Cimarrone Golf Club: Life is beautiful in Jacksonville

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you call this golf course, the recording on the telephone says "It's a beautiful day at Cimarrone."

Cimarrone Golf Club - no. 10
Cimarrone Golf Club boasts strong visuals and gorgeous views.
Cimarrone Golf Club - no. 10Cimarrone Golf Club - 18th

To play here gives one the feeling that this is true, that there are no bad days at this golf course 20 miles south of Jacksonville. The course exudes a feeling of confidence and sophistication, and chances are that no matter how many balls you lose or penalty shots you incur, you'll enjoy your round.

Cimarrone Golf Club is a member's club that is available for public play, and it's worth taking advantage of -- this caliber of golf course is something everyone should experience. Opened in 1989, Cimarrone needs to be on your short list of Jacksonville-area golf courses.

If there is any criticism of Cimarrone it is that it might be too difficult. Water hazards threaten shots on all eighteen holes. There is never a reprieve, never really a chance to catch your breath. Some holes present this trouble immediately and ferociously, while on others it is slightly less overt, but lurking nevertheless.

If you've dumped a few in the drink on one of the first several holes, chances are you'll be quivering as you address your ball on the next. I'm telling you now, get used to it. The water can be intimidating but it also makes for picturesque golf.

The course is championship stuff. Architect David Postlethwait has constructed a magnificent, circling layout, and deserves praise for his use of the land, creating dramatic holes that are both difficult and fair. Be confident that every phase of your game will be tested tee to green.

Scoring well at Cimarrone Golf Club

Scoring well demands accuracy and patience off the tee. Before you take your first swing you can do yourself a great favor for the rest of the day by selecting the appropriate tees. Cimarrone plays 5,514 yards from the forward tees (4,704 for ladies) all the way back to 6,891 yards at the tips. You have several choices in between. The longer you make the course, the more important the tee shot becomes.

The fairways are wide and well defined and there is rarely a question of where to drive the ball, so it becomes a matter of execution. Trouble resides off the fairway, with water one way and severe contouring the other. My advice, particularly playing the course for the first time, is to take the architect's hints and be in the fairway at all costs. Of course you can ignore this advice and play your own game, possibly cutting off chunks of yardage, but you bring into play all sort of trouble.

Going out you'll play nine holes that are clean and sculpted. These are beautiful and dangerous holes, inviting and forbidding at the same moment. The first hole is a composite of the front nine. It's a par five that measures 471-to 530-yards, with water threatening the right all the way to the green. To the left and short of the green is extreme mounding, where no level lies exist.

If you find the fairway, which is large enough that you should, you might consider cutting over the water and having a shot at the green in two because there is room short. The green is soft, mid-sized, and mildly undulating.

The next five holes share this common theme: water right, big fairway, mounds, and bunkers around the green. The second is a postcard par-3, trees and water to the right, bank heads supporting the right side of the green, hills and swales long and left. The third and fourth are similar par fours, with water right and mounding left from tee to green. The curving par five fifth has, yes, water right and pines framing the hole left and behind the green.

The sixth is a short, tricky par four (only 351-yards from the back tees) that runs away diagonally to the right over water. How much do you bite off? The fairway is typically large so take a club that will put you in the center because the slopes and swales left of it are no picnic either. Like most holes at Cimarrone the green opens up if you play the hole the right way.

On the seventh hole the water is on the left, which, if you play left-to-right, is a terrific reprieve. It is the number one handicap hole however, so don't let up too much. The hole doglegs around the water and trees border to the right on this 423-yard (back tees) hole. The 370-yard eighth hole, a dogleg left, is the jewel of the front nine. Talk about narrow. You'll probably wonder where you're supposed to land your drive. The fairway looks to be the tightest on the course, with water left all the way, and tall pines crowding the right.

Temptation might be to bang a driver over the corner but the landing area is invisible that far up. Play safe and hit toward the 150-yard stake -- the landing area this way is much larger than it seems from the tee. That leaves a short iron into a well-defended green. Do not be left. Finally the front nine ends with a mid-iron carry over marshland to a green surrounded by sand and deep grass bunkers, a strong par-3 finish to a classy front nine.

The second nine is more exotic. Whereas the front nine has a controlled "club" feel to it, most of the holes on the backside sprawl into undeveloped (for now) land. It's more rugged and, in my opinion, more exciting. The 10th is the best hole at Cimarrone. The green is out of sight from the tee, but the fairway on this 407-yard hole rolls and is framed in such a way that you will know where to put your drive. You must be in the fairway to have a shot at the green.

From the landing area, the hole bends to the right and gives view to a spectacular second shot, a carry over water to a green perched slightly uphill, surrounded by trees. What a scene. My notes of the tenth conclude "awesome golf hole." I would love to have had the chance to play the tenth hole over and over again.

The next three holes play through dense trees and all offer water to the left. As expected the fairways are generous and inviting, so please do yourself a favor and hit them. Thirteen and fourteen are back-to-back par fives with fairways that snake around water and lead to greens fortressed with grass and sand. Long hitters may consider firing at the fourteenth in two if they can ignore the water to the left. Fifteen is a mid-length par four with more water left, and is probably your best scoring chance among the par fours on the back.

This sets up three great finishing holes. Sixteen is a muscular par four, a long, strong bend around a lake left, requiring a long iron second to a deep, narrow green. Late in the day when the air is cool it may play even longer than the scorecard reads (430-yards, back tees). The seventeenth hole is a short par 3 that is lined to the left with trees, marsh, water-you name it. Hit the green.

At last, there is the eighteenth hole, a tremendous finale to a suburb layout. The green cannot be seen from the tee, but you'll know where to hit your drive. When you get to the crown of the fairway you'll take in another of those golf views that reminds you of why you play. The green sits down below the fairway, extending out to the right over water, bunkered in the front, and the modern clubhouse stands poignantly behind and to the left.

Obviously, you don't want to be right on your second, but if you are, considering this view, you'll know there are worse things in life. I can say that at this point I felt sorrow that my round was over.

Cimarrone is in excellent condition. The fairways are uniform and green and produce good lies. The greens are receptive and roll gently and they offer great targets. On the day I played they were putting a little slower than I'd expected. Another great feature that I often will not comment about is the tee boxes. They are flat and manicured and do their part in fostering good golf shots. Far too often teeing areas are afterthoughts, but here they are cared for as equally as the rest of the hole is.

Cimarrone Golf Club: The verdict

The feel you get playing Cimarrone is special and memorable. The combination of sheer beauty and supreme challenge is elite. I particularly admire the design, perhaps not so much the overall layout, but more so in the particulars of each hole. Not once could I not read the flow of the hole or see where the optimum landing area was. There are no gimmicks.

Most every shot is framed, either by water, mounding, trees, or bunkers, thus creating both strong visuals and gorgeous views. There are gambling opportunities that will punish when misplayed but also reward good shots (the sixth, eighth, and fourteenth come to mind). If you have control of your tee shots and play with patience, the course will open up for you. If you're wild or you don't play to the course's design, you'll get wet and lose strokes.

For those who travel significant distances, or vacation to golf destinations, service is important. I've always felt that the greatest service a club can offer is to care about its golf course and to enhance it so it plays at its greatest level. That's a true favor to my money and me. You will feel well taken care of on the golf course at Cimarrone.

I believe it. Everyday is a beautiful day at Cimarrone.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in,,,, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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