Taste history with a golf and bed-and-breakfast trip to St. Augustine

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

St. Augustine is the country's oldest city and boasts a number of quality bed and breakfasts as well as excellent golf courses such as the World Golf Village's King and Bear and Slammer and Squire tracks, Marsh Creek Country Club, and Royal St. Augustine.

The St. Francis Inn B&B - Courtyard
The St. Francis Inn has a lovely, shaded courtyard.
The St. Francis Inn B&B - CourtyardCasa de SolanaSlammer and Squire CourseSt. Augustine - Castillo de San Marcos Fort
If you go

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Want to go to Europe but don't want to put up with Europeans? Ever wanted to go to Spain but don't like the way the dollar is handling itself in Barcelona these days?

St. Augustine is a great alternative, maybe even a better deal altogether. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S., and it has done a great job of preserving the classic Spanish architecture in the downtown historic district.

The area also boasts a number of good golf courses. Put the two together, and you can have a memorable golf trip. You wouldn't want to visit historic St. Augustine and stay in a generic hotel, right? You want to see the history, feel the history.

St. Augustine bed and breakfasts

St. Augustine has a lot of excellent bed and breakfasts, most of them in the historic district and close to good bars, restaurants and area attractions.

The St. Augustine Historic Inns association lists 26 B&Bs with a total of 240 rooms, all or most of them offering discounts or free admissions to attractions. Here are three we recommend:

The Inn on Charlotte (www.innoncharlotte.com) is a plush home that has been restored, and each of the eight rooms is carefully decorated with antique furnishings and accessories. The inn has a gourmet breakfast and is right across the street from one of my favorite St. Augustine bars, the Teeny Martini.

The inn was built in 1918 for an attorney named Levi Nelson and restored in 2003, becoming a B&B in 1993. It's on a quiet, brick-lined street and a short walk to the bayfront.

Every room has a king- or queen-sized bed, private bath and cable television. Seven of the eight rooms have a whirlpool and the eighth has a large double-shower.

All the rooms have names, like Henry Flagler's Verandah, with its large balcony overlooking Charlotte Street, or the Diamond Lil' Suite, named after a notorious woman named Louella Day McConnell who had a diamond in her front tooth; when she fell on hard times, Diamond Lil' sold glasses of water allegedly from the fountain of youth for 10 cents a glass.

The inn was named one of the top-10 romantic inns in Florida by the Palm Beach Post newspaper. It has an elegant parlor and shady front porch where you can watch the goings-on of Charlotte Street.

The inn can handle meetings and weddings in its tropical courtyard - one wedding package includes harp music.

Your stay includes breakfast, wine, sherry and chocolate truffles, but the best thing about the inn is its owner, Lynne Fairfield, who goes out of her way to give her guests that personal touch.

Rates range from $149-$289.

The Casa de Solana (www.casadesolana.com) has an air of Spanish and English mystery and charm, from the Minorcan Suite with fireplace to the Segui Room. The inn has a landscaped, walled courtyard on brick-paved Aviles Street. Each of the 10 rooms and suites are big and authentically part of St. Augustine's Minorcan history.

It's surrounded by a walled courtyard that can be used for small weddings and meetings, and the arbor is covered in confederate jasmine, giving off a heady scent in the spring.

The inn was built in the early 1800s, making it one of St. Augustine's oldest residences, and is a block and a half from the Matanzas Bayfront.

The original owner was a man named Don Manuel Lorenzo Solana, which is where the name comes from. All rooms have private bath, phones, working fireplaces in the fall and winter and high-speed Internet access.

Fresh flowers are in every room and sherry in most. There is also a social hour and evening dessert feature. Rates range from $139 to $329 for a whole wing, and that includes breakfast and other amenities.

Bikers are welcome; park your Harley in the courtyard.

The St. Francis Inn (www.stfrancisinn.com) dates way back to the 1700s, an attractive pairing of old world charm and modern convenience. Built by Senor Gaspar Garcia, a sergeant in the Cuban military, the house is made of native coquina shells with a private courtyard and pool. It's also located in the shady historic district and still within easy walking distance of shopping, dining and the pleasures of St. Augustine.

Each of the 17 rooms is unique: a combination of suites, a private cottage, the 1880 'Wilson House' and a beach house on Anastasia Island. The Southern breakfast buffet is excellent, they have bicycles for cruising around downtown and -- drum roll, please -- they have free sherry.

The inn is a block from the "Oldest House," and the walled, tree-shaded courtyard has a beautiful fountain and pond with an artesian well, all surrounded by banana trees and bougainvillea. There is also a lovely swimming pool, perfect after a day of sight-seeing.

The rooms have fireplaces and whirlpools, as well as private balconies. There are evening socials, and you can help yourself to iced tea and homemade pastries.

The St. Francis has a rich history of owners, and a number of writers have stayed there, including Van Wycks Brooks, a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, and Gladys Hasty Caroll, author of "As the Earth Turns."

Rates range from $99 to $279.

St. Augustine golf

St. Augustine has a number of very playable courses, including the King and the Bear and the Slammer and Squire at the World Golf Village, Marsh Creek Country Club, the Golf Club At South Hampton, and the Royal St. Augustine Golf and Country Club.

Also, the golf courses of Ponte Vedra Beach are about a half hour drive away.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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