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6 Top Challenging Courses in North Florida

There are so many top tier courses in Northeast Florida to choose from. However, these courses are particularly tricky and will have your golf game shaping up for the better by helping you identify weaknesses.

Northeast Florida is home to the World Golf Hall of Fame, THE PLAYERS Championship, PGA Tour and Champions Tour, the most famous hole in golf, and some of the most challenging Florida golf courses. If you want to test your limits and elevate your golf game, we recommend checking out these challenging Florida golf courses.

1. The Conservatory at Hammock Beach (Palm Coast, FL)

Perhaps length does matter! If so, this would rank one of the more challenging and most beautiful courses in North Florida to date. Many of the holes have long dynamic fairways and even the ones that appear to be short are likely fooling you. This is, in fact, Florida’s longest course!

However, along the way, you are gripped by changes in elevation and views that overlook the coquina rock barrier moldings, babbling brooks, and peaceful waterfalls (which you’ll likely have a love-hate relationship with since you’ll be cautiously avoiding them through narrow fairways).

The challenge really begins on hole 2, with a tight driving area and steep sod faced greenside bunker. Hole 3 will be relatively easy if you make the green, but if you don’t, prepare for a challenging up and down fight out for most of the 202 yards.

Once you hit hole 5 you will begin a series of three long par fours, laden with narrow greens that call for accuracy with a mid-iron shot and even an island green on hole 8. This is no joke folks! But you can spend all day on this course happily perfecting your irons.

This is a beautiful place to be and anyone of any level can play this course. It’s challenging -- yes, but this is the kind of course that will make you a better golfer. The last hole offers a beautiful panoramic view of the entire course from the elevated teeing ground. By then, you’ll be prone to hit long shots, but watch out for the water. You can land a birdie on hole 18, if you can make it past the stone bulkhead guarding the green.

This is a Tom Watson Signature course built in January 2009. These next two courses are well worth the money if you are seeking a real challenge and ways to take your game to the next level. To play this course, check out Hammock Beach Resort here.

2. Hidden Hills (Jacksonville, FL)

Hidden Hills used to be the site of the Greater Jacksonville Open, a tournament that takes place today in Ponte Vedra and is referred to as The Players Championship (heard of it?). Thus, this Arnold Palmer Signature Course has seen the likes of most major golf pros since the 1970s, but in 1986 this course was re-designed by Palmer to become one of the most challenging and magnificent courses in North Florida.

The first thing you’ll notice about this course is that it doesn’t look like it’s in Florida. It lives up to its name with incredible rolling hills and elevation changes throughout.

Hidden Hills starts off strong and can be a little intimidating. The large and mature pine trees and the presence of water on every hole will have you second-guessing your typical habits.

At hole 1, water runs to the left and leads down to a double-tiered green that slopes right to left. So despite the water, favor the left side; in fact, favor left for hole 1 & 2, but try a straight middle shot on hole 3 until you're near the green; then favor left again).

By the time you hit hole 5, you will actually be at one of the highest points of elevation in Duval County and you’ll be facing an awkward putt unless you hit below the hole so you can aim uphill. After the most stunningly picturesque hole 8 at Hidden Hills, you are going to meet your first fairway bunkers on hole 9.

The green on hole 9 is elevated so if you come up short, a chip shot won’t work. Bring a lob wedge and try using a flop shot here. Or, you know, you could just make the green!

Hole 10 will give you a bit of a break, but by the time you’re at hole 11, hold your breath, this one is going to be the most challenging and it’s also the most favored hole at Hidden Hills. This par 5 hole needs a 210-yard carry over water. Yikes! There is no room to be short (you’ll have to re-tee) and you are hitting to a beautiful elevated island green (which is pretty level); so try to get in a position for a short iron to the green.

After hole 11, the course eases up. You have now found your bearings, gotten used to the water and trees, and you’ll find that the game starts to really fly on this smooth course. Make sure to pack a lot of clubs & balls. You will need to vary up tee box choices and on the last hole, try out a fairway wood instead of a driver. Look for the perfect place to stay near this course.

3. The Golf Club at North Hampton (Amelia Island, Fl)

The Legendary golfer, Arnold Palmer designed over 300 courses worldwide, and a great many of them were in his adopted state of Florida. While Bay Hill gets TV time and Isleworth is noted for its wealthy members, many people who have played all Arnie’s courses in the Sunshine state say without a doubt, North Hampton is the best test of golf!

It is an eighteen-hole 7080 yard, par 72 layout, that was extensively renovated in 2012, elevating it to one of the top golf courses in Florida. The tranquil feeling of lakes and trees and it’s naturally beautiful setting eases the worries and hassle of everyday life. However, you may need to bring an extra sleeve of balls if you aren't too familiar with what’s below the elevations. The Golf Club at North Hampton's hard-to-read greens are massive and move very quickly. There are also tight fairways, many of which feature blind approaches. To make it even trickier, strong winds often sweep through the course, some even reaching a speed of 30 miles an hour.

At this course, it is also hard to ignore the not just abundant but also steep and monstrous bunkers throughout the track. If you are unfortunate to spend some time in these during your round, you will surely be determined to not skip out on bunker practice off the course.  Find lodging options near this course.

4. Oak Marsh at Omni-Amelia Island Resort (Amelia Island, FL)

Right on the beautiful Omni-Amelia Island Resort, this course has once been included in Golf Digest's "Top 75 Resort Courses in the US”. Oak Marsh is known for its tight fairways and small greens, and along the way, you’ll encounter salt marshes and mossy oaks which lend to the name of the course. It has various strategically-placed bunkers and plenty of water. A classic Pete Dye course, Oak Marsh is sure to challenge all skill levels.

5. Ponte Vedra Inn & Club - Ocean Course (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL)

Inspired by traditional Scottish links design, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club's par-72 Ocean Course is a true masterpiece of beauty, strength and strategy. Strategically placed bunkers and elevated greens require golfers to take a thoughtful and accurate approach to shots. The Ocean Course’s signature hole is thought to be the first-ever island green. Five times in the history of the course, it has served as the site for the U.S. Open qualifying round. “It’s a course to challenge professionals,” said golf legend Bobby Jones.

6. TPC Sawgrass – THE PLAYERS Stadium Course (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL)

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course is the crown jewel of Northeast Florida. The course plays host to THE PLAYERS Championship every year, which attracts the strongest field and golf and is one of the PGA TOUR’s most coveted titles. This course is marked by one of the most photographed, controversial and exciting golf holes in the world, the infamous Island Hole 17. With a wide green that narrows to the right side, club selection on this hole is critical if you want to keep your ball dry. During the rest of your round, you will be dodging water and large oaks that surround the fairway.

Challenge Yourself and Step Up Your Golf Game!

Test yourself! Don’t be intimidated by the challenges and try not to take the easy way out of each hole. Hug the curves, try out new clubs and strive for mastery. As Palmer puts it, “The secret of concentration is self discovery…”