The Jacksonville area is perfect for buddy golf trips

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The ingredients for a successful buddy golf trip are simple: a comfortable room, an ice chest filled with your favorite beverages, good eats, entertainment options and quality golf.

Players Stadium Course - TPC Sawgrass - hole 17
TPC Sawgrass: The ultimate destination on a Jacksonville buddy trip.
Players Stadium Course - TPC Sawgrass - hole 17Champions Club at Julington CreekPGA Tour StopOmni Amelia Island Plantation
If you go

If you head over to the Jacksonville area, all those ingredients are available. Just bring a foursome or two.

Now all you have to do is decide how much you want to spend and how you want to play it.

"For a buddy trip, you have a couple of options," said Amy Rankin, spokesperson for Florida's First Coast of Golf. "You can choose to stay where you can play a lot of golf in a small area, or you can play all over the place. It really depends on what you're looking for."

There are more than 30 golf courses in the Jacksonville area, which also includes Amelia Island, Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine. With that said, here are some ideas on golf, lodging, dining and entertainment.

An economical buddy trip option

On most buddy trips, the lodging is just a place to drink a few beers and crash before getting up early the next day to head back out to the course. Buddies often play 36 holes a day, so they're not spending that much time at the hotel.

Still, it's important to have clean, comfortable digs at a reasonable price. One economical option would be to stay at the Comfort Suites near the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. Everybody gets a comfortable bed, free breakfast and an ice machine to keep the beverages cold.

There are several worthwhile golf options within 30 minutes from the hotel, including the Champions Club at Julington Creek. Owned and partly designed by former PGA Tour player Steve Melnyk, this former home of a Hooters Tour event is always in great shape and has a great 19th hole.

In addition to The Champions Club at Julington Creek, you could also play the two courses at World Golf Village -- The Slammer & Squire and the King & Bear. Both courses, named for their inspirations and designers (Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus) are in excellent shape and are often discounted during the offseason (summer, early fall). Or you could take a little bit of a road trip north to Jacksonville and play Windsor Parke Golf Club, an excellent Arthur Hills design.

While you're in St. Augustine, stop by the Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant and bar across from the World Golf Hall of Fame (another must-see). The food is decent, the beer is cold and the memorabilia tops it all with all sorts of pictures, artifacts and props from the movie and Bill Murray's family. And while you’re at it, you and your friends will want to venture into the 30,000-square-foot, two-story PGA Tour Stop next door to browse the wide selection of golf gear.

More buddy trip options

Another worthwhile adventure is to head over to Nassau County and Amelia Island, the most southern of the Sea Islands off the East Coast. You could stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites there or choose a little more upscale lodging -- the Omni Amelia Island Plantation, a luxury resort that has a couple of its own courses and several others nearby.

Located right on the beach, the resort is surrounded by the Ocean Links Course. But the better layout is the noncoastal Oak Marsh Course designed by Pete Dye. It features Spanish moss-laden live oaks that open up into marshland that's home to a variety of coastal wildlife. Or you could head off the property a mile or so to the Amelia River Golf Club, a well groomed Tom Jackson layout that's more than enjoyable.

Other golf options in the area include the Fernandina Beach Golf Club, a popular 27-hole municipal facility, as well as The Golf Club of Amelia Island.

And if you're thinking there's nothing else to do on Amelia Island, think again. The Palace Saloon on Amelia Island is the oldest bar in the state of Florida, dating back to 1885. In fact, it has an original Coke machine donated by Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler back in the early 1900s. But you'll also want to check out the entertainment, clientele and special events there.

And if you're like most golfers, you probably like to fish. Take a day off from golf to do just that. Deep-sea fishing charters are readily available, and they're not as expensive as you might think. Depending on the size of your group, a half-day fishing charter is often equivalent to a green fee when you break it down per man.

The ultimate Jacksonville buddy trip

Of course, what could be better than getting a couple of groups together and trying your luck on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass -- especially if most of you have never played it before?

This is the chance to take plenty of pictures with your friends (your forecaddie can do that for you) as you play the same holes the pros play during The Players Championship. The 17th hole alone is worth an entire memory card.

A buddy trip to the TPC doesn't begin and end with the Stadium Course, though. Your best bet is to book a package through the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa, the official resort of TPC Sawgrass. The resort has two full-time golf concierges who can put together a package that includes rooms, meals, golf and other goodies. Just give them a call.

And besides the Players Stadium Course, you can also play Dye's Valley Course, which recently underwent a renovation and plays host to a Nationwide Tour event. The Sawgrass Marriott also has six other courses it can book for you, including the original Sawgrass Country Club, which hosted The Players from 1977-81. This terrific Ed Seay layout is closer to the ocean and in some ways is harder than the Stadium Course, considering it's tighter and has more wind.

You could also play The Palencia Club, a unique Arthur Hills design that winds around a Spanish setting of lagoons, lakes and architecture. The course is normally private, but Marriott guests can get access (the same is true for Sawgrass Country Club). Palencia can also be booked through Florida's First Coast of Golf (see

Staying at the Sawgrass Marriott has many other benefits. Guests get access to the resort's beach club, right on the Atlantic Ocean, complete with a pool and restaurant. There's also a world-class spa (for those much-need massages), tennis courts, fitness facility and several good restaurants and bars, including V. Kelly's Pub, perfect for watching sports or socializing.

More buddy trip tips

Another lodging option for buddies is to rent a condo or villa. They come with kitchens, common areas and several bedrooms, making socializing easier than it is in a hotel. The Sawgrass Marriott offers villas as does the World Golf Village. Or you could try the Cinnamon Beach Resort Condos at Palm Coast. Often the condos are priced similarly to hotels when you break it down per person.

Miscellaneous stuff: If you're looking for a great crab cake, Barbara Jean's in Ponte Vedra has a reputation for having the best in the region. You could head over the Palm Valley Fish Camp for great casual waterfront dining. Or return to Amelia Island to eat Mayport shrimp at several locales.

And finally, if you're looking for some more entertainment options, check out the bands at Pete's Saloon on Neptune Beach or Ragtime in Atlantic Beach. Or for a little bit bigger venue, enjoy an outdoor concert at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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