Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast showcases two distinctly different Florida golf experiences
PALM COAST, Fla. -- With two designer courses, golf is an important component in what Hammock Beach Resort has to offer, just as it is with Salamander's Grand Golf Resorts of Florida's other properties, Reunion Resort in Orlando and Innisbrook Resort near Tampa.
Placing a high value on service, Hammock Beach has trained its staff well. Your bag is efficiently transferred from your car to cart, water bottles await in cart coolers and your clubs are seamlessly cleaned and taken to bag drop, all with cheerful enthusiasm -- this accomplished with a firm no-tipping policy.
Close to the Main Hotel, a huge complex of towers and villas along the Atlantic, the Ocean Course is just a short walk out the back entrance to the Lodge and pro shop.
Hammock Beach Resort's Ocean Course
A Jack Nicklaus Signature Design, Hammock Beach Resort's Ocean Course, Florida's first oceanfront course built since the 1920s, opened in 2004 and hosted a Champions Tour event in 2007.
The shorter of Hammock Beach's two courses at 7,201 yards (to 5,115 yards), fairways wind through well established residential neighborhoods and trees.
Memorable holes stand out, such as No. 6, a par 5 at 526 yards to an island green with water all along the left, and the "Bear Claw," a four-hole final stretch along the ocean.
Although you can hear the sound of the waves when you tee off on the first hole and on hole No. 9, you really start to see the water on hole No. 15, one of the few uphill elevated greens that backs up to the marshes and Atlantic.
Wind can be a huge factor in your game here. Standing on the tee of the 17th hole, a par 3, Toby Sutton, a retired 3-handicap golfer from England, said, "Look at how the flag just shifted from one direction to another. Amazing."
Hammock Beach Resort's Conservatory Course
Nature plays a starring role on Hammock Beach's Conservatory Course, a Tom Watson Signature Course, about a 20-minute drive from the resort.
Its quietly rolling landscape meanders through marshes, grasses and around low hills with the highest elevation on the 13th green.
From expansive windows in the $34 million clubhouse (which opened in 2008) you can see the undulations of the fairways. "The whole course lays out there right in front of you," said Brad Hauer, director of golf. Just a quick glance will reveal many of the 140 bunkers.
On the first tee the starter warned, "For every bunker you find, you can usually add a 1/2 shot to your score."
Although bunkers may intimidate, they are more manageable than it first appears with subtle design details.
On the fourth hole, the bunkers looked menacing, but looking back, you can hardly see them. Beautiful.
The Conservatory, which opened in 2006, is one solid course. It is tight, but there are no forced carries. And you have choices: Go for the carry, or play safe with a bump and run shot. "The front nine is one of the best shot-for-shot nines I have ever seen," said Hauer. "Watson made close to 20 site visits. He put his heart and soul into the project."
Teeing off on the first hole, Jim Howell, a dentist from Youngstown, Ohio, said, "What you see out there is typical of the entire course. Every hole is different, and every hole is exposed."
Playing a whopping 7,776 yards from the tips, the Conservatory can still be enjoyed by all levels. And women should not be intimidated either. "I play better here," said Madeline Kinney, pro shop assistant.
Hammock Beach Resort's north Florida location means golf is not only available year-round, it is cooler in the summer, as well
Hammock Beach is being marketed as a member of the Grand Golf Resorts of Florida, and packages combining stays at more than one property are available.
Golf at Hammock Beach Resort: The verdict
It appears to be a toss-up which course to play if you only have time for one.
For convenience and a more traditional experience with great views of the Atlantic, you might choose the Ocean Course, especially if you are a fan of Nicklaus' designs. It's the shorter of the two and often a preferred course for women.
If you are a links devotee with a love for nature and rolling marshland and have a good bunker game, play the Conservatory.
At the moment, the Conservatory is free of houses lining the fairways. However, boundary stakes in some areas hint at what's to come.