Jacksonville Beach Golf Club: A municipal course that exceeds expectations

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For nearly 50 years, golfers have been chasing after a small white ball at city-owned Jacksonville Beach Golf Club.

Jacksonville Beach Golf Club - hole 1
The first hole at Jacksonville Beach Golf Club starts off over water.
Jacksonville Beach Golf Club - hole 1Jacksonville Beach Golf Club -  hole 6Jacksonville Beach G.C. - hole 16Jacksonville Beach Golf Club - hole 16Jacksonville Beach G.C. - hole 1
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Jacksonville Beach Golf Club

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Jacksonville Beach Golf Club has been a favorite among locals since opening in 1960. The municipally owned and operated course is well known for its affordable rates and player-friendly layout. The golf course underwent a redesign in 1987 and another in 2009 that added over two acres of lakes and several bulkheads.

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However, after renovations just unveiled the first week in October, they probably won't recognize the place.

It still has wide open fairways and just a few bunkers, but water is a frequent nemesis, which is coincidentally the reason the course underwent nearly a year of earth-moving and greens-building changes.

The course serves as part of Jacksonville Beach's storm water control system, meaning that in the event of excessive rain, the city directs the water to the course. The need to increase the size of two retention ponds that are part of the course's architecture is what prompted the renovation. The city enlarged the ponds and added a third. While that work was being done, the golf course decided it was an opportunity to switch the turf on all of its greens to Emerald Dwarf Bermuda, which doesn't have to be overseeded in the winter. The grass also doesn't mind salt content, which is good, as the course uses reclaimed water to irrigate.

The combined projects meant that Jacksonville Beach Golf Club had to pay only for the reseeding, a $260,000 expense. The course put the excavated dirt to good use, elevating tee boxes and adding undulation to some greens and fairways.

"We've made it more challenging, safer, and we've definitely improved the aesthetic value of the golf course," Head Professional Sandy Suckling told the Florida Times-Union. "We've made a conscious effort to rearrange all the dirt that had to be dug up." The new signature hole is the 16th, now with an elevated tee to a green across a water carry.

What to expect at Jacksonville Beach Golf Club

The golf course has a lot of water on it, especially for a muni (although not surprising given the aforementioned drainage system). Most of the front is open and flat with few bunkers. There is water off the tee on the first hole and again on the second and eighth, both with layups because of water across the fairway, either midway or at the green. The sixth hole has a lay-up because of what's billed as a ditch, but don't be fooled - it's a gully. If your ball lands in there, you aren't going to see it again.

Most of Jacksonville Beach Golf Club's greens are huge with tiers or crazy undulations. The course, after several complaints, tamed one green that had three tiers, taking it back to only two. In short, the course makes it easy to get to the green, but then the trouble starts.

Frankly, the front feels like a municipal course. There is little delineation between fairways and rough. It's flat and somewhat barren, so one can see several holes at once. When play is busy, it feels crowded, congested and confusing.

The back is the side with the drama and charm. The 10th starts along the side of one of the new retention ponds, which is very deep and runs the length of the 354-yard hole. The green is offset, so try to approach from the right.

Jacksonville Beach Golf Club's 13th and 14th holes were my favorites, both featuring dramatic greens with water on at least two sides. Water is a common theme for the rest of the round.

Happy golfers at Jacksonville Beach Golf Club

Kevin Fornes, a 15-handicap player, has been playing this course since he was in high school, at least two, maybe three decades ago. "It's a nice, playable course," he said. "I'll tell you what, when the wind is blowing, [this course] is a tall drink of water."

Regular visitors Pat and Bob Clarke gushed about the renovations. "The improvements are spectacular," Pat said. Both loved the view of the bulkheaded green from the fairway on number 16 and enjoyed all of the holes with water lay-ups and carries.

One exception was the seventh, a right-angled dogleg left, that remains one of their favorites. "They mounded it at the corner to give it some shape visually," Bob Clarke said, and added, "It's the best municipal course I've ever played."

Jacksonville Beach Golf Club: The verdict

Jacksonville Beach G.C. is a spunky little municipal course that allocates 6,449 yards between four tees (only one rated for women), with enough trouble to make your score an honest reflection of your overall skills.

In other words, this course won't artificially drive down your handicap. You'll also need a ball supply hearty enough to cover the many pond donations you'll make.

But it's extremely walker friendly, an attribute that's becoming more and more rare on muni courses these days. The greens will grow in to be as fast as the ground crew wants them to be, and the larger greens will keep golfers on their putting game.

If you want to hone your game, there are several instructors on staff, two putting greens and 17 driving range stations for practice. This course features golf at its most basic, but it's still a great place to start or stay.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.


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