FLORIDA'S FIRST COAST OF GOLF
World-Class Golf Experience
Written By: Dave Kelly
Florida Country and Coast readers all know that Florida has world-class beaches. World-class fishing. Even world-class weather. But did you know that we also have world-class … golf?? We sure do, and it is found on Florida’s First Coast of Golf.
Encompassing the 100-mile coastal area from Amelia Island south through Flagler County, Florida’s First Coast of Golf features over two dozen courses, many of which have been sculpted by legendary golfers and designers. Throw in the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach,
home to THE PLAYERS Championship, and you have the makings of a dream trip that would be on the shortlist of highlights in any golfer’s lifetime.
First-rate golf such as this beckons to links aficionados from near and far. Springtime is perfect golf weather in the Sunshine State, so we chose two premier spots to test our talents over two golf-themed trips. Our foursome was made up of devoted players who came from as far away as North Carolina to experience the challenge of these amazing courses.
We chose our accommodations based on reputation and location. The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa is just a few miles south of Jacksonville and positioned next door to the famed TPC Sawgrass golf club, home of THE PLAYERS Championship, so we booked our lodging and began to make plans.
Our rooms at The Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort and Spa were beautifully designed and included a terrace that overlooked the TPC Sawgrass course. There are also suites and villas available on the property’s 65 sprawling acres, many featuring views of the neighboring golf course and the luxurious north Florida landscape.
Tied directly into the golf atmosphere of the Sawgrass Marriott is Alice and Pete’s, a unique sports bar with a club-like feel. Named after legendary golf course designer Pete Dye and his amateur champion wife, Alice, the restaurant features traditional pub food in either an indoor or outdoor setting. If you choose to sit outdoors, you will be entertained watching patrons take the Floating Hole Challenge. A small donation gets you a bucket of balls and a club so you can hit towards a moving, floating, tiny green and flagstick in the lake by the pub. Try as we might, we never did get any of our balls to land anywhere but the water – though that might have been the beer!
Florida favorites such as seafood and barbeque populate the menus at the resort’s many other restaurants and lounges, or you can take a short complimentary bus ride to Sharky’s at the Cabana Beach Club, a beachfront bar and bistro with a laid back vibe. The Club also features the Sea Porch and the 1912 Ocean Bar & Rooftop for delicious food and beautiful beach views day or night. Over our long weekend, we loved having so many options for dining.
The hotel also offers its guests exclusive privileges with TPC Sawgrass golf club, such as access to an onsite pro shop and lessons from the club’s pros. Additionally, you can book tee times at the TPC Sawgrass courses up to 12 months in advance through TPC Vacations as a “stay and play” guest. We took advantage of this opportunity and booked a return trip to the area – but more on that later … TPC Sawgrass is home to two challenging courses – Dye’s Valley, and the legendary Stadium Course at
At the heart of the Sunshine State's golf scene, TPC Sawgrass isn't just a course, it's an experience – where every swing tells a story.
TPC Sawgrass, where THE PLAYERS Championship is held each spring. The crown jewel of Pete Dye’s more than 200 world-wide course designs, the Stadium Course was built in 1980 to be the permanent home of THE PLAYERS Championship, a tournament so huge and exciting that is known to golfers world-wide as the sport’s “fifth major”.
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass lays claim to being the first golf course built with the golf fan in mind. It was created to improve one’s experience by designing the layout of the holes in a “stadium” fashion to be as suitable for the gallery of viewers as it is for the golfers themselves. Gentle hills line many of the tees, fairways, and greens, creating a natural stadium effect that allows spectators to relax and enjoy the competition. And although water comes into play on every hole, the course’s style favors no particular type of game, as it is a balanced design that offers a pure test for golfers of all abilities.
We attended THE PLAYERS Championship to get a feel for the layout of the course and plan for a round later in the spring. We joined tens of thousands of golf enthusiasts under a cloudless blue sky, taking in the sights as we meandered through 18 spectacular holes. The game’s greats, including Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith, and eventual tournament winner Scottie Scheffler, showed off their considerable skills on the fairways and greens, allowing us to get a feel for how the pros manage such a tough and demanding course.
Throughout the winding track, fans took in more than just the game. In addition to concessions, many of the holes featured raised suites and private boxes, where spectators can get the ultimate stadium view of the players on the course while enjoying food, drink, and camaraderie. Many of these suites and boxes surrounded the tees and greens of the Stadium Course’s 16th, 17th, and 18th holes – perfect for when the excitement builds at the end of each round.
Still energized from our experience, we decided to take in some local flavor later that evening. Recommendations were to visit Valley Smoke, a local restaurant that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway and features slow-smoked barbeque, Southerninspired seafood, and amazing USDA Prime steaks cooked to perfection over their wood-fired grill.
The eclectic and humming bar and lounge features rare bourbon selections in their Bourbon Library, complimented by a wine list that showcases over 150 bottles personally selected by owner Chef Ben himself. We loved the house local specialties such as their deviled farm eggs and fresh milled cornbread with whipped honey butter as starters, then dug into the ‘Que for 4 – a five-meat combo with sides that satisfied our entire foursome.
Sawgrass Marriott, adjacent to TPC Sawgrass and close to the beach, offers relaxation and upscale dining, with the clubhouse presenting a rich history of golf and delectable dining options.
We headed back to the Sawgrass Marriott for a nightcap at Alice and Pete’s, giving the Floating Hole Challenge one more shot before turning in to rest up for the next day’s experience – playing a round at the legendary King & Bear.
World Golf Village in St. Augustine features two incredible courses – the King & Bear and the Slammer & Squire. King & Bear was designed by Arnold Palmer, who earned the nickname “The King” during his stellar playing career, and Jack Nicklaus, known to fans as the “Golden Bear”. Slammer & Squire is named after and designed by famous golfers as well – Sam Snead (the “Slammer”) and Gene Sarazen (the “Squire”). Both courses are the recipients of numerous awards and are every bit as challenging as you might expect from these celebrated golfers. We chose to play King & Bear and were quickly immersed in a course that is at once beautiful yet demanding. Playing at 7,279 yards from the “stone” markers, each hole challenged us with length while winding through breathtaking north Florida woods and water. Designers Palmer and Nicklaus knew what they were doing – each hole displayed scenic beauty while testing the game of any golfer. The course features the design characteristics of both players’ styles and creates a unique golf experience, incorporating both Nicklaus’ inviting fairways and Palmer’s fast greens.
It was a round for golf lovers to cherish.
Three weeks later, on a glorious north Florida day, we arrived back at TPC Sawgrass with keen excitement and lofty expectations – we were ready to play the Stadium Course. Our foursome was assigned a forecaddie – a hustling young man who ran ahead on each hole to spot our occasionally errant drives. For the next five hours, he helped us with club selections, distances, and green reads, utilizing his considerable experience to help us shave a few
shots off our scores.
The thrill that we felt playing the Stadium Course culminated with teeing off at the signature par-3 17th Island Green hole. One of the most renowned golf holes in the world yet playing at a mere 137 yards, the hole appears deceptively easy from the tee box. It quickly lived up to its reputation, however, as two of us plunked balls into the surrounding water.
On the other hand, our partner Ricky was more fortunate. His tee shot landed square on the green, then spun backwards to within 10 feet of the flag. As he holed out his putt for a birdie on one of golf’s most famous holes, we all made a promise to come back to Florida’s First Coast of Golf together for another round of memories. FCM