Florida Fairways and Sunshine State Slices

January 11, 2020

If you think of Florida, a few things probably come to mind: sun, oranges, Disney World, Floridaman, beaches, but also what we’re here to talk about today — golf. There’s a reason for that too, as Florida has more golf courses than any other state in the US. The Florida Commission on Tourism’s site lists the number somewhere around 1,100, though other places push that number somewhere in the 1,200-1,400 range. Whatever the actual number is though, if you played a round of golf at a new course every week, it would take you over two decades to complete. That is a lot of golf. It makes sense why there are so many courses, however. The southern part of the state’s average low during winter is in the low 60s. People love to golf on vacation, and Florida had 126 million visitors in 2018. And of course, Florida is known as the state where everybody goes to retire, and retirees love to golf! So what do Florida and golf have to do with me? Well, let’s rewind a few years first.

An Early Start

I’ve been around golf in some form or fashion since I was too young to remember. I would tag along with my father when he played, though my guess is the first time I hit a ball with a club was at a miniature golf course. At age nine I took my first (and only) set of lessons. Once I was confident enough with my swing, my father and I played a little nine-hole pitch and putt course near our house. Throughout my teenage years and into my 20s I played a few rounds a year. It was never enough to develop any sort of skill, but I always enjoyed playing with my father, his friends, my uncles and my cousin. Once I entered into the working world, my boss and a coworker played fairly regularly, but I only joined them for a round once a year or so. In my last couple of years in North Texas, I went out a little more often, but it was still only something I did every three of four months.

Me tagging along with my uncles and father in California, 1987.

My uncle, cousin, me and my father in Texas, 2013. Photos courtesy of Charles Burt.

In 2016 my wife and I moved to Central Florida for work. It was here that I really took up the sport I had only dabbled in for the previous 20ish years of my life. There was a perfect combination of things: the previously mentioned abundance of courses, with one tucked away in almost every corner you look. The weather allows for year-round golfing on green fairways that thrive on the temperate climate. Lastly, my manager, director and a handful of coworkers in my department all golfed, so I had an immediate built-in group to go with.

From a Hobby to a Passion

With the motivation there and the all-important encouragement of my wife to foster a good relationship with my colleagues, I started obsessing over everything golf. I watched too many videos on YouTube to help my swing.1 I started buying the same golf ball instead of getting whatever cheap ball was on sale, supplemented with lost balls I found in the woods.2 I worked on my short game — no more lackadaisical putts with half-assed green reads. Among many other things, though perhaps most importantly, I actually got out there and played.

I went from somebody who golfed a few times a year to golfing at least monthly, if not more during the nicer parts of the year. Sometimes it was with a group, other times it was just a solo round at my local course. With all the options around me though, there was plenty to choose from. Within the first couple of years, I played over a dozen new courses from Sarasota to Daytona Beach, including private courses, resorts and munis. That might not seem like much to an avid golfer, but for somebody who only occasionally played the same two or three courses, it was a lot. There were many repeats: Crack of dawn tee times kept me at the courses near my house. Deals and vouchers for other courses had me as a repeat player. Overall though, the quest to play new courses was one that was going well.

New Experiences

Before we moved, I had only played golf in three states: Texas, a couple of rounds in California and one round in Hawaii. California and Hawaii were memorable, as they were completely foreign environments from your average Texas course. You might be able to partially count Tennessee, but even though I lugged my clubs to college with me, I only hit the driving range a couple of times. The majority of my golfing experience though was in Texas, with courses that had undulating hills, perhaps a nice lake to duff your drive into and plenty of oak trees to ricochet your ball off of. Florida golf courses were similar but added palm trees in the mix, which are thankfully much skinnier.

What none of those courses had though are a couple of odd animals that are abundant in Florida. Strangely enough, the first time I saw a gator after living here for two years was on a golf course — thankfully from the other side of a pond. Also, there are birds here called Sandhill Cranes. If you aren’t familiar with them, they look like something from the Mesozoic Era and have a call that sounds like a more shrill version of a vuvuzela that can be heard up to two and a half miles away. They love golf courses, as there is plenty of shoreline on lakes and ponds to build their nests and things to eat underneath the course’s turf.3

There have been other new experiences for me as well. I played a Disney course with bunkers shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head. There was one course on swampy coastal land that looked like a veritable jungle on either side of the fairway. I’ve golfed the day before a hurricane was supposed to hit, with mild weather and blue skies that belied the incoming storm. I also golfed the week after another hurricane, with the course still littered with broken trees and residual standing water. I golfed on January 1st this year on plush, green grass and a beautiful sunny, 65° day.4 Someday, I also hope to play on the same course as the PGA pros, such as Bay Hill or TPC Sawgrass.

Golfer’s Paradise? Or…

Florida golf isn’t all ideal, however. There is nothing like playing in the middle of July, where it’s 95° F and 79% humidity. Those days you’re drenched in your own sweat and you feel like you’re going to die if you aren’t chugging water like it’s your job. The rainy seasons5 make it hard to get out on a dry day — you either play with the possibility of getting rained on or don’t play at all. Then the worst of all, during the part of the year where the weather is mild and wonderful to go play, all the courses hike their green fees because of the influx of golfers during those months.

Overall though Florida has been a hugely positive influence on my golf game. It reignited a passion that had been sitting dormant for a long time. My handicap has been cut in half. It has gotten me off of my computer and outdoors. It has brought me many hours of fun, frustration, socialization and satisfaction. Sure, the Golf Capital of the World isn’t perfect, but I feel lucky and privileged that this is now the kind of golf life I get to experience.