Daytona Beach golf: Somewhere between high-rises and Harleys

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — This is not your father's Daytona Beach. Nor, for that matter, is it your son's.

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The beach, sunsets and sunrises are still major attractions at Daytona Beach.
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If you go

In fact, Daytona Beach's evolution is somewhere in between, one of the last, well-known Florida seaside resorts to attract the attention of mega-developers. Longtime snowbirds who make the yearly trek to Daytona Beach seeking sun have surely noticed the condo boom, and college students making shorter-term road trips for spring break have surely noticed they are not as welcome as they had been in previous years.

Daytona Beach is becoming something else. All those bikers who cruise AIA for Bike Week do so now in the shadows of looming high-rise condominium buildings.

Like the Ocean Villas Condominiums, with its Art-Deco architecture and built-in wine refrigerators. Or Ocean Sands, with its whirlpools and floor-to-ceiling ocean views. Get ready, there is plenty more luxury to come. And it would not be uncommon to find out some of those bikers now own time-shares on the beach.

They still have the Shark Lounge, and the usual assortment of strip clubs. But other Daytona Beach mainstays, like all those quaint mom-and-pop motels, are becoming a vanishing breed, bought out by developers and swept away by hurricanes.

This isn't to say Daytona Beach marketers are getting away from their roots. They still have the raucous Bike Week, with concerts by Molly Hatchet, and rockabilly in places like the Broken Spoke Saloon. But, there is also Biketoberfest, more geared to motorcycling families.

And, of course, Daytona Beach is home to the "Great American Race," the Daytona 500, the culmination of Speedweeks — a three-week celebration to internal combustion.

Still, Daytona Beach is consciously courting those who drive Lincoln Navigators and Mercedes at least as hard as those who drive Harley Davidsons. Housing costs are shooting up and beachfront condos have risen in value by two and even three times.

Where does this leave golfers? The bad news is that golf course building hasn't risen as dramatically as condos. The good news is that are still a number of courses in and around Daytona Beach well worth your time.

Must plays

Ocean Hammock, Palm Coast: A short drive north on Interstate-95, Ocean Hammock was named a modern classic by Links Magazine. It's a Jack Nicklaus design, who used bulldozers to build elevation into the tees and greens at Ocean Hammock, lifting them above the dune line.

Give credit to the owners for keeping only the dunes as the sole obstacle to picture-perfect ocean views, because Nicklaus' earth-moving magic lifted Ocean Hammock into the realm of the sublime.

Victoria Hills: The terrain is ideal, a layout waiting for a golf course. With rolling hills — up to 80 feet of elevation change — and sandy waste areas, Victoria Hills bucks the stereotype of flat and 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.

"This is a tough golf course," Assistant Professional Brad Verman said. "It's very undulating and you've got to have a good short game to get up and down. You can miss the green on the wrong side and it's impossible to get there in two strokes. It's a shot-maker's course if it's anything."

Hammock Dunes, Creek course, Palm Coast: This is a Rees Jones layout, routed through wooded surroundings, through cypress and slash pine, with marsh and creek views. There are 10 lakes forming 40 acres in all, bringing water into play on six holes and marsh on three of the back nine; 13 wood bridges take you over the wetlands.

There are no homes on the site and the 450 acres of conserved land protects its pristine nature. The 7,355-yard course opened in 2003, and has out-shined the other Tom Fazio-designed course. The club has a lowcountry-style clubhouse with wide porches.

LPGA International: The facility has two courses, the Legends and Champions. Both are big-league courses, and home to the LPGA.

The Champions is more open with a links-style feel — it can be very rough on windy days — while the Legends is a beautifully laid-out, shot-makers course that will reward the accurate and punish the wayward. Both courses can be bears from the back tees.

Solid seconds

Daytona Beach Golf Club is a golf course NASCAR fans should truly like and identify with. It's a working-class course, a muni owned and operated with gusto by the city.

It's been there since 1921 and has a lot of history behind it. There are two courses, the North and South, and the facility is built to handle large crowds. Plus, they only raise green fees $10 during Speedweeks, to a very reasonable $50.

Matanzas Woods: This is a good, mid-level course, not in the upper echelon of Daytona Beach-area courses, but a well-designed layout that will give you a sturdy challenge, especially from the back tees. The course is in good shape, and the greens are relatively fast, with only a handful having the sort of slope that makes you sit up and take notice.

It's 6,894 yards from the back, with a relatively benign slope rating of 127, so it's very playable, even for high-handicappers, women, juniors and seniors. It's a friendly place, with a cozy grill in the clubhouse.

Cypress Head: This is an excellent, municipal course in New Smyrna Beach that most resorts would be proud to display, and the cheap green fees ranging from $37-$57 make it more of a bargain. Opened in 1992, the course was designed by Arthur Hills and Mike Dasher, and it has Hill's characteristic greens — fast and well-contoured.

Many of the greens have some pretty dramatic slope and undulation, and it is to superintendent Dennis Pickavance's credit that they're in terrific shape at a time when many central Florida courses are wrestling with the aftermath of last summer's hurricanes.

Off course

If you want to stick with the motorsports theme, Daytona USA is a 60,000-square-foot, interactive motorsports park. There is a NASCAR IMAC movie and the "Daytona 500 movie" on a four-story-high screen. Various simulators put you in the driver's seat and in the pits, with "Thunder-Round Sound."

But, the real thing is the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where you get to actually fly around the superspeedway at 160 mph. You get three laps with a qualified driver — not the NASCAR stars — for $134. Tickets to all the other events range from $15.50 for ages six and under to $18.50. You can also get an annual pass. There are also various driving schools at a substantially higher cost.

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 $5 fee to $10 but the politicians, in their infinite wisdom, have held off so far.

Dining out

Daytona Beach has the usual assortment of fast-food restaurants and all-you-can-eat buffets. For fine dining, try Rains Supper Club on Seabreeze, which opens up a night club upstairs after 9 p.m.

The area has a number of other, excellent restaurants, among them: the Bonefish Grill, Chops, and the Inlet Harbor Marina and Restaurant.

Stay and play

When you come to a place with "beach" in its name, you want to actually see it, right? Perry's Ocean Edge Resort comes through in that respect, sitting smack dab on the Atlantic Ocean; you can hear the waves crashing on shore from your room or balcony.

The resort, one of Daytona Beach's biggest, has more than 700 feet of landscaped oceanfront, whirlpool/spa, two outdoor pools with a poolside bar and a heated, indoor pool in a 10,000-square-foot atrium. It also has homemade donuts in the mornings that I defy you to pass up.

The resort caters to families and has a children's activities program. They also offer volleyball, bocce ball, basketball, shuffleboard and horseshoes. There are about 20 golf courses within a 30-minute drive.

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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