During a round of golf in this region, it?s not uncommon for players to see the occasional alligator sunning itself on the banks of a fairway pond. The same, however, cannot be said for miniature-golf courses, unless you?re playing at Congo River Golf, where the civilized sinking of putts coexists with the visceral carnage of live-alligator feedings. More than 25 alligators wait for patrons to feed them morsels of gator food in an exhibit beside the course. Though the course offers no chance for an encounter with the ancient, scaly species, it enchants players with waterfalls, safari-themed artifacts, and towering rock faces. In addition, Congo River Golf encompasses an indoor arcade and a gemstone-mining station, where guests dig through dirt for fossils, arrowheads, and Neanderthal?s kindergarten time capsules.
Designed by prolific course architect William W. Amick, Fairways Golf Club's par 70 course takes golfers careening across 18 holes of pristine Florida landscape. Though it has a relatively short layout, the course compensates for its diminutive length with winding fairways flanked by multiple water hazards, where a tribe of merpeople raises sunken golf balls as their own. Expansive bunkers populate the course's fairways and fringes, their dazzling white sands further shrinking golf balls' safe landing zones and attracting droves of disoriented sunbathers. Along with its fun but challenging course, the club promotes score-shaving practice with an onsite driving range and peddles stylish birdie-hunting apparel and accessories at the pro shop.
Golf instructor Dave Stanley has seen just about every type of golf swing imaginable. His golf academy, GolfEd, is an indoor golf studio where Dave's instincts for swing imbalances work in symphony with launch monitors and video swing technology used to analyze swings without missing a late hip turn or the overpronation of a vestigial tail.
Golf Ed's philosophy hinges on helping golfers build a simple, effective swing that they can commit to muscle memory and reproduce under any conditions. The facility also hosts independent practice sessions, during which guests can overcome the yips on the indoor putting green.
Carved through oak and cypress trees, Grande Vista Golf Club's 9-hole, 2,300-yard course offers scenic views of the landscape as golfers traverse its par-32 layout. The Ron Garl-designed course also puts water hazards in play on multiple holes, which attract native wildlife such as blue herons, who subsist solely on sunken golf balls. Before battling the course and its dazzling white sand traps, golfers can warm up at a 35-acre practice facility with areas to hone all elements of the game, and instructors on hand to field questions about whether clubs have minds of their own.
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.
Before invading Hunter's Creek Golf Club, you may want to invest in a stronger navy; the course is loaded with water hazards. Designed by Lloyd Clifton, the 18-hole course unfurls rolling fairways through 13 ponds, most of which nestle in the shadows of windswept cattails. Timbers and sandtraps also pock the layout, which stretches to an imposing 7,268 yards from the tips. Golfers who can stripe the fairways and evade greenside traps still have a test awaiting, as vast greens make any two-putt a tricky proposition. Before rounds, golfers can munch on pub food anchored by local produce and seafood at The Creekside Grill, where panoramic windows give way to views of the course and the migratory patterns of caddies.