Hampton the Lesser: South is a good golf course to let it fly
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pardon the Golf Club of South Hampton if it has a bit of an inferiority complex. Its brother course to the north, North Hampton, gets most — if not all — of the accolades from the critics who rate golf courses along Florida's First Coast, but there are those who prefer the South for a very definite reason.
"It's more open and easier that the North," said Dennis Hall, who has played both. "South isn't that hard. I like it. It's fairly short and everything's right out front. The North is a lot tighter and harder."
True enough, the South course, one of six owned and operated by Hampton Golf Inc., in Florida, five along the First Coast, is a very open layout with room to put the hammer down on almost every tee. Even with the shorter par 4s, you'll be tempted to pull out the howitzer. Nobody at South Hampton denies it: this is a course that wants you, pleads with you, to do well.
"A user-friendly course," South Hampton's Rick McAllister said. "There is a lot of water, but unless you're sideways, water doesn't necessarily come into play."
In fact, the layout includes 16 lakes, but don't pay them much mind. They are there mostly for the birds and aesthetic purposes, and you'll rarely be hitting over it or even near it.
The course plays through the Hampton community, with houses nearly every hole, and the lakes help to remind you you're not joshing with the neighbors over the fence.
That isn't to say the course is devoid of bite, though even from the back tees the slope rating is a relatively benign 133. The back nine is much more difficult than the front, and the two closing holes have particular spirit.
The 571-yard 17th provides one of the few water carries off the tee, where you must also be wary of a thin strand of pines to the right. The fairways narrows considerably if you opt to carry the water; your option is to play it safe to the big, fat landing area to the left, but you've been doing that all day; why not gamble?
The closing hole is a 410-yard par 4, a slight dogleg left with a difficult approach shot to a green guarded by high-lipped bunkers left; no bump and run here, you must come in from on high.
Hampton South is a fun play if you aren't looking to get roughed up, and you want some room to play with your driver. It's a semi-private course, 6,935 yards long, and architect Mark McCumber, a Jacksonville resident who has done a number of area courses, has made good use of the natural contours of the terrain.
McCumber also put in some strategically-placed bunkers that blend in well with the layout. Most of them have steep faces and aren't easy to get out of. So though this is a relatively easy course, there are challenges aside from the closing holes, and aside from the development, it is a pretty course. The par 5s are particularly excellent.
It's also a good course for women and beginners: witness the family tees far forward. Like all the Hampton courses, the conditioning is usually in good shape.
Stay and Play
In spread-out Jacksonville, location is the key in lodging; it can be difficult getting around to the courses on the First Coast. There are a couple of good places to stay in the Interstate 95/Butler Blvd. area, which will take you north or south, or east to the beaches.
The Best Western is at the intersection of I-95 and Butler, eight miles from downtown and about 15 miles from the beaches. The six-story motel has in-room high-speed Internet access, free continental breakfast, pool, fitness center and sauna. It also has meeting space that can handle 150 of you business types.
The Hilton Garden Inn is another good, centrally located place. It has a business center, free, in-room high-speed Internet access, whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators. There is any number of other accommodations in the area.
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's Deli, Copeland's and the Gallery Bistro.
The Golf Club at South Hampton has a reputation for hosting a variety of tournaments and charity events.
March 1, 2006