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|With its coquina shells, palms trees and lagoons, the Lagoon Course resembles a south Florida layout. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Most golf course officials, when extensive work is done to their course, like to talk about a renovation or a make-over or an upgrade, sometimes a re-do.
That's not enough for what they did to the Lagoon Course at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, just down the road from the PGA Tour headquarters here in tony Ponte Vedra Beach.
"He destroyed it," Head Professional Bruce Mohler said of what architect Bobby Weed did to the Lagoon, little brother to the famed resort's Ocean Course. "There's not a square inch out there that's the same as before."
True, but not technically accurate, if you dig deep, not sorry for the pun. Weed essentially "flipped" the 33-year-old golf course. The dirt directly under the tired grass was like "chocolate cake," so Weed and his bulldozers dug down 5 feet around the entire course, and dumped it in a pile. Then they dug down 5 more feet to find the good earth. The old stuff was laid down, and the new dirt, rich in nutrients went on top. Not until then did they re-plant the fairways, greens and tee boxes.
As time-consuming as that was, it was just the start. The Lagoon Course was always short, geared for the seniors and ladies resort set, a minuscule 5,574 yards. Even for a course built in the old days, that was short.
"The 6,000-yard mark was very important to us," Mohler said. "We didn't want people to think it was an executive course."
So they lengthened it to a tad over the 6,000-yard mark. That is still tiny by modern standards, but to be fair, the course does play longer than the scorecard. For example, there are some long par 5s that help offset some short par 4s and par 3s. For the mostly older set that stalks the Lagoon's fairways, that's more than enough.
Then there was the awful drainage; an inch of rain could sometimes bring as many as three days of cart-path only, unwelcome and unwanted exercise for the more, shall we say, mature golfer. That was solved in two ways:
First, the new dirt was much more permeable, allowing for better drainage. Weed then re-started his bulldozers and went about pushing up mounds and other contours in strategic areas, so the water would drain not only vertically but horizontally.
Now, other courses that are forced to halt play after heavy rains often send their golfers to the Lagoon Course.
The new movement added a nice aesthetic touch as well, supplemented by large areas of coquina shell.
The members, the ultimate test of a renovation, have so far liked what they've seen.
"I can tell you one thing - the members are really pleased," said member Joe Schaad. "It's a tight course, but they added a little distance to it, and there's more room. Aesthetically, it's much improved. If you had played it before, you'd really notice."
In fact, more golfers are now foregoing the Ocean, which used to get by far the bulk of play, in favor of the Lagoon. That may be partly because of initial curiosity over the new track, but it's still a healthy sign for both courses. Because of this, the Ocean has been getting a break from its estimated 65,000 rounds or so a year.
The Lagoon will not be a ton of fun for young bucks, or old bucks for that matter, who like to bomb away with the driver, though there are some holes where the big stick is essential, like the longer par 5s.
But it is a course that will test your shot-making skills and short game. It is beautifully bunkered and water is almost literally everywhere, sometimes in places you might not expect it. It requires precision and thought. The new greens, with mini-Verde, are nicely contoured, some with dramatic slope, multiple tiers and false fronts.
The Lagoon is also an eye-pleaser. With all the palm trees, water and coquina, you might think you were in South Florida.
The course is open to members and guests staying at the resort.
Green fees are in the $160 range.
The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is an old-time, Jacksonville-area resort that has managed to hang on to its lofty prestige since its opening in 1928.
The Washington Post named it one of the 20 most romantic resorts in North America, and it's hard to argue when you stay in one of the resort's 250 guest rooms or suites with the ocean waves crashing right outside your private patio, not to mention the four-poster beds and ceiling fans.
It's a 300-acre oceanfront resort that uses the ocean as a dramatic backdrop and its two golf courses as a playground.
Aside from the two golf courses, there is tennis, four heated swimming pools, bicycling, boating, fishing and an oceanfront fitness center.
For the shoppers, there are 10 boutiques and shops. For the eaters and drinkers, there are four restaurants and three lounges, and 24-hour room service, my personal favorite.
For the women, there is a 30,000 square foot spa, offering such exotic treatments as the Lomi Lomi massage.
For the business types, the resort has more than17,000 square feet of meeting facilities, including a grand ballroom.
February 19, 2008
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.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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