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|Vast waste areas serve as both hazards and natural cart paths at Panther Creek. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Panther Creek Golf Club is one of the newest golf courses in the Jacksonville, Florida area, a big, sly brute out in the western wilds of Duval County, normally the province of farmers and fruit stands.
The place is so new it doesn't have a clubhouse yet - just Betty in the double-wide - and the parking lot has yet to be paved.
There are 18 holes, though. And as if they weren't tough enough, there are nine more coming.
"When they get that last nine in, it isn't going to be easy, but it's going to be visually stunning," said Mike Berry, who lives on the course and plays it often. "There won't be anything like it in this part of the country."
There may not be now, at least in terms of difficulty. There's the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course about 40 miles to the west, but that's where all the fancy-Dan PGA Tour boys are. This is out in the sticks (though "the sticks" in Duval County are rapidly developing).
Panther Creek is 7,526 yards from the black tees, stretchable to about 7,900 if and when they land a major tournament. The slope rating from back there is an oh-no 149.
Too much for you? Move up to the gold tees: 7,039 yards, and a slope of 143. Keep retreating, you mid-handicappers.
Andy Dye is the architect, and he put in length, awkward angles and long carries off the tee, dangerous approaches and tricky green complexes. Danger lurks everywhere, some of it unseen.
And that's just on the first few holes, before you get to the hard ones.
"Bogey is a good score out here. That's what a lot of people don't understand," Berry said.
I do, now. One of the locals likes to bet the pros they can't beat 80 their first time on the course. According to Berry, "He doesn't lose too often."
Panther Creek plays through the northeast Florida woods, and right now there are few homes to intrude on the ambiance and rattlesnakes. Even when build-out is complete, course officials say, 22 of the 27 holes will be set well away from the neighborhood houses.
The fairways are semi-rolling and tree-lined, and some of the rough is so thick it's hello and goodbye on wayward tee shots.
Oh, have I mentioned the water? There's plenty of it. Dye may not belt you with it as much as he could have, but most of the tough par 3s are over aqua.
The course picks up movement as it draws near the greens, with knobs, knolls and hillocks, grass bunkers and some nasty little traps set down in some of the mounds.
Plus there are vast waste areas scattered about, acting as huge hazards as well as, quite often, natural cart paths.
Panther Creek jabs you with a left here, a little combination there and finally hits you with the haymaker.
Some golfers in Jacksonville have complained the course is too hard. In fact, a lot of golfers have complained it's too hard.
"All the time," Berry said.
This isn't the kind of golf course you'd want to take your kindly old Uncle Joe to play when he comes to town, and definitely not Aunt Matilda. The ladies will have a frustrating day out here. And if you're having problems with almost any aspect of your game, you might want to sharpen up on an easier course.
But for those who like to test their games, this is the place to do it. As long as you don't come out expecting to ring up a career round, Panther Creek is a blast. (And the locals say it gets easier the more times you play it.)
You'll be hitting pretty much every shot you have in the bag, and you'd be wise to bring an extra bag. Not to mention any power you have stored up, and all your powers for controlling it.
The course is in a low-lying area, but due to its excellent drainage water damage is rare. Green fees are $30-$45, a serious bargain for a beast of this magnitude.
The Hilton Garden Inn is a good, centrally located place in Jacksonville, right off Butler Boulevard, which will whisk you to the beaches or downtown. It has a business center; free, in-room high-speed Internet; a whirlpool and a fitness center. The rooms have microwaves and small refrigerators.
August 17, 2007
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.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang is a romantic, classic Western-style getaway amid the wine lovers' setting of California's central coast. And there's some great golf, too, with 36 holes of diverse play on site for both the public and resort guests.
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