Your Daytona 500 guide: fast cars, hot leather and great golf
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - You wouldn't ordinarily lump NASCAR and golf together in the same sentence, would you? You may even think stock-car fans too unsophisticated to get on golf courses, which generally don't let in patrons wearing overalls stuffed with half pints of Rebel Yell.
Well, you would be wrong. NASCAR fans don't all have their roots in the Deep South's moonshine days. They pretty much run the gamut these days, from backwoods Carolina to continental Europe. And, as it turns out, quite a few love to play golf.
Take, for example, the annual NASCAR-LPGA Charity Golf Classic in Daytona Beach. If you get in the field, you play nine holes with a NASCAR driver and nine with an LPGA pro. Now, there's a culture clash.
Another telling note: Daytona Beach-area golf courses are known to jack up their rates when Speedweeks comes around, to make a little extra off all the race fans who golf.
And with Speedweeks starting in early February and culminating with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, there is plenty of free time; you may not want to spend all your days watching qualifying, practice and ARCA carnage.
Here then, is your guide to what else to do in and around Daytona Beach, including our picks of some of the better golf courses.
• It's just a short drive north to Palm Coast to Ocean Hammock Golf Club, a terrific course laid out alongside the Atlantic. The Jack Nicklaus design elevates tees and greens above the dune line, affording great water views. The approximately 7,200-yard course plays as good as it looks, requiring the kind of imagination its designer displayed during his days on the PGA Tour.
• The terrain is ideal at Victoria Hills Golf Club in Deland. With rolling hills (up to 80 feet of elevation change) and sandy waste areas, Victoria Hills bucks the stereotype of flat, watery Florida courses.
In fact, water is in play on only three holes. Sand is the hazard here - that and the bucking, rolling fairways leading to greens that put up a variety of no-trespassing signs.
• LPGA International in Daytona Beach, home of the LPGA Tour, has two courses, Legends and Champions. Both are big-league. Champions is more open, with a links-style feel - it can be very rough on windy days - while Legends is a beautifully laid-out shot-makers' course that rewards the accurate and punishes the wayward. Both courses can be bears from the back tees.
• Daytona Beach Golf & Country Club is a place NASCAR fans should truly like and identify with. Built in 1921, it's a working-class club, a muni owned and operated with gusto by the city. There are two courses, the North and the South, and the facility is built to handle large crowds. Plus they only raise green fees $10 during Speedweeks, to a very reasonable $50.
• Halifax Plantation Golf Club in Ormond Beach, Matanzas Woods Golf Club in Palm Coast, The Golf Club at Cypress Head in Port Orange, and Hidden Lakes Golf Course and Turnbull Bay Golf & Country Club in New Smyrna Beach.
If you want to stick with the motor-sports motif, Daytona USA is a 60,000-square-foot interactive theme park. If NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience and The Daytona 500: The Movie (complete with "Thunder-Round Sound") don't spark your starter, various simulators put you in the driver's seat and in the pits, virtually speaking.
The real thing, though, is at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where you get to actually careen around the track at 160 mph. You get three laps with a qualified (though not NASCAR star) driver for $134.
A scaled-down, less heart-pumping alternative is Daytona Lagoon, where high-performance go-karts race around a winding, multi-banked track. There's also a rock-climbing wall, wave pool, slides, mini-golf and lazer tag plus a big arcade, in the heart of Daytona Beach. Tickets range from $17 to $22.
Marineland, a popular attraction for years, is between Daytona and St. Augustine. You can swim with dolphins and see Nellie, the oldest known bottlenose dolphin, and Lilly, the last known blonde bottlenose.
Suncruz Casino is a floating gambling den with more than 200 slot machines plus blackjack, roulette and live poker. The 150-foot ship has three decks, live entertainment and serves both a la carte and buffet meals.
Take a break from the noise and fumes at Ocean Waters Spa at the Plaza Resort and Spa, a European-style center overlooking the Atlantic. It's 15,000 square feet house 16 private treatment rooms, a hair and nail salon, a sauna and a gym. The day program includes Swedish massage, a facial, hydrotherapy, a "salt glow" or "gommage," and lunch. The overnight program throws in a manicure, a pedicure and a mud wrap.
At 175 feet the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, a National Historic Landmark, is the tallest lighthouse in Florida. It was finished in 1887 when the area was known as Mosquito Inlet, not exactly a name that lures tourists. It's open to the public year-round.
Yes, you can still drive on the beach, just as you could when speedway founder Bill France Sr. raced on the hard-packed sand. There's 23 miles of beach in the area, 16 on which you can drive. There has been talk of raising the driving fee from $5 to $10 but the politicians, in their infinite wisdom, have held off so far.
If it's a NASCAR-related souvenir you want, Daytona 2000 has it, from T-shirts and hats to die-cast cars and much more.
Ocean Walk Village is a nice beachfront shopping area with a covered, raised walkway leading from a public parking garage. The resort of the same name is here, along with a hotel, a four-story shopping and entertainment complex and the area's only traffic-free beach.
Hot Leathers Factory Outlet has just what the name promises: Everything for hot biker mamas and other leather and motorcycle lovers, including chaps, gloves and even kids apparel.
For more conventional shopping, Daytona Beach has the Volusia Mall and Main Street by the ocean.
February 14, 2006