Jack Nicklaus may have hailed from landlocked Columbus, Ohio, but his career has been tied to the ocean from the very earliest days. While practicing for the 1961 U.S. Amateur Championship he would go on to win, where Nicklaus first lost his heart to coastal California and the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Later, he would win the ’72 U.S. Open and three Crosby National Pro-Ams at Pebble.
In his second career as a golf course architect, Nicklaus has continually returned to the sea. Nicklaus returned to Pebble Beach in 1998 to design the course’s new 5th hole, an oceanfront par 3 to replace the inland one.
Nicklaus designed the spectacular Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol and 27 equally stunning holes at Palmilla Resort, both on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. He has fashioned a number of ocean courses in Hawaii. And, for almost four decades, Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, have lived in North Palm Beach, Florida—a smooth 6-iron from the Atlantic.
Another Nicklaus connection to the sea is the Ocean Course, the centerpiece of northeast Florida’s Hammock Beach Resort. It features six holes overlooking the Atlantic and is Florida’s first true oceanfront course in more than 70 years.
Ocean Hammock features plenty of classic Nicklaus design features: visually stimulating yet daunting par 4s to close each nine; a mix of reachable yet demanding par 5s; and a variety of holes that dogleg left and right, flow uphill and downhill, and play to greens both large and small. In many ways, Ocean Hammock is a perfect resort layout—dramatic yet player-friendly, visually explicit yet possessing plenty of options for low-handicappers. And in general, the greens are far more soothing and playable than the notoriously difficult putting surfaces drawn by Nicklaus in the mid ’80s.
The golf course begins in relatively sedate fashion. The first hole is a 380-yard par 4 that doglegs right into an elevated green surrounded by a bunker on the left and a grass hollow on the right. Then, with a favoring wind, golfers may attempt to reach the 540-yard 2nd in two.
After a handshake and a pat on the back, Ocean Hammock then sends you on your way with a boot to the seat of your pants. Manmade lakes and plenty of twists and turns come into play on the par-3 4th, the par-4 5th, the par-5 6th and the treacherously long par-4 7th—all exciting inland holes on which you could use every club in your bag.
The Atlantic makes its introduction on the 185-yard 8th, which often plays into a northeasterly wind. The 468-yard 9th may be the course’s best, most eye-catching and certainly the toughest hole. The back nine is similar to the front side in its variety and dramatic build-up. The interior holes are strategically challenging, particularly the 433-yard 13th.
The final four holes have been dubbed “the Bear’s Claw” for good reason: They can maul a scorecard. No. 15 is a 450-yard par 4 that plays uphill and toward the ocean. The approach shot must be struck through two dune formations to an elevated green, and any missed approach shots face a steep pitch back up to the putting surface. Holes 17 and 18, are a longish par 3 and par 4 that can make or break a round.
Ocean Hammock is the second Nicklaus course at Hammock Beach, an appealingly uncongested resort set on 700 acres of ancient oaks and palms, midway between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach.