3 Floridian golf resorts that will take your breath away
EVERY once in a while you will stumble across a golf course or resort that will take your breath away. Hammock Beach on the Palm Coast is such a place. It is one of several quality resorts owned by Salamander, and we will also be taking a look at Innisbrook and Reunion, both also located in Florida.
What makes Hammock Beach so special? There are many reasons, but right at the top of the list is its location. It sits right next to the Atlantic Ocean, with only a series of embankments splitting its golf courses from the ocean. This is the epitome of breathtaking golf, the sort of venue where, quite frankly, it really doesn't matter if you have a stinker because the setting will more than make up for any mishaps you may suffer on the course.
Before we get to the two courses at Hammock Beach, let's tell you about the resort and all that it has to offer golfers and their families.
There are some options when it comes to the accommodation, but quality is the watchword with all of them - your choices are Main Tower Suites, Ocean Towers, a villa or the lodge.
Go for a Main Tower Suite and you will have a view of the ocean and a choice of one-bedroom condos with a King-size bed and adjoining living area with kitchenette or a three/four bedroom suite with private bedrooms, living and dining areas, fully equipped kitchens and washer/dryers.
If you stay at Ocean Towers you will find kitchens and dining rooms large enough to cater for a serious family gathering, as well as a flat screen TVs in every room, internet access and a fully equipped laundry room. Each villa unit offers spacious accommodations with separate bedrooms featuring either king, queen, or two twin sized beds. Televisions are standard in the living room and each bedroom, offering plenty of TV viewing options for the whole family. Enjoy all of the comforts of home with two full bathrooms, open living room, laundry room, a fully equipped kitchen and balcony overlooking the Ocean Course.
Lodge accommodation comes with private in-room dining, valet, and turndown service. Lodge accommodation features mini fridges and a walk-in shower, internet access, cordless dual-line phone with voicemail, an oversized desk, a safe with laptop storage, and a CD clock radio. It is perfect if you happen to be mixing business with pleasure.
Hammock Beach offers a choice of restaurants, a fitness centre, tennis courts and, of course, a spa where you can unwind after a hard day doing nothing.
If you are planning on taking the kids, the resort's water park will attract them like a magnet. It features a water flume and a giant water pavilion. There are a host of activities available all day, every day - or you could just head down to the beach, go people watching at the marina or even take a cruise.
What about the golf? There are two courses, and they could not be more different from one another. Let's take a look at each.
7,776 yards, par 72, links
Designed by Tom Watson, many regard the Conservatory, which is the longest golf course in Florida, to be his great masterpiece.
It features many waterfalls, streams and stone work, as well as more than 140 bunkers, many of them similar to those found on Scottish links courses, which is hardly surprising given Watson's tremendous success in The Open in Scotland. Who will ever forget his Duel in the Sun with Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977?
The first hole is a 444-yard par four, with the ocean on the left. You need to avoid the steep faced fairway bunkers which protect the right side of the fairway. The fourth is a 613-yard monster, with water on both sides of the fairway and a well-placed bunker on the left - at precisely the spot where you would ideally want to hit your drive. At 476 yards, the sixth is the longest par four on the front nine.There is a generous fairway, but bunkers lie in wait for a wayward tee shot. The front nine finishes with a 575-yard par five - and it is a cracker. It is a dogleg, with the ocean and bunkers a plenty on the left and more sand on the right.
The back nine opens with another par five, this one measuring a mere 636 yards. Pine trees and wetlands run down the entire right side of the hole, and there is a traditional Scottish sod face bunker located at the front centre of the green. The 17th, a par three measuring 200 yards, is played uphill to a green that is guarded by yet another of those fiendish Scottish-style bunkers. And then there is the 18th, another par five. It measures 603 yards and it is a fantastic finishing hole, with a panoramic view of the golf course from the elevated tee. Long hitters must be careful with the water on the left. The green is protected by a stone bulkhead.
By the way, the back nine is 3,939 yards long, and there is only one par four on the course that measures less than 400 yards - the 377-yard 15th, which has sand and water running down the entire length of the hole. Gulp!
7,113 yards, par 72, links
So Tom Watson has designed one of your two courses - who do you ask to design the other? Jack Nicklaus, of course.
The Ocean Course, which is shorter but no less of a test, winds it way alongside wetlands and features lakes. And you won't be surprised to learn that six holes are played directly alongside the Atlantic. The finishing stretch is known as The Bear Claw — four holes that sit right on the edge of the coastline. The Ocean Course has been officially ranked as one of top five in Florida.
So how does it measure up? Pretty darn well!
It kicks off with a 377-yard par four. There are bunkers on the right, and the ideal place to hit your drive is the right centre, so there is not much margin for error. The approach is to an elevated green protected by a bunker on one side and a run-off area leading to a grassy hollow on the other. The sixth is a 526-yard par five, and it is a thing of beauty. There is water and a waste bunker on the left and bunkers on the right, and the green is located on a peninsula. Not for the faint-hearted. The ninth is 437 yards and is especially easy on the eye, with the ocean to the right and an elevated green guarded by deep bunkers and grassy hollows.
And what about The Bear Claw? The 15th measures 432 yards and is another hole framed by the Atlantic Ocean. It plays uphill with bunkers to the right and two dune elevations in front of an elevated putting surface. Next comes a 399-yard par four that will both take your breath away and test your shotmaking. It is a dogleg, with a giant cutting into the fairway on the left side. How much do you cut off? Don't miss the crowned green on the right side. The 17th is a 177-yard par three which may look easy enough, but you have to hit your ball over water. The course finishes with a 466-yard par four. The perfect drive is to the left centre - the further right you go, the longer the second shot. The elevated green is protected by a huge dune to the left, a bunker on the left and grassy hollows around the entire right side.
There are four courses at Innisbrook, the most famous being Copperhead, which hosts the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship. Located in Tampa, this is one of the best resorts in the world and an utter paradise for golfers.
7,340 yards, par 71, parkland.
Copperhead runs through forest and around surrounding lakes and is a haven for wildlife. Expect to see bald eagles, blue herons, fox squirrels and even the odd alligator.
The golf course is a bit of a brute from championship tees but there are several forward tees on every hole, making Copperhead a sheer delight to play. The rolling terrain, changes in elevation and scenery are not typical Florida.
7,310 yards, par 72, parkland
The Island Course is no less a test than its more famous big brother and has hosted US Open qualifiers and been featured among the best 50 courses in the United States. The first six holes are are bordered by the Lake Innisbrook, and water hazards and well-guarded greens call for accuracy. Holes seven to 12 are lined cypress and pine trees and the final six holes will penalise anything but the best golf shots.
6,620 yards, par 71, parkland
The South Course has something of a links feel, although the bunkers are like nothing you will ever find at St Andrews. The rolling fairways are a key feature of the course. The ninth hole is a 210-yard par three played to an island green.
6,325 yards, par 70, parkland
The North Course is the shortest at Innisbrook, but water comes into play on 11 of the 18holes. The fairways are also pretty narrow and there are plenty of bunkers, so you have to be on your game to score well here. The North is similar in terrain to Copperhead and is home to red-tail hawks and ospreys.
Reunion features three great courses, designed by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer. It also has state-of-the-art practice facilities and the Annika Academy, where you can go to brush up on your game. The accommodation is superb and the views from the resort restaurant are almost as good as the food. At 9pm every evening, you can sit in the restaurant and watch the daily firework display at Disney World.
Nicklaus Tradition Course
7,244 yards, par 72, parkland.
The Jack Nicklaus designed Tradition Course offers a contrast to the other two courses at the resort. It features elevated tees and greens and is relatively flat. But don't be fooled into thinking it is easy because there are plenty of hidden hazards. As with many Nicklaus courses, strategy is the key. The Tradition is located away from the centre of the resort.
Watson Independence Course
7,154 yards, par 72, parkland
Watson's course makes the most of the natural hills and contours, and is one of the most popular layouts in the Orlando region. You need to drive the ball well, but your approach game will also be fully tested by some tough greens with slopes, deep bunkers and run-off areas.
Palmer Legacy Course
6,916 yards, par 72, parkland
The Legacy, which is framed by many of the resort's fabulous villas, is a fairly hilly course featuring several risk-and-reward holes. The fairways are generous, but there are plenty of bunkers and water also lies in wait. You won't find better greens anywhere.