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Panther Creek Golf Club: Come and take your medicine at Jacksonville's newest brute

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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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.

Jacksonville's Panther Creek Golf Club: The Verdict

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.

Jacksonville hotels

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.

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Panther Creek Golf ClubPanther Creek Golf Club

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment

    Jimmy S wrote on: Dec 15, 2010

    I've played Panther Creek once or twice a year the past few years and probably 4 times the 1st year I discovered it. This is definitely THE HARDEST COARSE I've ever played! I really think that there should be a U.S. OPEN held there because I'm 95% sure NO PRO will finish under par from the tips... NO B.S. I only play it once or twice a year because it really does mess with your confidence. It's in GREAT condition, the greens on the 1st 9 are really fun but u might have 3 breaks & a couple different levels your putting through, & YEAH, there's trouble and LENGTH everywhere if you try to play from the blacks or golds... HAVE FUN! AND BRING EXTRA BALLS!


  • Panther Creek Golf Club

    Bill Schroeder wrote on: Aug 2, 2009

    There is a nice club house and snack bar available. The double wide is gone!


  • lives up to the hype

    db wrote on: Apr 12, 2009

    This course is every bit as tough as the hype says it is. If there's any weather to deal with...just add 8-15 to your handicap and thats what you'll shoot.


  • Error-Panther Creek Golf Club

    Mike O'Donoghue wrote on: Aug 19, 2007

    'There's the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course about 40 miles to the west'
    It's actually 40 miles to the East of where Panther Creek is, and the suggested hotel is more then halfway there about 20 miles away from Panther.