Green fees are the best thing about Fleming Island golf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — Fleming Island doesn't really look like an island as you drive south past Jacksonville, Fla., down U.S. 17, and the Fleming Plantation doesn't showcase its plantation history like, say, some of the Carolina plantation courses.

Jacksonville - Fleming Island
The back nine at Fleming Island has thick woods and marsh.
Jacksonville - Fleming IslandBermuda Greens at Fleming IslandTwo nines at Fleming Island
If you go

But, the plantation's golf course is one of the cheaper, "upscale" courses along Jacksonville and the First Coast, home to the NFL Jaguars and more than 80 courses in this spread-out Florida city, the largest in the U.S. when it comes to total land area.

The plantation dates back to the late 1700s when the Spanish gave the land to a slave owner named George Fleming, though it's thoroughly modern now, close to the booming Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park.

The course has received some lofty accolades, mostly relating to its green fees: It was named the fifth "best new affordable golf course in America" in 2003 by Golf Digest, and one of the top 50 courses in the country for less than $50 by Golf magazine in 2004.

And, for that money, it is a good deal. It has decent length at 6,801 yards and two very different nines. "There's a lot of variety," Head Professional Brad Williams said. "The front nine is more of an open, links-style, while the back is more cut out of the trees. It's a little harder. The back nine is definitely my favorite."

True enough. The front nine is links-style — only in the American sense, not the classic sense — and it's lined with some nice pines and palms. But, the back nine is far more interesting, showcasing the kind of terrain north Florida is known for — thick woods and marsh, with your classic, moss-draped oak trees, many of the greens being framed by thick forests. It's also tighter and shorter.

The course is well-kept, and the Bermuda greens are in good condition, though relatively flat and a bit slow.

"The greens are large and forgiving," Williams said. "They're typical Bobby Weed greens, not a lot of undulation, but they are elevated from the fairways and if you miss them, it's challenging to get up and down."

It's the kind of mid-tier course that draws different opinions from those who play it often.

"I like Fleming Island OK," mid-handicapper Charles Jenkins said. "It's challenging from the blue and back tees. From the white tees, there isn't a whole lot of trouble to get into. This is a completely different course from the blue tees. There's a lot of better courses around, but this is a nice golf course."

"We play all over and this is one of the better courses," said George Blanton, playing with his friend and member Bob Baehne.

The course opened in 2000 and offers a nice practice area for those cheap green fees: a large practice tee with five target greens, sand trap and putting green.

The Verdict

With green fees ranging from $28 to $50, as mentioned, this is a very good bargain. It's a bit of a drive from Jacksonville through busy Orange Park, but worth the time and effort if you want to play a decent course at a very good price.

There are a handful of very good holes, and enough risk-reward options to make you pay attention. No. 11, for example, is a drivable par 4, but with a carry over marsh, thick woods to the right and a big, mounded bunker left.

Stay And Play

The Hilton Garden Inn is a good, centrally located place in Jacksonville, the largest city, land-wise in the country. It's right off Butler Blvd., which will whisk you to the beaches or downtown.

It has a business center, free in-room high-speed Internet access, whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators.

Dining out

The Hilton has the Great American Grill restaurant, which serves breakfast, and there are a bunch of restaurants within walking distance, like Seven Bridges Brewery, which provides room service to the hotel — make a point to try the flame-grilled meat loaf.

Also: Don Pablo's Mexican Restaurant, Tony Roma's ribs, Jacksonville Ale House, Jason's Deli, Copeland's and the Gallery Bistro.

Fast Fact

Fleming Island was a qualifying site for the 2003 U.S. Open.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment