You came to play Sawgrass, we get it. But there’s a lot more great golf on Florida’s “First Coast.”
Twenty-five years ago, I packed my clubs and what I could fit in my Chevy Malibu and drove to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to begin a summer internship at PGA Tour Productions. I would’ve earned more flipping burgers, but this gig came with a perk more valuable than a 401(k) match: golf privileges at TPC Sawgrass.
I wasted much of my 20s at Pete Dye’s diabolical layout, home of The Players Championship. At $600, the Stadium Course may run you a couple of car payments, but this bucket-list course is so much more than just the island-green 17th. Don’t skip town without playing Dye’s Valley, a slightly more forgiving version of its big sister at a fraction of the price ($275).
Having moved from the First Coast, I returned about five years ago, just in time to bear witness to a golf renaissance in the greater Jacksonville area.
Minutes from TPC Sawgrass, the former Oak Bridge (among other names)—a tired 18-hole facility going to seed—has been reimagined as The Yards, a 12-hole layout with some outrageously fun greens ($65). It includes a par-three nicknamed “The Black Hole,” with a bunker filled with crushed black lava in the middle of the putting surface, an homage to Riviera’s 6th. There’s also a 6-hole short course ($25) that can be played as a 3-hole “beer loop” ($15) and is home to a weekly Friday twilight Skins Game that’s a hoot.
Local designer Bobby Weed has played an integral role in the revival. He lives off the 4th hole of Ponte Vedra Inn & Club’s Ocean Course ($225), which hugs more than a mile of Atlantic Ocean coastline. His renovation, completed in 2020, has made the course more strategic and less penal.
He’d also previously co-designed The Slammer & The Squire ($59–$229) with Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen in St. Augustine, a resort course down I-95 in the shadow of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Stop in to pay respects to the greats and save room for a bite at Murray Bros. Caddyshack. A few miles away is The King & The Bear ($69–$249), the only course that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus co-designed.
Weed is also the brains behind Stillwater Golf Club, 30 miles south of downtown Jacksonville in St. Johns. Northeast Florida’s first new course in almost two decades, it opens this May and can be played in loops of 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18 holes. Jacksonville Beach Golf Club, about 15 minutes north on A1A from Ponte Vedra, is the best of the municipal courses close to the city after a renovation by former Palmer Design architect Harrison Minchew in 2018. It gives great bang for your buck ($58 with cart, max), and Taco Lu, a favorite of the touring pros who live in the area, is around the corner.
Dating back to 1925, Hyde Park Golf Club, on the western side of Jacksonville, is the oldest continuously operating public golf course on the First Coast. Even this budget-friendly (max $42) family-owned course has invested, with a new irrigation system and additional polish work. A debate rages whether Donald Ross or Stanley Thompson laid out this old-school test, but there’s no disputing that Ben Hogan made an 11 at the par-three 6th hole in the 1947 Jacksonville Open. And you thought the island green at Sawgrass was the local par three to lose sleep over.