IN THE PUBLIC EYE: St. Johns Golf & Country Club in St. Augustine, Fla.
THE LAYOUT: There are dozens of options on Florida's "Golf Coast," but for the price and experience, St. Johns is one of the best.
Architect Clyde Johnston carved a magnificent 7,236-yard track out of a pine forest that winds through natural wetlands, playing to a par of 72 with a USGA rating of 74.7 and a slope of 132.
However, only low-handicappers can play from the gold tees and must get permission in the pro shop. There are five other sets of tees, down to a 2,500-yard family layout, that make the course enjoyable for players of all abilities.
St. Johns, considered by locals to be the equal of its higher-priced neighbors near Interstate 95, has been host to the PGA Tour qualifying school in the first round five times, the 2006 PGA Level II Qualifying School and U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship local qualifying the last several years.
Before heading out onto the course, warm up on the state-of-the-art practice facility, which includes a 10,000-square-foot putting green, a double-sided driving range and several practice bunkers.
GENERAL MANAGER: Dan Zimmer.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Even though there are 63 bunkers on the course, plus several waste areas, and water comes into play to one degree or another on 14 holes, St. Johns offers wide driving areas and spacious yet challenging green complexes.
After a relatively straightforward opening hole, a 400-yard par 4 where the primary obstacles are a large oak tree and fairway bunkers on the left, Johnston challenges the golfer with a meaty 552-yard par 5. Get past the fairway bunker on the right side of this slight dogleg left and there is water along that side of the fairway all the way to a green guarded by sand and grass bunkers.
Following a beautiful 210-yard par 3 with water and sand to the right, the fourth hole is a tantalizing par 4 at 382 yards from the tips, but the lake on the right comes into play off the tee and on the approach.
The front nine wraps up with two magnificent holes. The 565-yard eighth, rated as No. 1 on the card, plays through a corridor of trees, and even though the water is almost out of play on the left near the green, seven bunkers pockmark the trip home. Don't be fooled by the traps short of the green because the putting surface is actually 40 yards beyond.
If you are ever going to hit a straight drive, No. 9 is the place, with water on the left and sand on the right. Hit the fairway and more bunkers plus mounding provide a challenge on the approach to the green, but take a peek at the magnificent view of the stately clubhouse across the water behind the hole.
There is only a trace of water on the first three holes of the back nine, but the par-3 13th, which plays 194 yards from the tips, is almost completely surrounded by it. Even a breath of wind makes club selection dicey, with a single bunker protecting the front of the green.
As good as the rest of the course is, St. Johns is one of those layouts that saves the best for last, starting with the par-5, 557-yard 16th, where water is reachable on both sides of the fairway from the tee. The fairway narrows so an accurate layup shot is required, and the wraparound bunker behind the green on the left is not a bad spot compared to the water beyond.
The par-3, 212-yard 17th is a dangerous beauty, with water and sand to the left, a steep slope and grass bunkers on the right. Make par and run to the final tee.
No. 18 is considered the best finishing hole in the area, other than the famous one on Pete Dye's Stadium Course at nearby TPC Sawgrass. Right is the sensible path off the tee because the lake from No. 17 runs all the way down the left side of this hole and three bunkers sit in the middle of the fairway. That's also the best angle from which to approach the green without having to carry the water, which protects the left side. Into the wind, this hole can play two or three clubs longer.
Add up your score and enjoy post-round refreshments in the Grille Room or on the back patio overlooking the ninth and 18th greens.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: St. Johns is located in what might be called the golf capital of the United States, because the headquarters of the four major golf tours in the country are nearby.
Not only that, the World Golf Village and the World Golf Hall of Fame are only a few miles away, also in St. Augustine. Located there are two championship courses, the Slammer and the Squire (designed by Robert Weed and named for Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen), and the King and the Bear (named for Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who collaborated on the design).
Right down the road in Ponte Vedra Beach is TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA, Champions and Nationwide tours. On the property are Pete Dye's Valley Course and the Stadium Course, with its infamous island 17th green, site of the Players Championship.
About an hour's drive down Interstate 95 in Daytona Beach is LPGA International, home of the LPGA Tour, with the Legends Course, designed by Arthur Hills, and the Champions Course, designed by Rees Jones.
Also in the area are Royal St. Augustine Golf and Country Club, St. Augustine Shores Golf Club, the Golf Club at South Hampton in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club at Sawgrass, the Ocean Course designed by Jack Nicklaus at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Queens Harbour Yacht and Country Club in Jacksonville, Magnolia Point Golf and Country Club in Green Cove Springs, and Eagle Harbor Golf Club in Orange Park.
WHERE TO STAY: Stay and play on the grounds of the World Golf Village at the Renaissance St. Augustine Resort, the Comfort Suites, Laterra Resort and Spa or the Grande Villas at World Golf Village, which all offer golf packages for the Slammer and the Squire, and the King and the Bear.
Historic St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement in the United States, first visited by Ponce de Leon in 1513, and there are numerous hotels and B&Bs in and around the city. Among the best are the Bayfront Marin House, the Casablanca Inn on the Bay, Casa Monica Hotel, the Bayfront Westcott House, St. George Inn, Our House Bed and Breakfast, Alexander Homestead Bed and Breakfast, the Pirate Haus Inn and the Carriage Way Bed and Breakfast.
In Ponte Vedra Beach are the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, the Lodge and Club at Ponte Vedra Beach, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Fig Tree Inn.
Golf resorts in the area include the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast and Amelia Island Plantation.
ON THE WEB: www.stjohnsgolf.com.
THE LAST RESORT: Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
THE LAYOUT: Disney's 81 holes of golf are inhabited by all sorts of critters, and we're not talking about Mickey Mouse and his pals in the Magic Kingdom.
Disney's five courses -- the Magnolia, the Palm, Osprey Ridge, Lake Buena Vista and Oak Trail, the latter a nine-hole walking course -- are all nature preserves inhabited by alligators, wild boar, turkeys, deer, armadillos, bobcats, snakes, turtles and even the rare and endangered Florida panthers. There are bald eagles, hawks, cranes and countless other species of tropical birds.
The Magnolia, Palm and Oak Trail are located at the Shades of Green Resort, which caters to military personnel and their families, opposite the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. Osprey Ridge is close to Epcot, and Lake Buena Vista is in the Downtown Disney area.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The Magnolia and Palm courses opened in 1971, and the Lake Buena Vista course followed a year later. All are traditional layouts designed by Joe Lee and were used in what started out as the PGA Tour's Walt Disney World Classic in 1971.
The tournament, which became Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, was the final event of the Fall Series on the PGA Tour in recent years, but it was played for the last time in 2012.
Jack Nicklaus must have liked Lee's work because he won the tournament the first three times it was played. Tiger Woods, who lived nearby in Isleworth before moving south to Jupiter, Fla., in 2011, won the tournament twice.
Osprey Ridge, designed by Tom Fazio, is a resort layout that opened in 1991.
The Magnolia, longest of the Disney layouts at 7,190 yards, encourages golfers to let it rip off the tee because of its wide fairways. But beware of the 97 bunkers, including the famous "Mousetrap," shaped in the profile of Mickey on the sixth hole, and the water that comes into play on 11 holes.
The Palm Course is a classic, wandering through the Florida woodlands with elevated tees and greens. Water comes into play on nine holes.
Lake Buena Vista, situated in a classic country club setting, is the shortest of the Disney courses at 6,819 yards, but it is challenging enough to have hosted PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and United States Golf Association events. The sixth hole has an island green similar to TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship.
Osprey Ridge winds for 7,101 yards from the back tees through dense vegetation, oak forests and mossy hammocks. It offers the best finish at Disney and one of the finest in Florida -- the 479-yard 16th, the 210-yard 17th and the 429-yard 18th.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Celebration Golf Course is not on Disney Resort property, but it's a nearby cousin designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr. in the town of the same name built by the Disney Corporation.
Also in the neighborhood are Royal St. Cloud Golf Links, Kissimmee Bay Country Club, Mystic Dunes Golf Club and Falcon's Fire Golf Club in Kissimmee, Hawks Landing Golf Club at the World Center Marriott, the Crooked Cat and Panther Lake courses at Orange County National Golf Center, and 45 holes at the Grand Cypress Resort, all in Orlando.
ChampionsGate Golf Club, designed by Greg Norman, is a few miles west of Orlando, and Reunion Golf Club, with courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, in Kissimmee, is another development west of Orlando on Interstate 4.
WHERE TO STAY: Guests at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Contemporary Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian Resort, Caribbean Resort, Beach Club Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, BoardWalk Inn and Yacht Club Resort receive vouchers for free cab rides to and from the golf courses.
Also nearby are the Bohemian Hotel Celebration, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge, the Grand Cypress Resort and the Orlando World Center Marriott Hotel, the largest property in that worldwide chain.
ON THE WEB: www.disneygolf.com.