PALM COAST, Fla. -- There all styles of golf courses out there -- links, parkland, desert or tree-lined, just to name a few. But there’s one kind of course that always get my juices flowing, and that’s ocean courses.
So when I got the invitation to check out the newly renovated Ocean Course at Hammock Beach Resort, I took advantage of the opportunity. After all, there are really only a couple of dozen public or resort courses on the east coast that have substantial ocean views. And in this case, the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach was getting better views than ever before.
After Hurricane Matthew ripped through the area a couple of years ago, ripping away trees and flooding the course with saltwater from the ocean, owners and management decided to perform a makeover of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, employing Nicklaus Design for the job. Now that there were fewer trees, the six holes along the ocean had even more dramatic views. Additionally, the renovation included the installation of new Platinum Paspalum, a type of salt-water resistant turf that turns the entire course into an emerald green color.
On the Ocean Course, that vibrant green contrasted against the white sand of the new bunkers, and the deep blue hues of the Atlantic.
"It's all about making golf fun again," said Director of Golf Brad Hauer, adding that this version of the Ocean Course has new forward tees that make it even more enjoyable for beginners and players who don't hit it very far.
And while the course didn't quite open as planned because of Hurricane Irma in late summer of 2017, the setbacks were minor, and the grand opening was spectacular as Hammock Beach Resort and Salamander Hotels and Resorts invited clients from all over the country. Under sunny November skies, dignitaries like golf great Lee Elder and former tennis great and golf nut Ivan Lendl, hit some of the first tee shots on the new course. Nobody was disappointed. Least of all, Salamander's founder and CEO, Sheila Johnson.
"Today, the Ocean Course reclaims its position as one of the finest golf courses in the country," said Johnson, who thanked Lubert-Adler, the resort's owners, for committing to the renovation. (The resort is managed by Salamander Hotels & Resorts, and is part of the Salamander Golf Collection.) "The location is unique, the views are exquisite and the conditioning now matches the spectacular locale."
Indeed, there's next to nothing to criticize about the new course. While Jack Nicklaus-designed courses can at times be difficult for the average golfer, this is anything but. It's no pushover either, but if you play the right tees, you have a chance to get it around without losing a golf ball, even in the wind. The fairways are generous and you can certainly play the ball on the ground, although there are numerous non-ocean water hazards.
But first things first: the million-dollar views. There are six holes with great vistas of the Atlantic. That's always impressive. But if you combine that with the playability of this 7,200-yard par 72, you've got a gem. Add in the revamped practice facilities, with a large grass range, short-game area and putting greens, and you've got a great golf experience.
Of course, a premium experience like this doesn't come cheap. Green fees in season – fall, winter and early spring, are expected to be $195 or so. The best way to experience the course would be through a package though, and not only for price. Hammock beach Resort has exquisite dining, a terrific spa, a sports bar and plenty of other things to do, including walking along the tremendous beach just below the golf course.
Oh, and there's one other thing, too -- another golf course, and it isn't too shabby.
Play two at Hammock Beach Resort
Inside the clubhouse at The Conservatory
While it's hard to turn away from the glitz of the Ocean Course, about 15 minutes away from the main resort, you'll find another course that was also renovated with paspalum grass, and it's in perfect condition, too. It's called The Conservatory Course, and it's probably a better test of golf than the Ocean Course.
If you're a golfer, and you come to Hammock Beach, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not playing it.
Designed by Tom Watson (think Reunion in Orlando), the course has a great flow to it, with imaginative bunkering, plenty of beautiful water hazards, streams and ponds. Yes, it's an actual conservatory. So there are no homes right around the course – just you and nature.
The landing areas off the tee are certainly tighter than the Ocean Course and it's longer, a lot longer. In fact, it's almost 7,800 yards from the tips, which would be an insane distance for anyone to play other than professional golfers.
With that said, take it on from whatever yardage you're comfortable with, and it's fun.
Course restoration just part of the overall plan at Ocean Hammock
The restoration of the Ocean Course is just one of several improvements at the resort. It recently renovated its grand lobby, refurbished all 15,000 square feet of indoor meeting and event spaces, and re-opened its signature restaurant, The Atlantic Grille.
In mid-November, Hammock Beach will launch its boutique accommodation option: The Lodge at Hammock Beach, which offers an intimate accommodation option overlooking the Ocean Course. It features 20 guest rooms, direct beach access and provides guests with the unique "Lodge Experience," – a VIP service that includes amenities and daily breakfast.
And with spectacular ocean views, the Atlantic Grille, led by new executive chef Kevin Luque, is serving "shore to table" cuisine, highlighting local, freshly caught seafood.
Hammock Beach is located between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. The resort operates as both a private club and resort and does offer memberships. In addition to the golf, meeting spaces and restaurants, there's also a 10,000-square-foot ocean-inspired spa and fitness center, a multi-level pool complex with adult and children's areas, a marina and tennis center, and miles of coquina-laden coastline.