Jacksonville's Bent Creek Golf Course gives munis a good name

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The term "muni course" is usually pejorative. It conjures up images of a bare-bones operation, weeds sprouting while public employees stand around idly, leaning on their rakes. But an upgrade-the-muni trend is taking hold in many cities, resulting in some very nice courses - and, yes, some increased green fees.

Bent Creek Golf Course - Jacksonville
Jacksonville's only city-owned course, Bent Creek Golf Course has been managed since March 2005 by Billy Casper Golf.
Bent Creek Golf Course - JacksonvilleBent Creek Golf Course - Bentgrass
If you go

Golf Club of Jacksonville, on that city's less-than-upscale Westside, has been a decent track since it opened in 1988. When Billy Casper Golf took over management from the PGA Tour last March, it morphed into a very good golf course.

Casper's company, making its first foray into Florida, put nearly $300,000 into the operation, replacing the grounds crew and superintendent and buying new equipment. The name was changed to the more poetic Bent Creek Golf Club, in honor of the waterway that runs through the property (though the city still has signs up pointing you to the Golf Club of Jacksonville). It's the only golf course owned by the city, which puts the profits into a trust fund that supplies money for improvements and thus is not subject to politicians' whims.

Casper has done wonders with the place. Bent Creek is one of the better tracks on the First Coast, home to more than 80 golf courses, and certainly one of the better bargains. It's a Bobby Weed design, with input from former PGA Tour player and current Jacksonville resident Mark McCumber.

The golf course does wind through the Bent Creek residential development, a nice, middle-class neighborhood off 103rd Street, but it is festooned with the kind of growth typical of northeast Florida - dense woods, including tall pines, with small creeks, ponds and marsh. It has been certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Bent Creek Golf Course isn't overly long at 6,609 yards from the gold tees, and its slope rating of 131 tells you it is neither a bear nor a cupcake. They've taken down hundreds of trees over the years, and locals will tell you it plays three or four shots easier as a result. It is heavily mounded, which adds flavor to the flat Florida terrain and frequently serves to waylay the wayward. Still, there are some holes that require your best game, especially from the gold and black tees.

The par-5 15th, for example, is a dogleg left with a narrow lake that follows the contours of the hole on its winding path to the green. If you don't hit a long, accurate draw off the tee you're looking at a long, approach shot, over a marsh and between a narrow chute of trees, if you want to reach in two. Here's betting most people short of Tiger Woods will lay up short of the marsh.

Bent Creek Golf Course's 11th hole is a long dogleg-right par-4 with a sizable carry off the tee and another creek to carry coming in. If you're short off the tee or too far left you're going to have trouble reaching the green, seeing as there is another creek to carry en route to the hole.

The verdict on Bent Creek Golf Course

Bent Creek gives munis a good name. It looks like it could be a relatively upscale golf club, though without like ball boys, "hosts" and other costly accoutrements. It's in excellent condition, with scrupulously sculpted bunkers, and its bentgrass greens are among the best the area has to offer.Green fees are a wickedly cheap $38 on weekdays and $48 weekends. There is a practice facility and a lighted driving range, also one of the better around.

Stay and play

The Hilton Garden Inn is a good, centrally located place in Jacksonville, geographically the largest city in the country. The Hilton is right off Butler Boulevard, which will whisk you to the beaches or downtown. It has a business center; free, in-room, high-speed Internet; a whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators.

Dining out

The Hilton's Great American Grill serves breakfast. Restaurants within walking distance include the Seven Bridges Brewery, Don Pablo's, Tony Roma's, Jacksonville Ale House, Jason's Deli, Copeland's and the Gallery Bistro.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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