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Bars, bikinis, booze and golf on Florida's "Margarita Golf Trail"

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
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Florida beach bars: the perfect antidote to a bad round of golf. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

Highway A1A - the "Margarita Golf Trail" - takes you through a blaze of beaches and Florida golf courses, with plenty of great Florida beach bars along the way to wet your whistle and cool your driver.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The famous state road numbered A1A in Florida has been celebrated in song and story, but mostly it's been celebrated by the people driving it.

A1A is a National Scenic Byway, taking you down through the beaches of Florida's east coast, through towns you've heard of, like Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and many you might not have, like Yulee, Mims and Mosquito Lagoon.

The road mostly runs along barrier islands, separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. It's a party road, to be sure, where you can watch dolphins and migrating whales as you sit with a Corona in your hand and your feet in the sand.

Say, here's an idea: Why not cruise A1A, from north to south, and throw in a little golf? You like it? Okay, so here's your ultimate A1A golf/party/beach bar road trip itinerary.

Jacksonville

Make sure you start in extreme North Florida and take the St. Johns ferry into Mayport and then on to Jacksonville. It's one of my favorite ferry rides.

Jacksonville Golf: We're going to start you off slow and easy. The Jacksonville Beach Golf Club is a friendly, little muni at the beach. It has the usual cast of characters, and the golf isn't half bad.

Beach bar: Pete's Bar in Neptune Beach (117 1st St., tel. (904) 249-9158). I've been going to Pete's since I was way too young to get in. Skip the yuppie bars right down the street and go to Pete's. There are pool tables and they'll pour you an honest drink. Yuppies are infiltrating more and more, but they're easy to detect and take appropriate action against.

Ponte Vedra Beach

A little step up the social ladder now, you're headed for the tony home of the PGA Tour. Put the six-pack in the cooler away.

Ponte Vedra Beach Golf: You really need to play the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass since you're in the area. It's always mentioned as being one of the top courses in Florida, and you've been wanting to take a crack at the island hole, No. 17, for all these years.

Beach bars: Ponte Vedra is too snobbish for good bars, so head south to St. Augustine, where the people are much more fun.

There's Mango Mango's Beachside Bar and Grill in St. Augustine (700 A1A Beach Blvd., St. Augustine Beach, tel. (904) 461-1077), right on A1A, and Pomar's in Crescent Beach (6896 A1A South, tel. (904) 471-0075), just south of St. Augustine, with pool tables and good cheeseburgers.

St. Augustine

The downtown section of St. Augustine is a little cheesy, but the oldest city in the U.S. is still worth a tour.

St. Augustine Golf: You'll probably want to play the King & Bear course at World Golf Village, and then visit the village itself. The village is pretty boring, but you can say you did it. Hurry, though, you're close to the beach.

Bars: See above.

Palm Coast

Palm Coast is home to what I consider to be the best golf course on this stretch of Florida.

Palm Coast Golf: Jack Nicklaus, a man never afraid to move heaven and earth, mainly earth, got out the heavy machinery at the Ocean Course at Ginn Hammock Beach Resort.

Nicklaus used bulldozers to build elevation into the tees and greens at Ocean Hammock, lifting them above the dune line. Give credit to the owners for keeping only the dunes as the sole obstacle to picture-perfect ocean views, because Nicklaus' earth-moving magic lifted Ocean Hammock into the realm of the sublime.

Bars: Palm Coast is sort of creepy, so head to Flagler Beach, a classic, sleepy, little Florida beach town with surprising action at night, and get your Irish on.

Thursday night is ladies night at Finnegan's Beachside Pub (101 N. Oceanshore Blvd., tel. (386) 439-7755,). McHenry's Irish Sports Pub (2515 Moody Blvd., Flagler Beach (386) 439-1330) has good bartenders and a lot of games.

Daytona Beach

Make sure you avoid Daytona Beach during bike week and spring break. The city has been trying to re-do its image in the last few years, to make it more family-oriented, so it isn't as much fun as it used to be, but you might want to drive the famed strip, and see the international speedway.

Daytona Beach Golf: We're forced to take you inland for a bit, but it will be worth it. Not much of the play at Victoria Hills Golf Club is local, aside from those who live in Victoria Park, the upscale development that boasts the course as its preeminent attraction.

Orlando golfers often make the drive to DeLand, leaving one of the state's golf meccas to play this course, as well as golfers from Daytona Beach 20 minutes to the east and others from far-off places who have heard of the course's reputation.

It's a reputation well deserved. The course was designed by Ron Garl, probably Florida's most prolific architect, who jumped at the chance to transform this nearly-unique piece of inland property into a showcase course.

Beach bars: We're going to give you a mix of classic beach bars spiced with a little danger.

The Boot Hill Saloon (310 Main St., tel. (800) 831-0102) is a biker bar with tons of biker history and memorabilia. There will probably be a fight. Bring your 5-iron.

Baja Beach Club (640 North Grandview Ave., tel. (386) 248 3224) is a spring break hangout, but even middle-aged golfers have a good chance of seeing bikini-glad babes. Bring your 5-iron.

Further south is the Grill's Restaurant and Tiki Bar in Port Canaveral (505 Glen Cheek Rd., tel. (321) 868-2226) where you can watch the rockets take off at Cape Canaveral, a mile away. Grill's has palm trees growing through the thatched roof and live music.

Port St. Lucie

Now you're really getting into South Florida.

Port Saint Lucie Golf: The PGA of America recently unveiled its re-designed Pete Dye course at PGA Golf Club. Dye called it more of a historical restoration rather than a true renovation. It's still a South Florida version of a links course.

"It's one of my better golf courses," Dye said. "I've always thought that."

Beach bar: Not much shaking in Port St. Lucie, so we're going to take you south to Jupiter.

Guanabanas Restaurant and Bar (960 A1A, Jupiter, tel. (561) 747-8878) is the best place in town for a serious tropical atmosphere and great food. The Crab House (1065 N. Highway A1A, Jupiter, tel. (561) 744 1300) has an excellent view of the inlet and historic lighthouse. And right next door, the Square Grouper (www.squaregrouper.net) has a laid-back Jimmy Buffett vibe.

The 88 Keys Piano and Tiki Bar (9920 Alternate AIA, Palm Beach Gardens, tel. (561) 627-1305), on Alternate A1A in Palm Beach Gardens is for those of you who like dueling pianos.

Miami

The ultimate party town in Florida, especially if you speak Espanol. If so, hola, amigo, esta tiempo por una fiesta!

Miami Golf: Crandon Park Golf Course is the best muni in the state. You can play here in the summer, which is essentially seven months long, for $30 after 10 a.m. During the high season, it's $75 for Florida residents.

It's a pristine island environment, with seven saltwater lakes and views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline.

The course is dotted with palms and mangrove, and other exotic, tropical growth, and has an assortment of exotic wildlife, like iguanas scuttling around the grounds and climbing trees and - get this - crocodiles.

If you're not out of money yet, go play the Blue Monster at Doral.

Beach bars: Miami, of course, has a smorgasboard of beach bars, and we're presuming you're too real for the beauty-is-only-skin-deep South Beach scene.

Oh, you aren't. OK, well, how about Automatic Slims (1216 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, tel. (305) 695-0795), where there's never a cover charge? Or Nikki Beach Bar (1 Ocean Drive, Miami, tel. (305) 538-1231), a desperately trendy club with private cabanas, showers and hammocks. If you can get in the door, you'll see tans that George Hamilton would envy.

You're probably too cool for this, but you might want to consider the South Beach Nightclub shuttle.

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is the perfect way to wind down after your Miami excitement.

Golf in the Keys: Key West Golf Club is actually just outside the entrance to the island city, the southernmost city in the U.S.

It was designed by Rees Jones and Keith Evans, a short track only 6,500 yards including the "mangrove hole," a 143-yard par-3 that carries a mangrove swamp. Don't expect fast play.

"The fastest I ever saw people down there move is when a boat smuggling marijuana capsized and the bales came floating into shore, where we were having lunch." said Evans.

Beach bars: Take your pick. These are the Keys.

There's Alabama Jack's in Key Largo (1500 Card Sound Rd., tel. (305) 248-8741), out in the mangrove swamps where locals, shrimpers, boaters and other odd assortments of castaways have been tilting a few for more than 50 years. You can get locally made Key West lager and Sunset Ale to go with your conch fritters and steamed shrimp. Live music on weekends.

In Key West proper, practically all of Duval Street is a bar. My favorite is the Green Parrot (601 Whitehead Street, tel. (305) 295-3450; motto: "No snivelling"). It's a great dive with great music on the weekends.

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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.

 
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