I’m going to Streamsong in February and will have enough time for a round in the Tampa area. Where should we play? @MinnesotaNole, Twitter
If you’re doing Streamsong, I’m guessing you’re pretty serious about golf and its great courses. So there’s one choice in the Tampa that towers above the others, and that’s the Copperhead course at Innisbrook. Home to the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship from March 8-11, this surprisingly rolling layout is boldly bunkered, and dotted with the usual allotment of water hazards—this is Florida after all. Ernie Els has called Copperhead, “the best course the PGA Tour plays in Florida,” and past champs include Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh.
Generally, you have to stay at Innisbrook Resort to play there, but they do accommodate some outside play on a space-available basis. Now that we’re in prime season, it’ll run you $325 Monday-Thursday, $350 Friday-Sunday, and in the run-up to the tournament, it’s cartpath-only. If Copperhead doesn’t work out, Innisbrook has three siblings, including the Island, an excellent test in its own right, where Phil Mickelson captured the 1990 NCAA Championship. Island will set you back $235-$255.
What are the most affordable golf options in the Palm Beach County area? @Dre_stint, Instagram
I’m not sure what your definition of “affordable” is…and I’m not sure what Webster’s is, either—and I’m too tired to look it up. So I’ll give you my best value picks for the region.
Start with North Palm Beach Country Club. In 2006, Jack Nicklaus transformed this 1920s-era layout into an attractive brute, with deep bunkers, rippled greens and two holes along the Intracoastal Waterway. The most you’ll pay in high season is $105 during the week, $115 on weekends, and after 12:30, that rate drops to $90-$95, with a Twilight rate of $60-$65. Until January 21, and after April 2, rates are significantly less.
If you’re pressed for time, on a budget, or just craving scenery and challenge, the municipally-owned Palm Beach Par-3 hits the spot. Perhaps no Par-3 course in the U.S. enjoys a more spectacular location, right on the Atlantic Ocean. Since its 2009 Raymond Floyd re-design, it’s an itty-bitty brute, a blur of sand, water and wind, but even if your scores soar, you’ll savor the experience, especially for the $34-$50 price tag that gets you 18 holes, walking. It’s another $17.50 to ride.
Another bargain is West Palm Beach Country Club, a very deserving partner on the Florida Historic Golf Trail. Dick Wilson—he of Doral, Bay Hill, Cog Hill and La Costa fame—designed the layout in 1947, and it served for years as a PGA Tour venue. The King himself, Arnold Palmer, captured the title in 1959. Mark McCumber’s team restored and refurbished the course in 2009 and today, it’s a formidable, if water-less (highly unusual for Florida) test that will cost you less than $50 to ride, even on a winter weekend.
Oh, and I’ll vouch for once-venerable Polo Trace Golf & Country Club in Delray Beach, which charges just $69 in prime time, $49 after 1 pm to play a secluded, linksy/parkland blend that sports a stern finish and that rarest of trios, consecutive par-5s at 9-10 and 11. However, run, don’t walk, to this spread because it’s soon to be gone to make way for houses. Sigh—an all too common story these days.
I’m planning an early summer buddies trip. Are we better off looking into Florida or Arizona? I know that’s broad, but we’re choosing the state before the city. @RYanmroddy, Instagram
What kind of buddies do you travel with? Navy Seals? Ultra-marathoners? You really want to do Florida or Arizona in early summer? Both destinations offer superior bargains on their very best courses at that time of year. They also offer heatstroke. If you’re going in June, Arizona is recommended, as it never rains. July and August, I’ll give you Florida.[gallery:13665108]
I’m heading to Ft. Lauderdale with some friends toward the end of Feb. We have our housing all taken care of but have yet to decide where to try and play. Thoughts? @Potbunker, Instagram
There are no “must-plays” in Ft. Lauderdale, but there are definitely a fistful of solid choices that fit your description. Start with the Club at Emerald Hills, in nearby Hollywood, a water-loaded, 1970 Devlin/Von Hagge creation that boasts surprising elevation changes for south Florida and fearsome challenge as well, as evidenced by the 75.9 rating and 145 slope from its 7,368-yard tips. In February and March, you can play it after 11 am for $120, $85 after 2 pm. They also offer a set of Emerald tees that stretches 7,827 yards, with a rating of 78.6 and a slope of 148, in case you and your pals were practicing in preparation of earning your PGA Tour cards.
An option with serious tournament pedigree is Inverrary Country Club’s East course in Lauderhill. Host to the PGA Tour’s Jackie Gleason event from 1972 through 1983, forerunner to the current Honda Classic, this 48-year-old Robert Trent Jones Sr. design witnessed winners such as Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus during its run. Nicklaus’s 1978 victory featured birdies on the final five holes, one of the Golden Bear’s most dramatic regular tour wins. Don’t expect Tour conditions on this flat, watery tract, but at rates that go no higher than $45 in January, you won’t mind too much. Finally, if you love sand, you’ll warm to Heron Bay in Coral Springs, which played host to the PGA Tour’s Honda event from 1997 through 2002, back when the course fell under the TPC umbrella. Vijay Singh, Matt Kuchar and Mark Calcavecchia were among the men who won titles here. Peak rate is only $89, and the facilities are excellent, but if you’re allergic to bunker play, find somewhere else. And don’t forget, Ft. Lauderdale is just 30 miles north of Miami, so more choices await via a ride down I-95 or A1A.