Matanzas Woods: pines, palmettos and punches in bunches
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Matanzas Woods Golf Club is indeed in the woods. Set out in the western pinelands of Flagler County west of Interstate 95, well away from the big waters of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, the course is wide, but bordered with dense forest that will swallow errant shots like quicksand.
Add to that some thick, nasty palmetto stands and know that you don't want to be inaccurate off the tee here. Still, most of the landing areas are forgiving; you can pretty much swing the big club like you mean it off the tee.
This is an Arnold Palmer design, which draws people in right away due to the name recognition. It isn't one of Palmer's best designs, but nor is it his worst.
"I like it; it's wide open" said mid-handicapper Darcy Callahan, playing with his Brooklyn buddy, Joe Pepe. "We've played about four or five courses here, and I'd put it in the middle somewhere."
The course does wind through a neighborhood, with some tee boxes uncomfortably close to backyards and patios, yet other holes have an isolated, almost serene feel. There is some water on the course, though not enough to be intimidating - with a few exceptions.
The two nines are very different, which lends variety to the course. The front nine is easier, but neither is susceptible to wind, which can be a formidable obstacle in Florida; the trees tend to knock it down before it sweeps across the open fairways.
Matanzas Woods does have some holes that will get your attention, and they come in bunches. The left-sloping fairway on the 589-yard par-5 No. 4 is wide, but beware: The green slopes down to water that you can't see from the fairway. The fifth is a fairly sharp dogleg left par-4 with more water at the end of the fairway, which narrows as you approach the green and takes on movement, rippling like a body-builder's six-pack. The water is on your right on your approach shot, into a small green.
On the back nine, No. 14 is a par-5 with water left and right - you have to hit to a certain spot in the fairway to have a chance of reaching in two - and No. 15 is a long and uncharacteristically tight par-4. Get past those two little clusters and you'll shoot a low round.
Matanzas Woods is a good, mid-level course - not in the upper echelon of First Coast tracks, but a well-designed layout that will give you a sturdy challenge, especially from the back tees. The course is in good shape, and the greens are relatively fast, with only a handful having the sort of slope that makes you sit up and take notice.
It's 6,894 yards from the back, with a relatively benign slope rating of 127, so it's very playable, even for high-handicappers, women, juniors and seniors. It's a friendly place, with a cozy grill in the clubhouse.
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 near Interstate 95, which will take you north or south, and Butler Boulevard, which heads 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 offers free in-room Internet, a business center, whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators. There are 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. One of them, the Seven Bridges Brewery, provides room service to the hotel (try the flame-grilled meat loaf). Also nearby: Don Pablo's, Tony Roma's, Jacksonville Ale House, Jason's Deli, Copeland's and the Gallery Bistro.
The course has hosted a PGA Tour Qualifying School.
March 9, 2006