By John Schwarb
A friend once asked me where I’d play in Florida if I was allowed just one round.
Tough question. Dangerous question. Didn’t want to sell short the many top-shelf courses I’ve played around the state. But I answered.
Give me one final round in Florida and there’s a good chance I’ll be on the first tee of the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach.
Jack Nicklaus’ design opened in 2000 and features seven holes with views of the Atlantic Ocean, more than any course in Florida. That’s the calling card for the Palm Coast course and even if you haven’t played it, chances are you’ve seen photos of its holes hard by the water. (We use one prominently here.)
But what I equally appreciate is how the Golden Bear laid out the course. Each nine builds drama and ends on the ocean. The first hole is a fairly straightforward par 4 (though elevated greens and strategic bunkering keep all the holes from being pushovers), the second is a reachable par 5 and from there matters get a bit tougher.
When you drive up to the par-3 eighth hole, the ocean beckons from behind the green. The ninth hole, the toughest par 4 on the course, is directly on the shoreline. Par is a good score anytime and a great score if the ocean breezes are in your face.
The back nine has similar drama, starting out manageable and ending with the “Bear Claw” final four holes, all with ocean views. The finishing hole is a mirror image of the ninth, a par 4 playing south along the shore to the clubhouse. Again, par is a great score.
Nicklaus himself had his hands full with the Ocean Course; a display inside the clubhouse has his scorecard from a ceremonial opening round. He had just one birdie en route to a 76. So amateurs shouldn’t feel the least upset at shooting a few strokes worse. Or more than a few.
Just being there is an experience, and maybe Florida’s best – if you’re forcing me to choose one course.