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|Queen's Harbour Yacht & Country Club's par-3 13th is a tricky little hole next to the Intracoastal Waterway. (Lisa Allen/TravelGolf)|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's a rare golf course that puts golf and yachts in such close proximity, but the 18th green at Queen's Harbour Yacht & Country Club abuts the marina.
While playing, one gets a close look at a life many of us don't experience.
"It goes through the neighborhood and the marina, so on some holes you have a million-dollar house and a yacht to look at," said Sean McGauley, the head pro at Queen's Harbour. "That's not so bad."
The golf also is of a quality one rarely experiences. Queen's Harbour has a great mix of superbly maintained golf holes, with long par 4s, short par 5s and a variety of par 3s. Atop that, there are six tee stations from which to choose, from the holy grail of 7,000-plus yards from the tips to the forward tees of 5,108 yards. Queen's Harbour gives shorter hitters many options, with a route from tee to green, all on the ground.
"One of the biggest things about this course is that you have to hit different shots," McGauley said.
Designed by Mark McCumber, a Jacksonville native, this golf course accentuates all that is coastal Florida, with lots of water, towering pines and Spanish moss-draped oaks. The golf course is carpeted in Bermuda, which provides accurate greens, lush fairways and punishing rough. When it comes to the greens, though, I think McCumber was influenced by the local carnival. Roller-coaster rides they are.
McCumber also must be right-handed because, with few exemptions, the risks arrive in the form of bunker complexes on the right side of the greens.
The golf course often presents false fronts or mounds at the throat to the green to imperil those who prefer a ground game to the green. The golf course also features rolling fairways to either help or hinder a drive. Catch it on the face, and you'll lose some distance. Conversely, you can gain some real estate on the far side of a swale.
You will be well cared for at Queen's Harbour Yacht & Country Club, from the towels in the cart, to the frequent rest stations throughout the golf course (each equipped with water and ice), to the frequent appearance of the beverage cart and the complimentary snacks at the 19th hole. A vehicle bridge you share is adorned in paving stones. The practice area also accommodates all aspects of the game, with its own water station and restroom. And it's appropriate that the chipping area is right next to the water.
McCumber sort of insists that you play the golf course his way. But to entice you, he'll give you bonuses, like on the par-4 fourth hole. The dogleg left punishes those who hit it too far and those who are sloppy with their drives. Hit it right where McCumber wants you to, and he gives you a launching slope to clear the midway marsh to get to an elevated green that rewards shots at the right place, on the right tier. It's ranked the hardest hole on the golf course, but only if you're stubborn or unsuccessful with your intended shots.
Right after that, you face the par-5 fifth hole and realize this golf course has been working you hard, with a rough par 4 and two par 5s in the first five holes.
Queen's Harbour lets up a little after that, but it isn't a cakewalk, with a ridge across the green on the par-3 seventh and the small opening to the green on No. 9.
The back nine doles out memorable holes over a steadier rhythm. The great par-5 12th hole has a green well guarded with a bulkhead left and front and bunkers right. The 13th hole, a par 3, is nestled against a marsh with a huge Intracoastal Waterway bridge as a backdrop. Wind will be a factor on this hole. But take note that short hitter have the opportunity to run the ball up all the way to the green. This is an accessible course for all golfers.
Each hole at Queen's Harbour Yacht & Country Club is a chess game, from the tree blocking out cutting the corner on No. 14 and the steep hill that punishes short drives (trust me, just hit it at a right angle back to the fairway. Forward progress will not be made).
McCumber likes his bunker complexes on the right side of greens, but he switches up the perils he puts on the left, from the encroaching water on No. 16 to the water on No. 18.
"The layout is phenomenal," said Bill Byrne, an 11-handicap golfer.
Playing off the gold tees, recommended for those with 6-10 handicaps, he said there are a lot of scoring opportunities.
"Some of the par 4s are long, some of the par 5s are reachable in two," he said.
Jay Howard, a member with a 10-handicap, enjoys the par 3s, which range from 131 to 197 yards.
"They aren't ridiculous," Howard said. "I love the views, and the staff is terrific."
Howard's favorite hole is No. 5, a par 5 that requires excellent planning and execution to put the ball where it needs to be on the green in regulation.
"It's a risk-reward hole," Howard said. "It's almost a birdie opportunity every time."
William Byrne, a senior golfer with a 20-handicap, enjoys the golf course because of its potential for all golfers.
"The layout is challenging, but it's not like a Pete Dye course that it's too hard," he said. " It's player friendly, but you need some skill."
September 15, 2010
Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.
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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