North Hampton: A superlative Palmer design in northeast Florida

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It is testimony to the excellence of the Golf Club of North Hampton that people at World Golf Village and the renowned TPC at Sawgrass Stadium Course send people here to see the splendor of this golf course.

Golf Club at North Hampton
Golf Club at North Hampton is one of Arnold Palmer's best.
Golf Club at North HamptonBoulders hem at North HamptonScottish-links feel
If you go

It's that good.

In fact, it's better than a far more famous Arnold Palmer course to the south, The King & The Bear, where Palmer teamed with Jack Nicklaus to come up with a marketer's dream. North Hampton has had its fair share of marketing, all of it deserved. It's a big, raw brute of a course, churned up from the earth in sleepy, working-class Yulee, a budding boomtown near Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, about a half hour north of Jacksonville.

Palmer and his crew, chiefly lead designer Ed Seay, moved about a million cubic yards of northeast Florida dirt to create the dramatic hills that line most holes, topped with wild grasses like cord, purple love, muhly and leather fern. It was intended to induce a Scottish links feel, and it does (is that a kilted man over in that gorse?).

It is also a very beautiful course, with the 10 spring-fed lakes, frequently held back by boulders, and the wild grasses whipping in the wind. It has a very natural feel as well, with far fewer homes than its sister course, South Hampton, and dirt cart paths that take you through waste areas and natural vegetation.

North Hampton has fairways that twist and shimmy like young colts, and rarely will you get an even lie. The sheer variety of holes and imaginative flair that have gone into the design are impressive, even spectacular. Palmer and Seay have created a course that requires an amazing arsenal of shots and a fair amount of cognitive work.

"It has very undulating fairways and greens and water every hole but one," the club's Ryan Williams said. "There's always some kind of wind and it just never lets up. There's always a shot you have to hit. You have to really manage your game around here."

You must manage 7,171 yards if you want to play from the back of the bus, with its gaudy slope rating of 147. The course is manly enough to take it on from the middle tees, but play it from the gold or black tees if your handicap allows and if you want to see it as the architects intended.

The Verdict

With green fees in the $60 range and various discounts available (especially for juniors), this is a must-play in the Jacksonville area. Scoff if you will about all the dirt that was tossed around, but the elevation changes of up to 40 feet are a joy to play here in the flatlands.

There are too many excellent holes to highlight - there isn't a weak one in the bunch - but I must mention the 604-yard second, a par-5 with a marsh carry off the tee, where the fairways rolls and buckles; the 457-yard fourth with its risk/reward options; or the closing hole, where fairway bunkers and lakes dare you to take a chance. The devilish par 3s may be the best along the First Coast.

Stay And Play

In spread-out Jacksonville, location is the key in lodging; it can be difficult getting around to the courses on the First Coast. There are a couple of good places to stay near Interstate 95, which will take you north or south, and Butler Boulevard, which heads east to the beaches. The Best Western is at the intersection of I-95 and Butler, eight miles from downtown and about 15 miles from the beaches. The six-story motel has in-room, high-speed Internet access, free continental breakfast, pool, fitness center and sauna. It also has meeting space that can handle 150 of you business types.

The Hilton Garden Inn is another good, centrally located place. It offers free in-room Internet, a business center, whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators. There are any number of other accommodations in the area.

Dining Out

The Hilton has the Great American Grill restaurant, which serves breakfast, and there are a bunch of restaurants within walking distance. One of them, the Seven Bridges Brewery, provides room service to the hotel (try the flame-grilled meat loaf). Also nearby: 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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