Anchored by World Golf Village, Jacksonville's I-95 Corridor offers golfers a myriad of choices
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Interstate 95, abutting or passing through such megalopolises as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Miami, services more people than any other strip of asphalt or concrete in the nation. As such, there are many different so-called "corridors" on its north-south route, but one of the budding golf regions along the interstate is the 18-mile stretch just south of Jacksonville.
Beginning at State Highway 210 at the north end of St. Johns County (approximately three miles south of Jacksonville and Duval County) and stretching south to State Highway 207, there are seven golf courses within two miles of the interstate, most built within the last four years. Another 20 miles in each direction brings in nearly two dozen more.
As to why the sudden boom here, the simplest of answers might be the best: it's where the people are. Architect Clyde Johnston, whose St. Johns Golf and Country Club is the latest course to join the party, says, "I speculate that the I-95 corridor is desirable since traffic around Jacksonville has become more congested. [It] could be the World Golf Village aspect also."
Undoubtedly, the opening of World Golf Village in 1998 signified that the St. Augustine area was primed as a golf destination. Home to the world Golf Hall of Fame and two highly publicized golf courses, the Slammer & Squire and the King & Bear, World Golf Village paved the way for the relative onslaught of new courses that doesn't appear to be slowing.
M.G. Orender, President of Hampton Golf Inc., which operates The Golf Club at South Hampton just 10 miles north of World Golf Village, says that what's happening along the I-95 corridor may be just the beginning for Jacksonville in general.
"This area is still largely undiscovered," he says. "Jacksonville went for about eight or nine years without a golf course being opened, then we opened South Hampton and there have been about seven (courses) dumped in the marketplace behind it. But the market is growing so fast that it should be absorbed in the not so distant future."
"We're just very bullish as a company on this whole market up here," he adds.
While none of the courses have quite garnered international acclaim, they do provide an intriguing alternative to the more expensive coastal and premium resort courses nearby and typify well the style of golf that is prevalent in this part of the state. The land around Jacksonville, ill suited for most types of agriculture, is flat and littered with pines. The courses here generally require accuracy above all other elements of the game but the pine-lined fairways reward players with a sense of isolation often missed at layouts further south.
When Cimarrone Golf Club opened in 1989, it marked the southern edge of the greater Jacksonville market. Today, residing just a couple of miles east of I-95 on State Highway 210, it marks the northernmost end of the corridor. David Postlethwait helped build the TPC at Sawgrass golf courses in Ponte Vedra Beach and designed Cimarrone in much the same manner, which is to say he moved quite a bit of earth to create serious contour, relief, and drainage. This is a tight, target-shot golf course with water or wetland hazards coming into play on virtually every shot. It remains popular due to a high level of service and emphasis on fine conditioning, but it stands out as sort of a relic from the 1980's when difficult, highly manufactured designs carried the day.
Literally across the street from Cimarrone is The Golf Club at South Hampton, the first course built under Orender's four-club Hampton Golf Inc., umbrella. This Mark McCumber and Associates design, opened in 1999, is refreshing relief from its penal neighbor. Playing over some of the least flat terrain on the corridor, the first nine is characterized by natural, sweeping holes and large flowing greens. The second nine takes the traditional turn through the residences, losing some of its natural appeal until the rugged two finishing holes are reached.
Johnston's St. Johns Golf and Country Club, a sensibly modern course, completes the Highway 210 trifecta. The St. Johns Club is located less than a mile east of South Hampton and shares that course's gentle atmosphere and rather sublime design elements. The course is a textbook example of balance and soft, 2000-era design motifs, with a routing that twists out to nearly touch I-95. Water hazards are used to create most of the drama.
Ten miles to the south at World Golf Village is Bobby Weed's Slammer & Squire, which predated by three years the King & Bear the first collaborative effort between the teams of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
The King & Bear enjoys the lion's share of the attention and the marketing budget, and most non-discerning resort guests will favor it for its obvious beauty and pedigree, but the Slammer & Squire is more the golfer's golf course. The Slammer has more variety and possesses green complexes that are not only more interesting than its brother, but are on par with any in the state for slope and multiplicity. It loses points in the eyes of many because it plays so close to both the resort complex and to the entry roads, but between the ropes it is a fine example of how to make a golf course challenging for the advanced player and complimentary to the duffer.
When Royal St. Augustine Golf and Country Club opened one exit south of World Golf Village in 2001, it signaled to true St. Augustine residents that they had finally arrived, golf wise. Not because Royal St. Augustine is a superstar course, but because its presence meant they wouldn't have to depend on old, dilapidated St. Augustine Shores for most of their rounds.
Royal St. Augustine is a brave course that wants to be more than the land will allow. Chris Commins, formerly with McCumber's design firm, did his best in trying to pack a serious course into an area likely to small and piecemeal for golf. This isn't the most well rounded layout on the corridor but it is a fine compliment to the others. At its best it can be a wicked, shortish, testy course due to its narrow fairways cinched with hazards and wetlands, numerous ponds, and tricky greens that come in all shapes and sizes.
The final stop on the main I-95 corridor is St. Johns County Golf Course a modest 27-hole complex designed by Florida resident Robert Walker. St. Johns County initially opened in 1989 before Walker returned in 2000 to add the third, and best, nine. Now the combination of the old second nine with the new holes means that St. Johns possesses 18 holes that are at least on par with the corridor median. More low rounds will be fired here than at anything else in the area, and it earns extra points because the good golf shots come at the most affordable rate.
Another 20 miles south of the I-95 corridor is the town of Palm Coast, home of the Palm Coast Resort. Palm Coast Resort is one of the underrated golf complexes in Florida with five golf courses designed by the firms of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay (2), Gary Player, and Bill Amick. The star of the line-up is Nicklaus' Ocean Hammock course, the truest of seaside courses with several holes that run just feet from the Atlantic Ocean.
Grand Haven G.C. is a second Nicklaus course (not part of Palm Coast Resort) located toward the south end of town. A sensible and straightforward course that runs around wetlands, ponds, and a newer housing development, Grand Haven is now part of the Hampton Golf Inc., portfolio.
Going 15 miles to the northeast of the I-95 corridor will place you squarely in the center of another golf Mecca, Ponte Vedra Beach. Ponte Vedra is home to some of the best golf in the South, including the Marriott Sawgrass Resort and the Ponte Vedra Inn.
North of St. Augustine on US Highway 1 (just five miles east of the I-95 corridor) is the Radisson Ponce de Leon Hotel with a wonderful Donald Ross-designed course that dates back to 1916. Arthur Hills has also jumped into the Highway 1 action with the Palencia Golf Club which opened for play in July of 2002.
Where To Stay
The obvious choice would be the World Golf Village Renaissance Resort adjacent to World Golf Village, The Slammer & Squire, and the World Golf Hall of Fame. Another sensible option would be the Radisson Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, five miles east of the I-95 corridor. There are also numerous hotels along Highway A1A in St. Augustine with quick access to the beaches.
August 13, 2008