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|St. Johns Golf and Country Club was designed by Clyde Johnston. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - St. Johns Golf and Country Club is a sprawling, near-pristine golf course in a ritzy neighborhood in upscale St. Johns County with a clubhouse like a mini-Taj Mahal.
That should give you a fair idea of what you're getting into, but hey - no need to put on airs. What's surprising is that the green fees are so reasonable amidst such opulence: $39 to $79 in peak season for this upscale, semi-private golf course.
The club likes to advertise itself as family oriented and that's why they installed a "family tee" to the five sets of tee boxes. This golf course can stretch out from over 7,200 yards - you can only play from the very back tees with permission - down to 2,400 yards for the family. At that yardage, you might as well go play putt-putt, but who am I to quibble with family values?
In any case, St. Johns Golf and Country Club is a hoot from the blue tees at 6,801 yards, or from the middle, white tees at 6,384. Course officials like to describe St. Johns as a what-you-see is what-you-get layout, which is true for the most part, though there are several holes with unseen water hazards off the tee. It's good to play with someone who knows the course, if you're playing it for the first time.
"It's a fun course," said General Manager Dan Zimmer. "Any handicap can play any day. At the same time, we can stretch it back to 7,000 yards. A lot of the greens are open and you can roll it up. There are a few where you can't like, Nos. 4 and 13, but even on those you have bail-out areas."
True enough, you can go low on this course if you can keep it out of the rough. I'm talking about the first cut. Course officials like to keep it high for when they host tournaments and USGA qualifiers, and on the day I played it, the rough was a bear. Off the fairway and you can pretty much forget about looking at a birdie putt.
That being said, most of the fairways are mounded, as well as the greens, which accounts for the rather benign slope ratings of 132 from the tips and 128 from the blues. The fact that St. Johns Golf and Country Club is so well-groomed helps, too; good lies on well cared for grass almost always help your game.
Not that you can close your eyes and hack your way around. This being a Florida golf course, the course has water hazards on 12 of the 18 holes, but you won't face any daunting forced carries off the tee, other than a couple of par-3s over water. There are also a fair amount of fairway and greenside bunkers. Some are nasty, but following the theme, they are all immaculately trimmed, edged and raked.
One of the strengths of the St. Johns Golf and Country Club are the greens. They are large and have just the right amount of slope and undulation to keep you focused, while not being hair-raising. There are some two-tiered greens and some that slope off the back, as well as some challenging drop-offs. The savvy golfer will hit to the right section of the green to score well.
The only aesthetic blight on this course is the numerous homes lining most of the fairways.
The course, designed by Clyde Johnston, is just north of St. Augustine, laid out in a pine forest and surrounded by wetlands. It also has excellent practice facilities, with a 10,000 square foot putting green, double-sided driving range and an attentive staff.
The St. Joe Golf Academy is located on the grounds.
St. Augustine is a great place to play both the Ponte Vedra golf courses - just a short drive away down scenic A1A - as well as the St. Johns County courses at the World Golf Village. And if you're going to stay in America's oldest city, why not stay in a bed and breakfast in one of the city's old houses?
The St. Francis Inn (www.stfrancisinn.com) dates back to the 1700s, an attractive pairing of old world charm and modern. Built by Senor Gaspar Garcia, the house is made of native coquina shells with a private courtyard and pool. It's located in the shady historic district, with its narrow, brick streets 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, and they have bicycles for cruising around downtown.
January 7, 2009
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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