In 1917, toward the end of WWI, the greens of Winter Park Country Club’s golf course echoed with baaing and bleating. In response to the wartime meat shortage, golfer cleats had given way to hooves: the course’s links, designed by John Dunn of Scotland just 17 years earlier, became grazing pastures for sheep and goats.
This was just one of many course reinventions during its more than 100 years of history, which has seen Winter Park’s fairways expand from 9 to 27 and shrink back to 9 again. Perhaps the course's greatest claim to fame has been the legendary figures who have graced its narrow, tree-hampered fairways, including players with surnames such as Hogan, Snead, and Sarazen.
Players of all stripes, from greenhorns to green-jacket holders, must deal with difficult design and terrain, as showcased on the course’s signature fourth hole, whose dogleg left and tight out-of-bounds areas lead a troubling path to a green situated behind two large bunkers and a massive oak tree. The biggest challenge, however, may reside on the par 3 seventh hole, whose deceptively simple 165-yard length leads into a hard-to-read green with a shape-shifting flagstick.
Course at a Glance:
The Links at 434 snakes a par 3 course over open fields dotted with sand traps and towering lights that provide an illuminated course as late as 10 p.m. Before taking the course, golfers can warm up by chipping onto a practice green and rifling off range balls from natural-grass tees or one of 10 covered hitting bays that shield players from the pressure-inducing gaze of the moon. From the first tee, golfers' short- to midrange games are tested by narrow fairways and difficult approach shots onto greens reminiscent of Mother Earth's curiously shaped amoebas. The longest hole stretches to 185 yards, putting added pressure on short-iron play, and three sets of tees help to make the course playable for golfers of all abilities.
The 18-hole course at Winter Pines Golf Club was first drawn up in 1968, and continues to surround golfers in a Technicolor terrarium marked by brightly flowered landscapes and deep emerald turf as it celebrates its 45th birthday. The front nine presents a traditional, par 36 layout that stretches to 3,026 yards, complete with two par 5s just upwards of 470 yards apiece but still well southwards of the 100,000-yard distance at which holes can apply for statehood. Golfers having trouble with the par 5s will find a respite on a par 31 back nine stocked with five par 3s—including four in a row from holes 14 through 17. Those hoping that these indicate can-of-corn iron shots and no-hands aces will come to a rude awakening, however, when they find themselves staring down tee shots of more than 210 yards on holes 12, 15, and 17.
Ventura Country Club unfurls its par 70, 5,659-yard course around the edge of a meandering body of water, challenging golfers with narrow fairways and sporadic trees engulfing projectile easements. On the seventh hole, an honor guard of water hazards and bunkers allows only the most precise shots to enter its elevated green, followed by the 467-yard 13th hole, an imposing gauntlet encompassing a sharp dogleg left dotted with palm trees that yearn to swat down careless strokes. Three sets of tees ensure that players of every skill level can thoroughly enjoy the course's intricacies. Before circumnavigating the links, golfers can warm up on the driving range with a bag of range balls apiece, practicing long-range shots or revealing their mannequin-leg sand wedge. Two bottles of water replenish sweat lost during intense putts, and a pair of hot dogs either cures postgame hunger or acts as meaty makeshift tees.
Sweetwater Golf & Country Club's 18-hole Highlands Course weaves over 6,771 yards of fairways and greens stitched by mature oaks. The player-friendly, par 72 course puts clubbers face to face with the Loch Ness Monster—which is the name bestowed upon the course's signature hole, a 625-yard par five that double-doglegs around a lake. Golfers can prepare for their round with a stint at the club's driving range, where practice balls await to be launched in the stratosphere while commenting on the tense relationship between golf balls and sheets of glass. The club fosters more competitive fun at its tennis complex, which boasts eight lighted, outdoor Har-Tru—green clay—tennis courts.
After a day spent reading putts or thrashing forehands, guests can unwind at one of the club's three dining facilities. The relaxed vibes of the Fife & Drum Pub and the Carnoustie Café welcome casually-clad guests fresh off the course, and the more formal, chandelier-lit confines of the Highlands Dining Room provides an apropos backdrop for dinner parties or a romantic setting for date night for golfers and their caddy.
Volcano Island Miniature Golf’s 18 holes wind through an immersive landscape of volcanic crags and life-size dinosaur statues. A towering brachiosaurus welcomes visitors to the complex, its neck extending far above a canopy of palm trees that casts shadows on the course’s emerald corridors, tropical tiki huts, and camped-out dinosaur-rights activists. As golfers putt through the jungle, course-side plaques aim prehistoric factoids into their brains to fill holes in dinosaur trivia. A dazzling eruption spews from a volcano to celebrate holes in one on the final green, sending golfers and stranded hot air balloons on their way home.
Each day, golf carts trundle over wooden bridges, their wheels thwacking against each plank as they cross the myriad waterways that dot Alaqua Country Club's 18-hole layout. Designed by golf legend Gary Player, the 6,662-yard course is sculpted through tunnels of 55-foot trees and incorporates water hazards that come into play on 16 holes. One shining example is the par 3 hole 13 with an island green that tests golfers' iron play and ability to use those same clubs to fight off feral caddies that use flagsticks as swords. Surrounded by the Lower Wekiva Preserve State Park, the course enchants golfers with palms draped in billowing spanish moss and occasional sightings of deer and wild turkeys.
Alaqua Country Club's new, adobe-accented clubhouse offers weekly dining specials served to tables draped in white linens, where guests can unwind after rounds or fold burgundy napkins into festive new club head covers.