Slammin' Sammy should have stuck around: He'd have enjoyed Jacksonville Beach golf
JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — The Jacksonville Beach Golf Club is the sort of place where the regulars sit at their favorite corner table in the clubhouse, laughing and joking and trying to stay warm as they wait for their tee times on a cold, dreary winter morning.
On a wall near the bar, a sign advertises hot dog specials and $1 draft beer all day, every day. With the fog rolling in off the ocean, what better place to be than with your buds waiting to play golf, staying warm and looking forward to that dog and beer? Many of them have been doing this since they were kids, just like those who work here.
Sam Snead didn't hang around long enough to enjoy the camaraderie. Snead was part of a company that had designs on turning the club into a resort. Snead's part was to lend his name to the club — it was originally going to be called the Sam Snead Country Club.
"His part of the deal was to lend his name and be there for the grand opening and do two exhibitions a year," said Boots Farley, the longtime pro at the facility. "He showed up at the grand opening, gave a little speech, got up to the first tee and hit his tee shot down the fairway. He collected a fee of $5,000, drove off and was never seen again."
That was 1959 when the course had nine holes. They built another nine the next year and the course continued to operate through the years, with various groups leasing it. Conditions rose and fell.
"I used to play out here when it was pretty scary," golfer Jim Donelly said.
The city of Jacksonville Beach took over operations for good in 1984, and conditions have steadily improved to the point where now it is one of the most heavily-played public golf courses on the First Coast, that stretch of real estate from just south of the Georgia border to Palm Coast.
"They were 100 percent behind it," Farley said of city officials. "We go in with idea and/or requests and they always say ‘yes.' They've been right there, taking care of us. It's worked out well. We're really proud of our facilities, especially now."
In 1987, the city paid for a major renovation, improving the irrigation system, and expanded the clubhouse. They're re-done many of the fairways and in the last four years, re-did the tees and rebuilt 10 of the greens, enlarging them and making them more undulating. Overall, the course has undergone a thorough modernization.
The result is a nice, open course with a lot of water, dotted with palm trees. Being at the beach, breezes can pick up quickly here and will be your primary obstacle.
Conditions aren't as pristine as a ritzy country club course, but it's in good shape and the green fees of $35 weekdays and $43 weekends ensures a steady stream of paying customers, about 60,000 a year in fact.
The other plus is its location: Jacksonville Beach is one of the few public courses and the only muni east of the Intracoastal Waterway. For those unwilling to shell out the hefty green fees of those courses to the south in Ponte Vedra, Jacksonville Beach is a very attractive alternative.
"It's a very fair golf course," Farley said. "We have the guys here who are just taking the game up all the way to the guys trying to get on the Tour."
Jacksonville Beach is one of those cozy municipals that goes out of its way to give residents a place where people can play a good golf course at a good price. It may not be the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, but neither do you have to drain your wallet and wear your fanciest golf clothes.
Bob Walker is given credit as its architect, and superintendent Gary Meadors has been there 21 years, like Farley. The course is 6,510 yards from the back tees, with a slope rating of 129, so you won't break your back or your scorecard.
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.
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't Deli, Copeland's and the Gallery Bistro.
Jacksonville Beach is one of the few munis to have GPS systems installed in its carts.
January 6, 2006