Most concepts in Florida revolve around tourism. It’s like Disney World inspired a movement to make everything in these parts about the dollar.
But the Florida Historic Golf Trail, a series of golf courses highlighted for their history and staying power, is different in that it’s really about the golf. It’s not like every inch of every property is new and manicured, which is what makes it feel so pure.
In the course of traveling to and playing the 53 courses already on the trail list, visitors will navigate quaint beachside towns and even tinier towns buried inland. Some roads will be brick, and some will be two-lane. Other courses are buried within cities that have grown up around the fairways and greens that represent this state’s golf heritage. Others stand beside or within larger resorts, and one — Winter Park Golf Course — even occupies a spot on the national historic register. The whole process of seeking out and playing the trail courses is exquisitely nerdy — there’s even a scorecard that allows you to track your progress.
The point is that these courses are old Florida, and it makes sense that you can find this kind of golf here. The bylines on these tracks range from Seth Raynor to Donald Ross to Tom Bendelow. Many of the courses were constructed in the early 20th century as Florida’s hotel and resort industry began to boom. There are more than 40 Ross courses alone in the state of Florida, according to the Donald Ross Society, and more than 10 of them have been placed on the trail.
“We simply want to tell the history of Florida through this lens,” said Scott Edwards, who works as a preservationist for the Florida Department of State.
Edwards is also a seventh generation Floridian, a life-long golfer and has a degree in architecture studies, so the trail was his brain child. The project launched in 2014 to great fanfare, and with the endorsement of Florida transplants Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
The idea was to promote places where golf has been consistently played for more than half a century, even if some of those courses include modifications from the original design (and many do). Those types of vintage courses have a lot to offer for both beginners and history buffs. Many are quirky yet manageable length-wise.
Said Gregg Pascale, the pro shop manager at the nine-hole Winter Park Golf Course near Orlando, “For growing the game, this is definitely a place where a kid could come out and enjoy and learn to play here.”
Julie Williams is a former college golfer and Golfweek writer who teaches eighth-grade English and coaches a high school girls golf team in Cocoa Beach, Fla.