Southwest Florida, spearheaded by Naples, is nearly a desert when it comes to notable public golf. While it does have terrific beaches, shopping and private real estate golf, the public side lags. The good news is, all you need to do is zip up I-75 along the Gulf Coast to the Tampa Bay region of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and you'll encounter all the daily fee golf your wallet can handle.
Copperhead Course (innisbrookgolfresort.com, 727-924-2000, $140-245)
The Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort, near Tampa, is home to a Tour event favored by the likes of four-time major champion Ernie Els, who has claimed this is the best Tour course in Florida. Perhaps that's a trick, because Copperhead's rolling, water- and pine-lined fairways make the course look and feel more like a Carolinas track.
You'll need to sort out your geographical bearings, because the elevated, fiercely trapped greens call for nothing but perfectly struck approaches. The resort's Island course, with all of its water features, is every bit as tough for most golfers — and likely more interesting. Also, it does have some pedigree: Phil Mickelson won the 1990 NCAA Championship there.
Tiburon Golf Club (tiburongcnaples.com, 239-593-2201, $75-$190)
Best known to television viewers for its hosting of the course designer Greg Norman's annual Franklin Templeton Shootout each December, though many still remember it by its old name, the Shark Shootout. Tournament host is the 7,288-yard Gold, which plays firm and fast, with multiple wetlands and vast, sandy waste areas providing the peril down the stretch.
But a shorter sister course, the Black, is the stronger test thanks to a plethora of forced carries. Access to the courses had solely been via the adjacent Ritz-Carlton, but market forces have opened them to public play.
Old Corkscrew (oldcorkscrew.com, 239-949-4700, $50-$179)
This pristine Jack Nicklaus Signature layout in Estero, a few exits north of Naples, is a brute from the back, 7,393 yards, with a 77.6 rating and 153 slope. It's more playable from closer in, provided you can handle the gigantic sprawls of sand and pine-edged wetlands on many holes.
The TPC Treviso Bay (tpctrevisobay.com, 239-331-2052, $129-$159)
Opened to little fanfare in December 2008, its stock rose quickly when Treviso Bay successfully hosted a Champions Tour event a few months later.
The Arthur Hills/Hal Sutton design features generous helpings of the usual Florida staples (water and sand) and its overall length, 7,367 yards is sufficient to tax players of all ages. Nonetheless, it's the curvaceous greens that form the strongest challenge. TPC Treviso Bay is a members club, but outside play is permitted.
Ranked No. 90 in the Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (ahead of private classics such as Long Cove, Bel-Air and Desert Forest) and No. 19 in Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play, the Pine Barrens course at World Woods (worldwoods.com, 352-796-5500) is a steal, especially from June through October, when it's $50 or less to ride. In peak season, January 1 through March 31, it will cost you $99, cart included, Monday through Thursday.
Carved through pine forest and sandy waste areas almost hour northeast of Tampa in Brooksville, this 1993 Tom Fazio design has invited comparisons as a "public Pine Valley." That's a bit of a stretch, but it's a mighty fine value.
Risk-reward options abound, notably at the drivable par-4 15th. If you can't get enough of World Woods after taking on Pine Barrens, the second Fazio course there, Rolling Oaks, forms the most harmonious duo since Simon met Garfunkel. To make a day of it, play both courses for $70-$178.