Florida isn’t exactly undiscovered golf country. The Sunshine state teems with courses with pro tour pedigree and exquisite resort layouts a mere gap wedge away from the beach. So, finding a diamond in the rough, an under the radar top shelf golf escape, is as rare as spying a roseate spoonbill using his beak for a putter on the practice green.
Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa is a Palm Coast gem, equidistant between St. Augustine and Daytona beach offers primo accommodations, amenities, and unspoiled beachfront luxury. It won’t be one of the Southeasts best kept golf secrets for long. Nearby marshlands, estuaries and preserves afford prime birding with opportunities to scope out spectacular feathered specimens from Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the winter to Swallow-tailed Kites in the Spring and Summer.
From birding to birdies
You can also spy egrets and herons while hatching birdies of your own while playing a round or two. The plush well-appointed resort gives guests access to a pair of Troon operated beauties: the Ocean Course, a Jack Nicklaus Signature design plotted alongside the ocean and the inland Conservatory Course, a rollicking Tom Watson tour de force that measures in at 7,776 yards from the tips, putting it near the top of the length leaderboard in the Sunshine state.
The Jack track is snug up against the beach with six holes offering scintillating views of the Atlantic. The storm surge from Hurricane Matthew flooded the course in 2016 necessitating a major multi-year restoration effort with the golf course re-grassed wall to wall with Platinum Paspalum. While the turf species was chosen for its salt-resistant properties, the dense and resilient grass has been a massive hit with resort guests used to playing Bermuda thanks to its performative features—the ball sits up more on fairways and the greens don’t break as much.
Florida golf: Hammock offers two drop-dead gorgeous courses with serious teeth
The finishing foursome of holes are known as “The Bear Claw,” and the ominous name is not just for show. The closing quartet has serious teeth and golfers are best advised not to bite off more than they can chew especially when the wind is swirling. Still, if you buckle down and concentrate on water avoidance and staying on the fairway, you can get through the mettle tester largely unscathed.
The Watson track, accessible via a short shuttle ride is a drop-dead gorgeous golf course and an absolute blast to play. While it may lack its sister course’s ocean views, it sure has plenty of beach with 146 bunkers dotting the rolling terrain. Plus it has plenty of added eye appeal with ornate stone work, waterfalls, and brooks running through the property.
Florida golf: Hammock Ocean Course gallery, click on image to enlarge and view images
As for the PGA Tour caliber heft, it played host to the short-lived Ginn sur Mer Classic in 2008 which was won by Ryan Palmer. The Conservatory name comes from the gorgeous giant glass domed Mediterranean style clubhouse that has an outdoor pool for golfers looking to take a post-round dip.
You can also swim back at the hotel which boasts an impressive multi-level resort pool complex complete with a bar, water slides, lazy river, an adult pool, indoor lane pool, and beach volleyball courts. As for on property dining there a septet of options including a trio of newbies in Delfinos Italian Chophouse, Loggerhead Sports Pub, and Stix Authentic Sushi which are all slated to open in January.
Florida golf: Hammock Conservatory course, click on image to enlarge and view gallery
While in the area
Drive to St. Augustine, a happening town replete with exquisite examples of Spanish Colonial architecture and roots predating the colonization of Jamestown and the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. If you’ve got a group, up to six can float through the historic district and sites like the star-shaped Castillo de San Marcos on a Crusin Tiki boat tour. Keep the vibe going with a cocktail at Ice Plant Bar or Prohibition Kitchen which has live music nightly.
For more ball-striking bliss head to World Golf Village for a round on the King & Bear, the only Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer co-design on the planet. The 7,279-yard track blends the architectural sensibilities of both luminaries from Palmer’s beach bunkers that run right up to water to Nicklaus’ trademark kidney shaped greens. Afterwards pay homage to all the game’s greats at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Golf fanatics can easily kill an hour perusing the locker room area where inductees curate their own display with artifacts, knickknacks and memorabilia of their choosing. Health nut Gary Player’s is decked out with bananas, a box of Sun Maid Raisins, a bottle of Fiji water and a bag full of almonds.