Quail Heights Country Club: Even Seve couldn't conquer it
LAKE CITY, Fla. - On the wall of the Quail Heights Country Club is a big, blown-up copy of a scorecard, conclusive proof that Severiano Ballesteros played this golf course. It was 1986, a stop on what was then known as the Ben Hogan Tour, and Seve didn't manage to break 70.
A month later Ballesteros bogeyed the 17th at Augusta National on Sunday, setting the stage for the now-legendary finish that saw Jack Nicklaus win The Masters at age 46. Sports Illustrated reported on Ballesteros' time in Lake City, referring to the town halfway between Tallahassee and Jacksonville as the boondocks.
"I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not," said Harvey Campbell, former sports editor of the Lake City Reporter.
Lake City isn't quite the boondocks, but you can see them from here, just on the other side of the interstate that rumbles through the western part of town. You can also see part of the 27-hole Quail Heights layout from I-75, and the dull roar of the interstate follows you around a great portion of the course.
The interstate wasn't here when the course opened in 1972 as an 18-hole layout, back when this part of Old Florida was country and country wasn't yet cool. Quail Heights has been part of the north-central Florida golf landscape for more than three decades, hosting tournaments big and small.
It's an unimposing, low-key country club, with the Dunes, opened in 1994, complementing the original Creeks and Ponds nines. The facility could use some upgrades, as could some of the tee boxes and a few of the greens (the originals of which have never been rebuilt).
Still, most of the course is in good shape, even in July after a series of deluges soaked Columbia County, and it can be a fun, challenging workout, as evidenced by the fact that Ballesteros didn't exactly tear it up from the tips.
"It will give you all you can handle from the back tees," said Carl Ste. Marie, the head professional.
The three nines are all of a piece, but with subtle differences. The Creeks runs around the outer perimeter, coming into close contact with the interstate at times. Like the other nines, it has fairly wide fairways, but you have to play to certain spots to have the best angle into the greens. Miss them and it seems like you're always working over one of the relatively few bunkers that guard the greens.
"The Dunes is the newest and you can tell there's a difference," Ste. Marie said. "The Creeks and Ponds are more traditional, with smaller, flat greens, where the Dunes' greens are bigger and more undulating, and the layout is more penalizing."
The course has more than its share of interesting holes. No. 3 on the Creeks, a 370-yard dogleg par 4, has two large oaks in the middle of the fairway, producing what amounts to a blind landing area. The fairway past the trees slopes hard right and down; stray down there and you're looking at a downhill side-hill lie.
The Dunes' sixth is a mid-length par 5 that doglegs 90 degrees right; to cut the dogleg you practically have to hit over the adjacent fairway. You can cut the large oaks, but beware: There's water on the other side of a narrowing fairway.
Quail Heights Country Club: The verdict
Quail Heights isn't a luxury club by any means. The restaurant area is small (though friendly) and the whole facility could stand some upgrades. That said, this is an enjoyable play without the high green fees a more exclusive country club might charge, and Quail Heights offers travelers condos and efficiencies on the golf-course property.
It's an active club, hosting between 35,000 and 40,000 rounds a year as well as a number of tournaments, including the Lake City Open and the Quail Shoot. Locals love it.
Stay and play
The Hampton Inn and Suites is a good central spot (at the intersection of I-75 and U.S. 90) to explore Columbia County golf and its other attractions. This is where folks live it easy down by the Suwannee River, near the Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center.
In tandem with Jacksonville, Lake City calls itself the "Gateway to Florida." The smaller town doesn't have Jacksonville's beaches, but it does have some of the best natural springs in the state and thus in the country. Hiking, kayaking, birding, fishing and other outdoor pursuits are all part of the attraction here.
Tom Lehman and Mark Calcavecchia have also played Quail Heights.
March 22, 2007