Historically golf travelers have fallen into a pattern when it comes to Florida-based golf trips: grab a flight to Orlando, the Palm Beaches, the First Coast or Naples for a few days, play 36 holes a day, rinse, and repeat.
As our travel patterns and habits adjust to the new normal, however, it is more about hitting the open road in a suitable SUV or convertible and discovering new places along the way.
One of those places worth discovering … or rediscovering, is Vero Beach. This quaint, intracoastal community along Florida’s unheralded Treasure Coast is Florida the way it used to be.
Or, as best-selling Florida author Carl Hiaasen imagines it should be.
“Vero,” as the locals refer to it, is devoid of the monolithic condo towers that most people associate with South Florida. In fact, the town ordinance limits both residential and commercial building heights to 35-feet (the exception being downtown, where 50-foot structures are permitted).
Citizens have been equally concerned about density over the years, voting down numerous large-scale developments and resorts that would alter the charming character of their beloved burg.
It’s only fitting, and commensurate with the town’s ethos, that Vero and surrounding Indian River County are graced with a preponderance of outstanding golf courses, both private and public, that fly below the national radar.
Indian River Club
If you were to design and build the perfect golf club and community for the times we live in, Indian River Club would be the model. For have-club-will-travel golfers who want to sample what life at Indian River would be like, the club extends a stay-and-play package in its four-bedroom, four-bathroom Charlesworth Lodge.
For those considering relocating to Vero full-time or part of the year, a variety of membership plans are available. A full golf membership includes unlimited golf for the member and spouse, practice facility use, club storage, and swim and fitness center access.
With working remotely quickly becoming the norm, more and more people are able to work – and live – almost anywhere. Indian River has a very enticing Young Executive Membership that waives initiation fees and offers 50% off full golf dues for those under 40. Ages 41-50 have almost as sweet a deal, with $5,000 initiation and 35% off full golf dues.
Indian River also has real estate covered, as the 300-acre gated community has a variety of residences ranging from golf course condos to luxury, custom-built homes. The architecture is a gentle blend of the Old Florida, local Riomar style vernacular and the plantation and cottage homes found in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Ten neighborhoods offer distinctly different living options and arrangements. Water Oak is Indian River’s newest luxury enclave, with 28 carriage homes providing the spacious floorplans of a single-family residence, along with the carefree, low-maintenance lifestyle of a condo.
For those in search of prime building lots, Pine Valley features 18 homesites along the fifth fairway of the Ron Garl-designed golf course. Estate homes in Pine Valley will be built alongside a protected Florida Scrub Jay habitat.
Myriad amenities notwithstanding, the centerpiece of Indian River is Garl’s aforementioned masterpiece. Long overshadowed by big brand golf course architects, the Lakeland-based designer has quietly crafted award-winning layouts throughout the U.S. and around the world.
Garl’s work at Indian River is among his best, as he artfully entwines the natural wetlands and native trees with visually stunning, white sand waste bunkers. The tee shot from the back tees on the par-5 third hole (“Oak Hammock”) is a bedazzling case in point. The challenging three-shotter requires a short carry over a small lagoon to a landing area framed by native areas.
The sheer amount of sand Garl employs throughout the course would be overwhelming if not for the track’s enormous landing areas. For golfers who enjoy picking a line and pulling driver, Indian River is pure, unadulterated fun.
Indian River places a premium on approach shots, which much find the proper green quadrant for any chance at rolling a makeable birdie putt. Greens are also generously proportioned to receive shots, and subtle contours provide the perfect blend of challenge and fairness.
Florida is full of hit-and-giggle retirement courses – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But Indian River isn’t one of them. The course tips out at 7,000 yards from the Championship tees with a slope rating of 140 and a 73-course rating.
Garl was one of the early proponents of ensuring that golfers with lower swing speeds and higher handicaps had ample tee choices. While five sets are the norm at most venues, Garl has provided seven at Indian River, including multiple sets rated for women starting at 4,747 yards.
For more information about golf packages, membership and real estate at Indian River Golf Club, visit www.indianriverclub.com.
Sandridge Golf Club
Traveling golfers in search of a few extra rounds in the Vero area would be well-served to check out Sandridge Golf Club, about 25 minutes north of Indian River. Owned and operated by Indian River County, it is easily one of the best municipal facilities in the state.
Sandridge boasts two, regulation 18-hole Garl designed courses, the Dunes and Lakes. Dunes opened in 1987 and winds around a pre-existing ridge that runs along a huge swath of the state’s eastern shore and was once used for mining.
The Lakes Course, opened in 1992, is known for the island green on its par 4 14th hole. The other 17 holes are just as solid, if not spectacular. Sandridge is an incredible value any time of year, but the late summer, early fall months see green fees (with cart) as low as $20. Junior golfers play for $1 (not a type-o) with a paying adult.
For more info and tee times, visit www.sandridgegc.com.
PGA Golf Club
Vero’s convenient Treasure Coast location means numerous golf destinations are a short drive away. The three nationally-ranked courses of PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie to the south are quick 25-minute jaunt down I-95.
Owned and operated by the PGA of America, golfers are greeted with world-class service, sublime conditions and a brisk but enjoyable pace of play. If time permits, sample all three layouts: the Wanamaker, Dye and Ryder.
Pressed for time? The Wanamaker, designed by Tom Fazio and named for PGA founder Rodman Wanamaker, is the ideal representation of PGA Golf Club’s superior offering. The course is set against a backdrop wetlands, palms and palmettos and features many of Fazio’s finest design trademarks.
PGA Golf Club’s six-hole Short Course is a total delight and ideal for golf-loving families. The Short Course is complementary for guests and offers holes 35 to 60 yards in length. Junior rates are also available on the three regulation layouts, just ask when contacting the golf shop.
For more information or to book tee times, visit www.pgavillage.com.
Story by Shane Sharp