The Jacksonville area – the marketers call it the "First Coast" – has a number of nationally and even internationally known golf hot spots, most of them along that sublime stretch of coastline from Amelia Island south to Palm Coast.
Great. But, traveling golfers should know that they can step inland a bit, sacrificing some of that cool ocean breeze for wide open spaces, and still find some exceptional golf courses.
Eagle Harbor, for example, sits at the core of the golf community of the same name in Orange Park, a little south of Jacksonville. The first thing you look for when you arrive is a blade of grass out of place. You can't find one. The conditioning here is as good as anywhere in North Florida.
I like the movement of Eagle Harbor, the way it flows from hole to hole, and the way architect Clyde Johnson took land that is essentially flat and gave it life. The tees and greens are elevated and many of the green complexes are mounded, some guarded by grass bunkers.
He also worked in some fun doglegs, with corners guarded by sand, trees and other things you want to avoid. He didn't have to do much with the water; there is plenty of that and you have to make yourself aware of it, lest you be in it. For example, on the recent day I played the course, my playing partner spent most of the round stalking the shallows like a Great Blue Heron, searching for his errant shots. Me? Oh well, I stayed dry all day; thanks for asking.
The close-cut, fast greens have those subtle contours that are such fun to putt on, and some of them have multiple levels, none of them overly dramatic, but enough to make your approach shots interesting.
The course is around 6,800 yards from the back and can be played from back there even by mid-handicappers. This place has the only island practice putting green I've seen.
Eagle Harbor is a semi-private facility, but non-members can play, obviously, and make tee times 10 days in advance. Also, their twilight rates start at a generous 1 p.m.
Check out the video below, but be easy on me – my main camcorder is in the shop and I'm using my pocket backup.