Fernandina Beach Golf Club north of Jacksonville: Personality times three

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

FERNANDINA BEACH -- Fernandina Beach Golf Club gives you three distinct nines through a forest of live oaks.

18 Holes | Public/Municipal | Par: 72 | 7001 yards
18 Holes | Public/Municipal | Par: 72 | 6412 yards
18 Holes | Public/Municipal | Par: 72 | 6777 yards
Fernandina Beach Golf Club - West Course - hole 9
The par-3 ninth hole on the West Course at Fernandina Beach Golf Club comes right up to the clubhouse.
Fernandina Beach Golf Club - West Course - hole 9Fernandina Beach Golf Club - South Course - hole 6Fernandina Beach Golf Club - North Course - No. 4

The West Course is a par 37 with three par 5s, the South Course is a par 36 and the North Course is a par 35 for men (with one par 5) but a par 36 for women.

Besides the numbers, each nine is distinct. The North Course is the granddaddy, opening in 1956 amid rows of live oaks. The West Course followed three years later. Ed Matteson designed both courses. Tommy Birdsong designed the South Course, which opened in 1972 as a tight nine where accuracy trumps all else.

The city-owned course, located about an hour northeast of Jacksonville, is managed by Billy Casper Golf. The company is concentrating on improving playing conditions and boosting the already good service, General Manager Damian Brink said.

"Our customer service goals is to 'ace' the customer experience," Brink said.

Fernandina Beach Golf Club's West Course

The West Course at Fernandina Beach Golf Club is the most forgiving of the three nines, with very wide fairways and greens at least 30 yards deep, usually with a pair of bunkers left and right and a run-up the middle. The hole with the most peril is the par-5 fifth, which has water on both sides of the landing area and a trio of bunkers about 20 yards in front of the green to foil poorly executed approach shots.

Nearly every fairway is tree-lined, so if your shots are way left or right, you'll be trapped. Plus, the holes are long. The second hole, a par 5, runs 590 yards from the white tees and 607 from the blues. The par 3s are long, too, with one 205 yards and the other 172 from the whites.

"I prefer the West because it's more open but a little bit longer," said member Simon Carter. He said the West-South combo was a little humbling. "I was 2 under on the West, 9 over on the South."

Fernandina Beach's South-North and the North-West are the other combinations.

Fernandina Beach Golf Club's South Course

The South Course at Fernandina Beach Golf Club has the most character, variety -- and airplanes. The second tee is under the landing flight path for the adjacent Fernandina Beach Airport, so you can check out the undercarriage of all kinds of small aircraft. Once you tune out the air traffic, you can contemplate trying to clear a grove on the inside corner of this right dogleg and make the 385-yard, par-4 hole a lot shorter. Miscalculations, however, could land you in the bunker left of the green if you're going for it. If you take the safe route, that big, tall bunker is in front of the green.

Large magnolia trees grow in the middle of a few fairways on the South Course, requiring a bit of thought and commitment to a plan of attack. The first hole starts that way, with magnolia trees right where you might aim your drive. A slice could set up a domino effect of disaster with a ditch right of the trees. That uneven stance can make it more difficult to avoid a mid-fairway bunker on the right, or another right bunker in front of the green.

The fourth hole, a par 5, has some water hiding behind trees off to the right. It appears a lot of people have found it, given the number of balls plucked from it. The par-4 fifth hole, a dogleg right, is more overt about its water on the inside and a bunker waiting for drives that are too long.

The sixth hole adds random trees to close up the entrance to the kidney-shaped green that wraps around a left bunker with another one to the right. It's a finesse hole all the way.

"You've got to be accurate with your length on this nine," Carter said. "It's a shot-makers' course. You have to think your way around the South."

Fernandina Beach Golf Club's North Course

The North Course at Fernandina Beach Golf Club has a lot of straight holes with smaller, oddly shaped greens. It's a par 36 for men, 37 for women because they play nearly from the blues on the first hole. The second hole, a par 5, has trouble on both sides with a line of trees on the right that can either deflect a shot away from a sharp drop-off beyond them or flick it into the abyss. On the left, a row of three bunkers could cause trouble, too.

The most frustrating hole is the par-3 third because of wicked slopes on the green. The pin was atop a rise that sent every putt speeding away from it, no matter what its angle. A two-putt is miraculous with that pin placement.

The fifth hole has a trio of palm trees on the right to warn you of water starting about 60 yards from the green. A line of live oaks behind the green reminds you that you're in the South.

The sixth, a par 4, has a hill. Yes, that's remarkable on this island course. Try to bomb your drive to get extra roll. Then it's just a short iron to get up to the green, again with a pair of bunkers left and right.

Fernandina Beach Golf Club: The verdict

The variety among -- and within -- the three nines is a great attraction to this municipal course. The service is good, the clubhouse comfortable and the 27 holes enjoyable.

Jim Robertson likes the course for the trees.

"There is a lot of shade," Robertson said. "You can walk the course, and the tees and greens are close to the paths."

"There are a lot of courses around here," Carter said, "but people keep coming back here."

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

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