There is no shortage of quality public golf on the Première Côte.
But two of the most popular courses are currently undergoing renovation projects (St. Johns Golf Club and Julington Creek Golf Club) and others are shouldering the extra load.
Despite the heat, the summer was relatively dry and the departures are crowded. And maybe, just maybe, you and your golf buddies want some new experiences.
They are there, outside the geographical footprint of the Première Côte but still less than an hour’s drive away. The five examples of quality and affordable public golf range from South Georgia to southern Flagler County, southwest to Putnam County and west to Columbia Country.
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You have the opportunity to play in spectacular landscapes, on historic tracks and to ride the same fairways and greens as the great champions.
More importantly, it’s an opportunity to have fun on courses accessible to high handicappers, juniors and beginners. and still provide a stern challenge from the back tees for accomplished golfers.
Front off the tee.
Country Club in Lake City
Location: 717 NW Fairway Drive, Lake City.
Owner: Spring and Joe Khan.
Architect: Willard Byrd.
Online tee times: Yes (thecountryclubatlakecity.com).
Phone: (386) 752-2266.
Travel time/miles (from downtown Jacksonville): 65 miles, 1 hour, 12 minutes.
Footage: 6,894, par 72
Price points (including carts): $43 Monday-Thursday, $33 after 4 p.m.; $49 Friday to Sunday (plus holidays), $36 after 3 p.m.).
Scouting Report: The best endorsements the course has ever gotten are the frequent times the late Bobby Bowden called it his favourite. The Lake City CC was also quite good at hosting Korn Ferry Tour events in the early years when it was called the Ben Hogan Tour.
The course features elevation changes not typically seen on North Florida courses, and the change from the par-5 16th tee is the most dramatic. There’s also a scenic stretch of holes wrapped around the largest lake on the property, the short par-4 fourth, the long par-3 fifth and the long par-4 sixth.
Like many public courses, it has undergone several changes of ownership since its construction as “Southern Oaks”. The current owners have renovated the clubhouse (the pro shop is next door on the bridge). For what it’s worth, one online review after another has praised the courtesy and hospitality of the clubhouse and food service staff.
Folkston Golf Club
Location: 186 Country Club Road, Folkston, Ga.
Owner: A private group that includes General Manager Sang Lee.
Open: The course opened as a nine-hole facility in 1954 and nine more were added in 2010.
Architect: Ed Matson
Online tee times: The course does not take tee times. Show up and play some golf.
Phone: (912) 496-3598.
Travel time/miles (from downtown Jacksonville): 44.2 miles, 58 minutes.
Footage: 6,106, par 72.
Price points (including carts): $30 Monday-Friday, $36 Saturday-Sunday (all day). Walking authorized from Monday to Friday, $21.
Scouting Report: Don’t let the modest pavilion fool you. The ownership group is apparently of the opinion of putting the money on the golf course and Folkston’s conditioning is as good if not better than almost any public course at its price within 100 miles of downtown of Jacksonville.
The clubhouse has a card table and a few chairs, TV, limited supply of balls, etc. drinks will have to wait until you get back to Florida.
The practice facility is small and don’t judge the greens on the course by the condition of the green. They will be better.
Once you get started, it’s all about golf. The course is fun for all ability levels, with the longer and more challenging back nine. There is plenty of room on most fairways and there is minimal forced hauling required from the tees and into the greens.
Grand Reserve Golf Club
Location: 400 Grand Reserve Drive, Bunnell.
Owner: Capstone Golf.
Architect: Mike Beebe.
Online tee times: Yes (capstonegolf.net).
Phone: (386) 313-2966.
Travel time/miles (from downtown Jacksonville): 66.2 miles, 1 hour, 1 minute.
Footage: 6,401, par 71.
Price (including carts): $48 until 2:30 p.m., $38 until 4 p.m., $27 after 4 p.m. until closing, seven days a week.
Scouting Report: Owner Mike Pullen described this slice of Flagler County paradise as a course where par-4s offer birdie chances with straight drives, par-5s can be had but par-3s “have real teeth. There are five, stretching 233 meters from the tips to No 6 and as short as 157 to No 10.
The middle and front tees won’t beat high handicap players, but those who want to get tested will find the stretch between #5 (a par-5 left dogleg) and #11 (a par-5 dogleg 455-yard straight par- 4) all they want from the back tees.
Numbers 8 and 9 are two memorable holes: the eighth is a short par 4 where the drive must be placed with precision to set up a wedge at a 90 degree angle left into the green; and the ninth is a scenic par-4 with a pond on the left and trees on the right side, wrapping around the back of the green.
The course’s driving range is an artificial pond – that’s right, with floating targets. Beebe said the course needed infill during construction and removed it from the range area.
The cozy bar-grill is a delight.
Palatka Golf Course
Location: 1715 Moseley Avenue, Palatka.
Owner: City of Palatka.
Architect: Donald Ross.
Online tee times: Yes (palatkagolfclub.com).
Phone: (386) 329-0141.
Travel time/miles (from downtown Jacksonville): 63.9 miles, 1 hour, 5 minutes.
Footage: 5,862, par 70.
Price points (including carts): $34 before noon, $29 after noon, seven days a week. Walkers receive a $5 discount.
Scouting Report: If you want a dose of history with your golf, this is the place. The course will celebrate its 100th anniversary in three years and is part of a batch of courses on North Florida that the Hall of Fame architect designed in the 1920s. Ross’s influence can be seen in the “turtle shell” greens that angle in all directions and can call every short shot imaginable if you miss the greens.
The course also meanders through majestic Florida oaks and pines, dripping with Spanish moss.
Most players with an average or higher handicap can leave their disc in the bag or even in the trunk of the car. Accuracy is the key from the start.
Speaking of history, the course has produced a slew of fine players, such as two-time Public Links USA Champion Billy Tuten and 18-time pro mini-tour winner Sean Pacetti. Grand champions John Daly and Tom Lehman are two of the notable players to have competed at Palatka in the past.
The course has also hosted the Azalea Amateur, one of the finest such events in the country, for the past 65 years. The winners call includes Masters champion Tommy Aaron, six-time PGA Tour winner Dan Sikes, two fellow Tour winners Bob Murphy and Ryuji Imada and Korn Ferry Tour winner Jeff Klauk.
Trident Lakes Golf Club
Location: 1010 USS Proteus Blvd. Naval Submarine Base, King’s Bay, Ga.
Owner: US Navy.
Architect: Arthur Hills.
Online tee times: Yes (https://myffr.navyaims.com/navyeast/wbwsc/navyeast.wsc/splash.html)
Phone: (912) 573-8475
Travel time/miles (from downtown Jacksonville): 41.1 miles, 45 minutes.
Footage: 6,575, par 72.
Price points (including carts): Civilians, $30 weekdays, $34 Saturday and Sunday (all day); Active duty and retired Marines, E5 and under, $22 weekdays, $24 weekends; E6 and up, $25 weekdays, $27 weekends.
Reconnaissance Report: Trident Lakes is unique among the area’s three golf courses on military bases in that civilians do not need an MWR card or play with an active duty or retired military member . The course is accessible through Jackson’s public gate and away from any sensitive areas such as the underpens.
The course is similar to the Hills designs at Palencia and Windsor Park with one key difference: there is no shared development space, and unlike NAS Jacksonville and Windy Harbor in Mayport, the golf course also does not share airspace with squadrons of helicopters, P-8s or jets. In other words, it’s quiet. There are no structures on the course other than the pro shop and it’s you, your playing partners and nature. Trident Lakes lives up to its name, with lakes, ponds and other water hazards coming into play on 14 of the 18 holes. But it is playable for high handicap golfers, women and juniors.
Contact Garry Smits at [email protected]