Gainesville Golf: From 'Ironweed' to Ironwood, this municipal course is a good, cheap play

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gainesville isn't what you would call a golfing hot spot, even though it's in Florida, not far from Orlando or the First Coast — headquarters of the PGA Tour.

Ironwood Golf Club
Ironwood Golf Club no longer known as "Ironweed."
Ironwood Golf ClubIronwood Golf ClubIronwood Golf Club
If you go

Apparently, Gator Nation has better things to do when it isn't worshipping the perennially powerful football team at the University of Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on college football Saturdays.

So, it's hard to be a hidden gem here. But, that's what manager Bill Irwinski calls the city-owned Ironwood Golf Course, located out near the airport.

"Trouble is, my boss keeps telling me he doesn't want to be a 'hidden gem,'" the affable Irwinski joked.

Marketing aside, Ironwood is a good muni. It's a short, but facile public golf course that, unlike other development-driven courses in the area, is a pleasant walk in the park — or more specifically, the woods, since there are all sorts of critters ambling around. The course is Audubon certified, scoring high on all the points Audubon looks for.

It's what a muni should be: a cheap course with an interesting layout that caters to anyone who wants to play the game of golf without all the expensive bells and whistles.

"Our customers are a real cross section," Assistant Professional Jeff Cardozo said. "Doctors, lawyers, students."

They hold a lot of outings here and give special rates for juniors and seniors. In fact, juniors can play all day for $6.

The city bought the course in 1992 — back when some referred to it as "Ironweed." It has been doing well in obtaining the finances to continuously improve it, which isn't easy since the course is in a low-lying area and prone to flooding at even modest rains.

Right now, though, due to some weird, dry summer weather — very unusual in Florida — the course is in good shape. In fact, the sign out front tells you so.

"By far, it's in the best condition it's ever been," Irwinski said.

True enough, except for the tee boxes, the course is in fine fettle, both fairways and greens. Both Irwinski and Cardozo said that's largely due to superintendent Don Irby, who came on board a year ago and has vastly improved the hard-to-maintain Bermuda greens.

The course was built back in the 1960s and the city inherited a fine layout. Designed by David Wallace, who learned the trade from Robert Trent Jones Sr., Ironwood has a nice variety of holes that play through mostly secluded surroundings, offsetting its relative lack of length (6,464 yards from the back tees).

The verdict

The back nine is the more secluded section of the course, but the front nine probably has the more challenging holes — like No. 15 — a "devil hole," Iwinski said. It's a short dogleg right that dares many golfers to risk to carry on the corner.

The opening hole is a fairly short par 5 that can be reached in two with a good drive; otherwise, you're looking at a layup short of the creek that fronts the green. No. 9 is the same: another par 5 that teases you with the option of laying up or going for it.

The general public can play Ironwood for never more than $35 including cart; juniors and seniors pay less. For that price, it's worth it, even in a market that doesn't offer a lot of the sort of expensive golf you can frequently find in Florida.

"The thing that keeps them coming back again and again is the layout," Iwinski said.

And they do come. The course expects to host between 33,000-34,000 rounds this year.

Stay and play

The Hilton on SW 34th Street is not far from downtown Gainesville, on the southwest corner of the University of Florida. It's a good-sized hotel with 245 rooms, three suites and 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

All rooms have free high-speed Internet access. There's a swimming pool, fitness room, lobby bar and restaurant.

Fast Fact

The course is also home to several high school programs.

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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