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.
For more than half a century, salty breezes off the Atlantic have rustled the fronds of the palm trees that arch along the fairways at New Smyrna Golf Club. The 18-hole, par-72 layout—originally dreamt up by course architect Donald Ross—more recently underwent renovations by Bobby Weed, updating them for 21st-century expectations such as an absence of pack horses. Before driving and putting their way across the 6,567-yard course, golfers can warm up at one of the driving range’s 30 hitting stations or acquire gear from Titleist at the pro shop to fill their club quivers.
Renowned golf-course architect Bobby Weed aims to fill his courses with the kind of rich details typically produced only by Mother Nature herself. His 2008 overhaul of The Deltona Club completely transformed the course: today, blowout-style native-sand bunkers bear roughly scalloped edges that call to mind a raw desert landscape, and the elevation rises in craggy steps as the course progresses, giving players a sense of conquering the land itself. The course's resulting beauty, sense of challenge, and secret bonus level snagged the club a spot on Golfweek's list of best Florida courses in 2012.
After changing owners a number of times, including separate stints in the hands of a Confederate Civil War general and a retired sea captain, the 152-acre plot of Mayfair Country Club was bought by the city of Sanford in 1922. The city quickly built four holes around the beautiful citrus trees and double row of oak trees, opening for business that same year under the title Sanford Country Club. By 1924, an 18-hole course opened and began to attract big-name golfers, including Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen.
Unfortunately, the course?s upkeep was neglected during the nation's Great Golf-Ball Shortage. After the Depression passed, a small group of investors renovated the course and reopened it in 1945 under the name Seminole Country Club. The course wouldn?t be called the Mayfair Country Club until the late 1940s, when it was acquired by the NFL's New York Giants, a development that led to the course's hosting of PGA tour events from 1955 to 1957 and regular visits from legends such as Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.
Today, players can walk the same fairways as the game's greats while grappling with the course?s difficult layout, named a Best Course to Play by Golf Digest. Opportunities for high-risk, high-reward shots abound, as two of the four par 5s measure less than 450 yards and the fairways remain as wide and inviting as they were in 1922, having managed to avoid growing thin and feeble with old age.
Course at a Glance: * 18-hole, par 72 course * Total length of 6,403 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 70.3 from the back tees * Course slope of 123 from the back tees * Four sets of tees per hole
A mountaintop gazebo rises above a labyrinth of emerald corridors, offering sweeping, ocean views to mini golfers who conquer Fiesta Falls Miniature Golf's course. The 18-hole circuit takes players past eight waterfalls, through shadowy caves, and around a 65-foot Spanish galleon that has been enjoying a golf-centric retirement since the Age of Imperialism. During the daytime, trees and rocky outcroppings block out the sun’s rays, which are supplanted by towering light fixtures after sunset to allow for nighttime play. Fiesta Falls’s concessions dishes out soft-serve ice cream, milk shakes, and other desserts to help guests ice their elbow after a particularly strenuous round.
Designed by renowned course architect Pete Dye in 1995, Black Bear Golf Club's 18-hole, par 72 layout showcases all the calling cards of a masterfully crafted golf course. With mounded fairways, tight landing zones, and more than 120 natural sand traps, the course—which stretches more than 7,000 yards from the tips—presents a traditional links-style layout with the favorable climate and alligator forecaddies native to Central Florida. Dye's affinity for dramatic finishing holes comes into play throughout the course. A well-bunkered, tree-lined par 4, the 9th hole is the course's second-hardest, and the 18th hole is the course's most difficult, demanding that golfers finish strong by overcoming an obscured tee shot on their way to a green guarded by a pond. A challenge for golfers of all skill levels, Black Bear has hosted multiple U.S. Amateur and Canadian Tour events.
Fostering practice as well as on-course play, Black Bear boasts a grass tee, a double-ended driving range, and a 40,000-square-foot short-game-practice area. With a menu of casual grill fare, The Bear's Den invites golfers to unwind after their days at the links and test out their divot tools' utility as fill-ins for forks.