974, this track has all the hallmarks of golf in yesteryear. But that’s part of the charm. Be ready for some unusual lies and bounces – rub of the green as they say.
Creativity is rewarded here and if you appreciate nostalgia, you’ve come to the right place.
At Whiskey Creek, you’re treated like family and assured a most wonderful time. Come play.
Southwest Florida is home to some spectacular public golf. It goes overlooked too.
As I mentioned in the opening, I’ve spent some time here. But after receiving all the tremendous feedback from our readers, it’s a place I want to explore more.
There are some courses that didn’t make this list, and for that I apologize – we only have room for ten in each guide.
The good news is that the comments section is available for any and all to chime in with their own thoughts. I hope you do.