Mark Stewart once had a crazy idea to build a golf course on his family’s old sand pit. Turns out it was a pretty good idea. Tobacco Road Golf Club has been wowing guests for over 20 years now and Stewart is still at the helm of the operation. When the project began in 1998, he took a chance on an up and coming golf architect named Mike Strantz. There was no way to know how impactful that decision would become. Today, Mike Strantz courses have a cult following and Tobacco Road is widely considered his masterpiece. Stewart has always liked taking risks and he’s still at working to make his dream course an even better place for people to have an unforgettable golf experience.
Stewart and I first met a few years ago when I was doing some reporting for the Golfer’s Journal on how Tobacco Road came to be. We’ve stayed in touch since the story came out and have become good friends. He keeps a close eye on trends in the golf industry and we often talk about how things are going at his course and here at my home track in Tallahassee. Now, as the COVID19 golf boom reaches the one year mark, I wanted to catch up with Stewart to see how things were going and what he is doing at Tobacco Road to seize on these generational golf business opportunities.
During our discussion, we talked about the impacts to golf travel, the surge in new players, and what strategies the Tobacco Road team has pursued to capture new business. We also dove into some of Stewart’s memories from the early days and working with Mike Strantz. I’m always impressed with how much he emphasizes the preservation of Strantz’s work there and we spoke on that as well. There is also a fun segment where we dive into Stewart’s favorite movie franchise – The Fast and the Furious. You will get a kick out of that.
It’s always a treat to talk to Mark Stewart and this episode was a blast to record. I’m headed up to Tobacco Road again soon and look forward to seeing that great place again with a new batch of friends. If you haven’t been yet…I highly recommend you go.
To learn more about Tobacco Road Golf Club, Mike Strantz, and all the great ways to experience the course please visit https://tobaccoroadgolf.com/
Thanks as always for listening to Mid-Am Crisis. The show is brought to you by my friends at Imagine Golf – the #1 app for the mental game. Download Imagine Golf today and start your journey to an improved way of thinking on and off the course. https://www.imaginegolf.com/
Golf is a way to be with friends for extended periods of time. In those hours spent together, bonds are formed and relationships are strengthened. This game is tailored to the desires we all have to be close to our fellow man. It gives us an opportunity to engage and better understand each other. In many cases, golf even becomes the reason for new friendships to blossom. Golf is a gateway to gaining meaningful companionship. The more we go into the game the closer we become with those by our side. Whether we play on weekday evenings after work, Saturday mornings in a regular group, or on yearly trips with those we share the game with, golf is the mechanism for binding us to those we share our lives with. Play more golf, make more friends, live a more full life. Golf is a recipe for happiness.
Each day I post a short golf story like this on my Instagram page @JayRevellWrites – now I’m bringing those musings to my website. Be sure to check in each day for my latest expressions on the game!
If you enjoy these daily stories, you might like my new book, The Nine Virtues of Golf. It’s currently the #1 new release golf book on Amazon.
To be a golfer is to be a wanderer and that is my identity. The game is, at its very essence, a walkabout through the fields, forests, towns, and dunes of the world. For that reason, a golfer’s soul yearns to journey. As a golfer, my thirst for adventure is unquenchable.
For those like me who are inflicted with such a love for the game, one foot will always be compelled to follow the other. Each round of golf creates a longing for the next. In my mind there lies an uncontrollable urge to stray and a sense that each new course needs to be further from home than the last.
The golfer is a traveler and an explorer. No destination will ever satisfy the desire to see another. I am a golfer and I am increasingly compelled to roam.
The passages of golf books become the places that yield sunburns on my skin. Reading about distant lands isn’t enough to cure my curiosity though. I have to see it with my own eyes and play the course with clubs in tow.
There is a brilliant sun shining on the fairways in my mind and if I can muster up a willingness to set forth I can find that warmth in living color. When presented with the opportunity to travel for golf, I exhaust every means to make it happen.
That being said, to reach an awareness of the available adventures in the sport is to suffer madness. This comes from the knowledge that I’ll never be able to experience them all.
Which brings me to the following passages.
No golf traveler is alike, yet there is a kinsmanship found among those of us who spend hours searching out the next stop on the journey. Opinions on courses, clubs, and destinations for golf will vary, making it important to remember that the objective of traveling is to form your own. Every course in the world has something to offer the golfer on the move, but how can one best discern what to seek out next?
For that question, I offer you these thoughts.
Where to go…
Go in search of great walks.
Not every golf course can be walked, but those most worthy of your time will be of the variety you explore on foot. The game was meant for walking and the best golf in the world will always be that which is tailored to such methods of play. When traveling, the walks should actually be the reason for the trip. Golf is just an excuse to go for the hike. Take these considerations to mind when evaluating where you’d like to walk next.
Seek out an understanding of architecture.
Architecture is the field in which art and science meet. The designing of golf courses is consistent with that truth. Golf course architects are both artist and engineer. No two sites for golf are the same and every architect has a different lens on the world, therefore each individual course is a separate and unique expression of those who built it. The seasoned golf traveler is keen to this and through earned knowledge of the subject one can find a greater appreciation for all aspects of the game. The study of a course’s design should be a leading factor in choosing where to play.
Account for the history of a place.
History provides the context for how a place came to be. Strive to be a traveler who wonders why things are a certain way and you’ll find history has the answers. When traveling to a new golf course, a review of its history should always be the appetizer before the main course of playing there. Golf has long been a game with a reverence for its roots and an appreciation of its past. Many clubs and courses offer visitors the chance to learn their story and others can be found through simple research. To not seek such details is to willingly avoid the full experience. Not every great course has a long history, but those that do often offer a more interesting destination.
Consider the available accommodations.
The place in which you lay your head should never be an afterthought. Some locations offer luxurious quarters while others are more spartan, but I would suggest proximity to places of interest as a more pressing need. Look for lodging that serves as a window into the community or perhaps a room located on-site that may yield additional time spent at the course. The hotel by the highway may suffice for bedding and such, but a better experience can be found at the course cabin, bed & breakfast, or charming hotel downtown. Where you stay will dictate where you eat, where you drink, and where you roam while visiting a place for golf. With that in mind, be sure to choose wisely and aim for places that increase the odds of serendipitous discoveries and a better understanding of the destination.
Making a decision on where to go is only the first step. There is also the matter of being in a place. How does one compose themselves when traveling for golf and what should you be looking for?
These are my recommendations.
How to be there…
Observe the presentation of the golf course.
Golf courses are works of art constructed on a medium of grass. With a live and growing canvass, the state of a golf course is always in flux. Knowing this the golf traveler should make sure to appreciate the state of the course. The superintendent whose role it is to oversee the presentation of the playing surface is often times the unsung hero of the golf world. The agronomists that maintain the turf are essential to every pleasant golf experience and the traveler should take note of the conditions that were carefully arranged for them. Be sure to thank the agronomy staff should your paths cross while playing.
Speak with those who work there.
To best understand a place, one must speak with those who tend to it. The staff members of any golf facility are the keepers of valuable information and important details. Some professionals will offer delightful details about a golf course unsolicited, but others may require the spark of conversation. Engaging with staff is a wonderful way to make a new acquaintance while also seeking out the best ways to enhance your visit. Present yourself and your questions with a genuine curiosity and often times you will be rewarded with local tips, unique stories, or perhaps even a tour. These are the interactions that often lead to repeat visits and intimate discoveries during your stay. Travelers need not be shy, the staff is there to answer your questions and ensure you have a great day at the course.
Cater to the customs of the regulars.
When visiting a club or course it is best to try and enjoy the facilities in the same manner as the regulars do. Whether you are an invited guest or simply paired with strangers, be sure to yield to the resident customs. There may be a particular game you will be asked to join or perhaps the norm is to play from a closer tee box than you are accustomed, either way – go with the flow. Those who play there the most likely know how to play it for max enjoyment and as a traveler that should be your aim as well. You never know, by following the regulars you might just find something worth changing in your own golf routine.
Look for where the locals go.
When traveling for golf, the time spent on the course is only part of the trip. There should be dining, shopping, sightseeing, and other exploratory activities on the itinerary. Some research before your travel is critical, but more importantly, ask the locals where they like to go. More times than not the best places in town will be those which the residents frequent. This also holds true for golf. Be sure to save some time in your travels for the course you didn’t expect to play. A local recommendation can make for a splendid emergency 9 holes or a quick round before heading home. Ask around for advice on all counts of your trip and allow for pleasant surprises.
The trip doesn’t end on the final green or even when you put the clubs back in your garage. Some trips never really end at all. The best travels are the kind which are permanently extended in our memories. The trips that change how we see things become chapters in our ever-evolving story.
Here are my recommendations on how to maximize the impacts of your travel.
What to remember…
Document your days spent away from home.
There has never been an easier time in history to chronicle your observations from traveling. Technology allows us to record the details of our trips via a wide variety of social media, applications, and other means. Of course, there is always the more traditional route of handwritten journal entries or even blogging. No matter your preferred method, be sure to take some time each day of your trip and make a few notes on what you have seen. There is great joy to be found in recounting your travels while reading the details of days gone past.
Take time to reflect on your experiences.
In many ways, golf is a meditation. Arranging your thoughts from a golf trip is a healthy way to find some peaceful appreciation for what you have seen. Beyond the time you spend on the golf course, it is important to set aside some moments for the quiet contemplation of your experience. It is in those minutes, spent reflecting on your trip, in which clarity can emerge in your thinking. Often times, I have found that my most meaningful takeaways from golf travel occur long after the initial experience has happened. Through a deliberate search of my thoughts, I find new ways of seeing the places that I visited months or years before.
Tell your friends about where you went.
Sharing the stories of your golf travels is an important part of being an explorer in our game. Please note, this is not an invitation to display braggadocious behavior. Your aim should be to provide valuable insights into the places you have been. Be a guide to those who may want to set forth on their own discovery someday. Do not instruct them, but instead offer some seeds from which they can grow their own ideas and opinions. Discussing a trip with those you shared it with or others who saw the same place on another occasion is one of the great joys of golf.
Contemplate how the trip has changed your perspective.
The best travels are the ones that change how you see the world. For golfers, that can occur in a wide variety of ways. Perhaps a course has shifted your thoughts on a particular architect or maybe a previously undiscovered golf culture made you swoon for a new city. The possibilities are as endless as your list of courses yet to be seen. The notes you write, the conversations you have, and the memories you make while traveling for golf all add up to shape your unique perspective on the game. When you think you have finally landed on a set of beliefs about golf then it’s time to hit the road again. The next course may just be the one that changes your mind forever. The only way to know is to go and once you’ve been, only you can determine what it all meant.
Traveling for golf is a means for replenishing my soul. The game has always had a hold on me and with each trip I take I find new inspiration for living life as a golfist. Some places speak to me more than others, but with each new stop along the way, I find small traces of the games deeper meaning. For me, traveling for golf is a transcendent pursuit.
So my charge to you, my fellow golf traveler, is this – go forth and seek out the courses that call your name. Find the time to venture for golf and be sure to savor each step. Seek out stories, architects, history, and new scenery. Search for the places that will shape you for the better and never stop discovering what the game can mean in your life. There are many people who share your passion for golf and the best way to find them is to start looking wherever you may roam. Golf is a grand adventure, but it’s up to us to take it.
I hope to see you out there on fairways near and far.
The hangover was a serious problem. I felt it as soon as the alarm went off and it hit me right between the eyes. Reaching for a glass of water by my bed, I climbed out of another hazed awakening in the rental condo that was ground zero for my golf vacation. Our annual guys trip always makes for a few tough mornings, but that day was the worst yet. We had a high noon tee time on the hardest course in America and my head felt like I had been kicked by a mule.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort has one hell of a reputation. It hosted and roasted the best players in the world during both the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. From the tips, it boasts the highest course and slope rating combination in all of America. Architect Pete Dye carved the course out of the South Carolina coast, creating a Molotov cocktail of sand, water, and wind. From its debut in the Ryder Cup matches to everyday resort guest play, the Ocean Course has been dismantling golfers for nearly three decades. Trust me when I say that trying to tackle such a place while battling the demons of the night before is ill-advised.
The steady decline of my alcohol tolerance had been brought on by my rapid acceleration into marriage, fatherhood, and life in my early thirties. I am reminded of this each time I travel with our gang. As I shuffled my way through a muddled morning routine it became increasingly evident that I may be trading birdie putts for blowing chunks on the Ocean Course. It was a terrible feeling.
The first time I played the Ocean Course was on my honeymoon. It was a glorious day with my new bride and I loved the golf course, but my game was not up for the test. I’ll never forget how much the wind blew my shots around while inflating my score that afternoon. I spent four years dreaming of a redemption round and as that tee time finally approached I was laid up on a couch watching the ceiling spin.
The heat index was creeping up on triple digits as we pulled up to the bag drop and the stiff wind made it feel like we were under a hairdryer. I was headed for sweaty mess territory, but I had to press on. If I bailed on our group of fifteen guys I’d never live down the shame. The only way through that black hole was straight on to the other side.
After consuming an anecdote of Gatorade, Aleve, and CBD oils, I managed to make it to the driving range for a warm-up session. That’s where I met Mike, my looper for the day. We made some small talk and he chuckled as guys were giving me hell for my obvious struggles. The ball was flying all over the place and the pounding headache made it hard to find any rhythm at all. The sun was straight above our heads and I was sinking low as we boarded the transport to the first tee.
Nausea did seem to displace the nerves at least. I remembered the first hole well and I asked Mike to hand me a hybrid to start the day. “I need to ease into this thing,” I told him. With a deep breath and a slow turn, I sent the ball on its way. Through my squinting stare I watched the shot sail out in front of our group and I found the first of many fairways that day. I grabbed another water and prayed that I could repeat that move a few more times. Luckily someone was listening.
The bogey-bogey start was less than impressive, but I felt like the ball was going where I wanted. On the third hole, I faced dire straits when my approach bounded over the buried boxcar green. I needed an up and down to get a par on the board but my wedge game was feeling less than great. “Let me see that putter Mike.” My caddie companion obliged and from twenty feet off the green I rolled the ball up to within a snuggly distance to the pin. It was just the spark I needed. Mike gave me a nudge of encouragement and we pressed on.
Somehow I was able to string together a series of par saves that included a wide variety of results. I putted from off the green a few more times to kick in range and even managed to clip the pin on an overcooked bunker shot. I knew that the scores were being authored by a shaky hand, but somehow they kept coming in at par. I was managing my game and my condition about as well as I could have hoped for. There was no way to know what would happen next.
The wind continued to intensify as we walked up to the ninth hole. It was blowing something fierce and through the clouds of my mental state, I recognized the prevailing winds from my first time on the course. As my playing partners sized up their challenges I stood on a hill facing the same shot I had four years prior. That’s when I heard a faint voice whisper “Ride the wind.” I’m not sure if it was Bagger Vance, Shivas Irons, James Earl Jones, or God, but something told me what to do and suddenly I was overcome with calmness. The peaceful feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever felt on a golf course.
I focused on the shot at hand and made a mighty swing of a six iron. The ball climbed high up against the gusting wind to form a towering draw. I could see the flight pattern illuminate before me and the ball nestled to within ten feet of the cup. I missed the putt, but when we climbed into the shuttle for the tenth tee I became convinced that I had just unlocked some new form of my highest potential.
If you have ever found this feeling before you will know what I mean, but if not you may think I’m nuts. My mind was entering into what felt like a trance. I had experienced this before, but it is rare and I never know how long it will last. On a day when my body was ready to give up on me, my mind found the extra gear I needed. Dare I say it, but I was in the zone.
The ensuing back nine was a bit of a blur. Facing 30 + mile per hour winds I was sliding into some sort of hypnotic state. There was chaos all around me as my playing partners were losing their balls and their patience, but I barely saw them. Mike was there with me for yardages, but in hindsight, I don’t remember a word he said along the way. While my friends were battling the course, I felt like I had found the cheat codes to a video game.
Then the putter got hot.
After a series of swings that set me up for scoring, I made birdie putts at 11 and 12 while nearly clipping a “turkey”- three in a row, at the 13th. The cup was starting to look like a basketball hoop and on each stroke I saw my immediate future. I could visualize my arms raised and a confident fist pump gesture following another holed putt. All I had to do was let it happen and I did.
In those moments my hands weren’t my hands. In my mind, I was Seve Ballesteros. There was new and radiant energy emitting from my body as I glided from shot to shot. The feeling was euphoric.
At the 14th hole, we turned our backs to the wind and began the home stretch march to the clubhouse. I could sense that the round still had much to give. There was more joy yet to come and it was predetermined to be my day. Despite a bogey, I rebounded by pouring in par putts at the 15th and 16th to keep the momentum alive. As I walked over the dune to the difficult 17th hole I found myself wandering in and out of consciousness. The everyday noise that stifles my thoughts had gone silent and at that moment I was one with the game.
From the tee box, I could see the ocean to my right. The waves were crashing up and down the beach and the timing of it all acted like a metronome in my mind. Perched on the horizon was the stately clubhouse with a series of flags waving at a frantic pace. This would be the site of another special moment. I unleashed the smoothest of swings and the ball carried dutifully towards the flag. It landed in the center green and careened off a slope towards the hole. I walked up to the green knowing I would make the putt.
In the pond between the dunes and the green, there was the largest alligator I’ve ever seen in my life. My confidence had reached such a level that I felt like I could ride him in the same fashion as the mechanical bull I vanquished the night before. Everything was in slow motion and once again the people playing with me disappeared. The putt slid slightly down the hill and found the center of the cup. I stuck my putter in the air and turned my attention to the finale.
Mike the caddie pointed to the left side of the clubhouse and said, “put her right there and let it ride.” I just nodded at him with a quiet affirmation. Like many swings that day, I made a pass at the ball that resulted in something magical. The cut spin on the shot was shaping the ball flight perfectly into the fairway and I looked back at my caddie as if the day would never end. Unfortunately, there was an end and as we walked up the 18th hole it was clearly in site.
We walked at a steady but slowing pace up the fairway of the final hole. The crowded clubhouse veranda was now populated by the late afternoon onlookers who watch golfers come off the course each day. Draped in summer attire with cocktails in hand they were the gallery who bore witness to the best round of my life. But like many stories, the ending was amiss.
When I arrived at my ball in the 18th fairway I looked up to take in the scene around me. For the first time in hours, I became cognizant of my friends. They were looking at me from forty yards away in the same manner that baseball teammates stay away from a pitcher with a perfect game on the line. Seeing them and the crowd of onlookers and the sea crashing nearby brought me back to where I was. I’ll never know why, but as I took a long gaze at my surroundings the cloud I was on seemed to lower back down to earth.
My approach the final green came up well short and I could feel myself returning to my body. I wasn’t watching from above anymore. I was on the ground and in my shoes again. Perhaps it was because I realized a birdie would yield an even-par round, but either way, the golf gods had determined that my time was up.
Instead of a perfect finish, I tapped in for a bogey. It didn’t matter though. I had just come through something that defied logic. It was supernatural. I had floated and glided and sailed gently around the hardest course in the country while battling a hangover and a two-club wind. Mike put on a big smile and congratulated me on a special round. My friends stood and stared at me like I had just performed some sort of miracle.
“Holy shit man.”
“That was really something.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
We exited the green and the round came to an end. The sun was beginning to lay down over the dunes and happy hour was in full swing. I strolled up the gentle slope to the clubhouse veranda and finally paused to appreciate what I had just done. My score was 74. It wasn’t the lowest of my life, but that round was by far the best I ever had. By this time, my hangover had subsided and our larger group was anxious to know how our foursome had fared. After all there was money and pride on the line. I walked into the Ryder Cup bar and a smile climbed across my face. It was the happiest I’d ever been in golf.
What began as a dreadful morning had morphed into a day that I’ll never forget. I don’t know what happened out there on the Ocean Course, yet I’m confident that it was metaphysical in nature. People will call me crazy for suggesting that the game of golf left me with an out of body experience, but it happened and it was incredible. My round of golf that day was only possible because I allowed myself to go into something that I didn’t fully understand. I’ve got a feeling that the hangover from those feelings won’t be so easily shaken.
There is no way to know if I’ll ever find that state of mind again. The golf gods are cruel and fickle. They tease us all with a poor sense of humor, but on occasion they breathe some powerful wind into our sails and carry us to newfound places. Such magic is real, but fleeting. Just when we think we have harnessed its power, it disappears like a kite lost on the breeze. On my day at the Ocean Course, golf became a portal to another plain of existence. Perhaps, if I’m lucky and mix my spirits just right the night before, I can ride that wind again someday.
Sometimes plans for an epic golf trip fall apart and leave you stranded with your clubs and no place to play. That happened to me and my friend Fritz recently when we attempted to meet up with some college friends in Dallas, Texas for a guys trip. Unfortunately, the folks at American Airlines couldn’t get our plane to fly so we found ourselves cemented in Jacksonville, Florida with time on our hands and an itch to play golf. Despite the disappointment in not making the trip, we found a few stops to get some swings in on short notice. It wasn’t the trip we had planned for, but I had lots of fun hanging with an old friend at some awesome golf facilities that I may have never discovered otherwise.
Jacksonville is best known to golfers as the home of the Players Championship and its host course the TPC Sawgrass. Beyond those famous fairways, there are many golf offerings spread across the sprawling city and its surrounding areas. With no shortage of courses in the communities of Jacksonville, I was sure that we could find some golf to make our busted trip a little more tolerable. That search began after sunset on the day our flight was delayed and it led us to a unique setting for some night golf.
The first outlet for golf that we came across was a lighted driving range on the campus of the University of North Florida. Signs on the golf building read “Home of the Ospreys” and there were banners denoting the past success of the UNF golf program. The facility is a popular spot for students and it also serves as home the university’s golf teams. There is a driving range along with a short game facility that is all lighted and it stays open until 10pm each night. Inside the golf building, there are buckets of beer available along with balls and other supplies. When my friend and I pulled up we found a golf-loving crowd pounding balls away into the darkness of a North Florida night.
At this point, we thought we would still be going to Dallas early the next morning. Our hopes that the seldom dependable American Airlines would get us to our destination were slim but other than the Bud Light bottles at the “Osprey nest” we didn’t have much to hang on to. It seemed like the perfect play to work on our game a bit under the lights before we had to rise for an early wake-up call and head back to the airport. After a bucket of balls and some shot shaping contests, we made our way over to the putting green for a little closing time competition.
The putting green needed a little work, but considering the circumstances of our situation, we were not in a place to complain. The cold beers went down quickly as we cracked jokes and rolled putts over the illuminated surface. Our trip had started out as a means for reconnecting with old friends and as we laughed aloud that night I suppose we found that still intact. The UNF golf facility isn’t exactly the luxurious private club we set out for that morning, but nevertheless, we had a fun night and made some new memories.
The next morning we woke up before sunrise to get to the airport for an early morning departure to Dallas. Before I could even rub the sleep out of my eyes I saw the notifications on my phone that spelled disaster for reaching our destination. The 6:30am flight was now looking more like noon and our tee times in Dallas were slipping away. Fritz and I made an executive decision to pull the plug on the travel and try and find some golf in Jacksonville before we had to crawl back home with our still packed bags. I made a couple of quick calls and fortunately remembered that the Jacksonville Beach Golf Club had recently been renovated. The pro shop was incredibly accommodating and was able to pair us up with some fine folks later that morning.
The Jacksonville Beach Golf Club has gained some notoriety in recent years as the unofficial home of the No Laying Up collective, one of golf’s most popular group of content creators. The guys from NLU all live in Jacksonville Beach and have adopted the city’s municipal course as their new home track. Through stories, tweets, and Instagram posts they have helped shine some light on the course and its recent renovations. Fritz and I rolled up to the golf course and were immediately struck by the friendly small town coastal vibe of the place.
All of the locals call it Jax Beach Golf Club for short and the facilities are a good fit for the setting. If Jimmy Buffet hung out a municipal golf course this would likely be the place. The driving range is one of the first things we noticed as we pulled in because the beach themed targets are hard to miss. Instead of flags or poles on the range, there are lifeguard towers, surfboards, and even a rather large fishing boat. I had a chuckle when I laid eyes on this setup, but it was easy to see that those who were warming up or just smacking balls were having a lot of fun aiming at these beach town targets.
Fritz and I got ourselves checked in just in time for our slot on the tee sheet and met our playing partners. We were paired with a father and son who were regulars at the course. They were quick to fill us in on some of the details of the recent renovations. The original Jax Beach Golf Club was designed by Sam Snead in the late 1950s and over the years the course had lost some of its luster. In the past few years, the city and a number of local golf boosters worked in tandem to create a plan for a significant renovation aimed at creating a more interesting and attractive course for local golfers.
Those plans came to fruition in 2018 and resulted in a $2 million renovation project that closed the course for 10 months. The renovation was led by local resident and golf architect Harrison Minchew. Minchew’s vision was carried out by the contracting team at MacCurrach Golf Construction who also regularly works at the TPC Sawgrass. As part of the renovations, all of the greens were rebuilt and many were moved to new locations as Minchew made adjustments to the routing. A number of holes were lengthened and the finishing holes of 16,17, and 18 have a completely new look.
The new greens feature Platinum Paspalum grasses and are undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of the reimagined course. One of the aims of the design team was to create firm and fast putting surfaces with surrounds that offer a variety of shot options. They succeeded mightily. The greens and short grass approaches are made particularly challenging by the swales and movement that has been incorporated into the ground. The course feels like a municipal facility for sure, but the greens give everyday players the opportunity to experience first class design features.
The Jax Beach Golf Club features some great strategic holes where players are asked to decide between playing on hazard lines for distance or laying back for proper positioning and an accessible approach to the green. I found that the new greens allow for the ground game to be played as I chose to hit a bump and run shot on many of the shorter par four holes. There is a fabulous group of par three holes that provide for exciting moments in the round. The par five holes require an aerial approach as the site’s many water hazards come into play for anyone daring to attempt the green in two swings. The appeal of the course culminates with an exciting new closing stretch leaving Jax Beach golfers of every level something to remember.
Fritz and I made our way around the course with our new friends at a blazing pace. We finished our round in just over three hours which was refreshing to find at a busy municipal course. We both played to our handicaps for the round and enjoyed seeing the new golf course. Jax Beach is an incredibly fun track, but make no mistake it has some teeth. Each of us fell victim to a few big numbers at the hands of the looming hazards and contoured greens, but there were also many highlights from the day. Fritz hit some stellar approaches through the round and after all of our troubles with a failed trip to Dallas, I was thrilled to see my eagle putt drop on the par five 18th hole.
A fist pump felt good as I watched that eagle putt fall and all we could do was laugh as we noticed it was nearly time for us to tee off in Dallas. As Fritz and I were walking off the course we both got notifications that the flight was finally canceled and we were comforted to know we chose wisely in playing golf versus waiting at the airport for more disappointment. We had set out on a golf trip 24 hours earlier and even though we completely missed a luxury golf experience we still found some great places to get our golf in before returning home to our wives and the sadness of not seeing our other college friends.
As we walked to the car I looked up to see Tron Carter and DJ Piehowski of No Laying Up taking aim at the big boat on the driving range. I walked over and struck up a chat about their home course. They asked me what I thought about the place and I told them that after the roller coaster of missing a trip their course looked like paradise. It’s good to know that places like Jacksonville Beach are investing in golf for the everyman and its even better to see that some of the golf’s leading millennial voices are all in to support it. If you get a chance to play there you should make a tee time and go.
Fritz and I trekked back across Jacksonville and I dropped he and his still packed bags off at his house. We said some quick goodbyes and I was on the road back to my house a few hours away. Our plane to Dallas never got off the ground, but we were still able to have a golf trip, it just wasn’t the one we intended. Jacksonville is a big town with lots of golf offerings and I’m glad I got to sample a few that I wouldn’t have made it out to in other circumstances. When life gives you golf, you take it, no matter how it comes your way. Fritz and I may never make it to Dallas for golf, but we’ll always know about a few good hangs in Jacksonville.