Clay County, outside Jacksonville, expands its golf repertoire with Eagle Landing Golf Club
Eagle Landing Golf Club is an excellent addition to upscale yet affordable Clay County golf courses.
ORANGE PARK, Fla. - Not so very long ago, Clay County was known as a sleepy bedroom community of burgeoning Jacksonville, where people went to get away from the messy noise and congestion of the bigger city to the north.
But, as the developers rampaged through Jacksonville unchecked, Clay County and Orange Park swelled with newcomers and old-timers weary of the growth. Much of the housing demand was of the upscale variety and, of course, the upscale want their upscale golf courses.
Golf courses like Eagle Harbor Golf Club and Magnolia Point Golf & Country Club popped up in recent years, and now there's a new Eagle, Eagle Landing Golf Club, part of the sprawling, new Oakleaf Plantation in the northern part of the county.
The first thing that you notice at Eagle Landing Golf Club is the impressive, year-old, 8,000-square-foot clubhouse. The second thing you notice are the practice facilities: The 80,000-square-foot driving range is better than some courses in Jacksonville, with a double-ended driving range, a good-sized lake and target bunkers facing both directions.
This is a Clyde Johnston design, his fourth course in the Jacksonville area. Johnston explained on the company's Web site that he wanted the course to have a "vintage" feel by incorporating some of the classic design features of the old, architectural masters.
Eagle Landing does have that, as well as a very symmetrical feel. That includes the man-made lakes and ponds, and even some of the Southern pines are lined up in rows like a commercial pine forest.
It doesn't really detract from the course, though. The area hasn't been immune to the housing slowdown, and there are parts of the course, especially the front nine, where empty roads and vacant lots - with some of the infrastructure sticking out of the ground - give the course a mildly spooky feel.
"They were building them as fast as they could sell them for a while there," said local resident Mark Smith. "It's really slowed down."
Eagle Landing Golf Club has a Scottish theme, describing its layout as a "links style," and it is a pleasingly open course that winds through Southern pines and stands of palmettos when it isn't winding through the neighborhood.
It's a touch over 7,000 yards from the back tees and with the wide fairways, playable from back there for even mid-handicappers.
Eagle Landing Golf Club: The verdict
Eagle Landing is an excellent addition to the Clay County collection of upscale but affordable courses, with green fees in the $52-$62 range.
It's a semi-private course with six sets of tees so that it can accommodate a wide range of golfers. That was certainly evident on the day I played in March; the course was full.
It's on a big, rangy piece of property with some long drives between holes - not good for walkers.
Eagle Landing is a very enjoyable play that enables you to have fun with the driver, with the mostly wide landing areas, and there are some excellent holes. Johnston likes to build tension gradually, easing you into both nines before challenging you, and he does that here.
No. 7, 8 and 9 are good examples - No. 7 is a 600-yard par 5, No. 8 has a fairway drastically squeezed by fairway bunkers and No. 9 is a good-sized par 4 that doglegs around marsh and pines.
No. 16 is a long par 3 with all sorts of trouble left, No. 17 is a medium-sized par 5 with the course's signature church pews in the right fairway - which I got an up-close-and-personal look at - and No. 18 is an excellent closing hole, a 403-yard par 4 that doglegs around a lake to the left and a bulk-headed green that drops off left to water. It's framed nicely by the clubhouse.
Also, the conditioning is excellent throughout.
"It's been a while since I played out here," Smith said. "It's in great shape. The greens are rolling really true."
The golf course has beautiful landscaping, especially around the entrance and the clubhouse.
If it's the beach you're after, the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is an old-time, Jacksonville-area resort that has managed to hang on to its lofty prestige, since its opening in the Roaring '20s, 1928.
The Washington Post named it one of the 20 most romantic resorts in North America, and it's hard to argue when you stay in one of the resort's 250 guest rooms or suites with the ocean waves crashing right outside your private patio, not to mention the four-poster beds and ceiling fans.
It's a 300-acre oceanfront resort that uses the ocean as a dramatic backdrop and its two golf courses as a playground.
Aside from the two golf courses, there is tennis, four heated swimming pools, bicycling, boating, fishing and an oceanfront fitness center.
For the shoppers, there are 10 boutiques and shops. For the eaters and drinkers, there are four restaurants, three lounges and 24-hour room service, my personal favorite.
For the women, there is a 30,000-square-foot spa, offering such exotic treatments as the Lomi Lomi massage.
For the business types, the resort has more than17,000 square feet of meeting facilities, including a grand ballroom.
May 1, 2008