Golfing in a Winter Wonderland
Golf is one of America’s favorite past times, and especially so in Florida. The state boasts more than 1,200 courses and is a popular winter destination for golf lovers in the North.
Now, I know looks can be deceiving, but my knowledge of golf is actually very limited—meaning, everything I know about golf comes from Happy Gilmore and putt putt. My greatest accomplishment in golf was obtaining the Fore! Achievement in Left 4 Dead, and I probably spend more time at a country club bar (or just a regular bar) than out on the green.
I’m not an expert by any means, but luckily, I work in an office full of them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking with St. Augustine golfers, it’s this: there is no single type of golfer and no single type of course. Golfers can be very old or very young, men or women, rich or living on a tight budget. Along with there not being one single type of golfer, there’s not one single type of course. This is especially true in St. Augustine, where courses provide something totally different from what’s available anywhere else in the country, and every visitor will find a new challenge waiting for them. St. Augustine also has more than courses. It’s a destination for all things golf – golf vacations, golf history, and glimpses into the PGA.
Florida has Perfect Weather for Golf
One of the biggest draws for a Florida golf vacation is the weather in the Sunshine state. During the winter months while the north is being pummeled with polar vortexes and houses are being buried in snow, the grass is always greener on the other side (in the South). In fact, winter is usually a wet season, but in Florida, it’s one of the driest times of the year. Precipitation averages are 2.4 mm in December and 2.7 mm in January. Along with it being seasonably dry, it’s also much cooler by Florida standards—a.k.a. perfect weather by everyone else’s standards. During the months of December and January, daytime highs average 65 to 70°F (18 to 21°C), making it comfortably temperate for someone to spend the whole day outside swinging a golf club around.
Scenery on St. Augustine’s Greens
Along with having delightfully pleasant weather in the winter months, Florida’s golf courses are characterized by beautiful landscape and wildlife. Florida is not particularly mountainous or hilly, giving the land an ideal amount of leveling to keep a round of golf both challenging and fun. Greens have marshlands and ponds where it’s not uncommon to see some of the same wildlife you’d find in a nature reserve or on a trail. Golfers in Florida spot cranes, turtles, deer, armadillos, and even alligators while golfing (I do not recommend chasing your ball if it goes into water). Vegetation and plants consists of palm trees and sea oats that border sand traps and greens, as well as towering pines and hearty Southern Oak trees. Arguably, golfing on Florida's greens gives visitors a greater glimpse of the land and wildlife than anywhere else. For those used to gray skies and dead foliage in the winter, it's enough to put a smile on anyone's face.
The St. Augustine region is home to some phenomenal courses, from the elite to the on-budget vacationer. Here are a few public courses worth checking out.
World Golf Village
The World Golf Village is situated just north of St. Augustine. It boasts two championship courses: the King & Bear and Slammer & Squire. Along with having two professionally designed greens, World Golf Village has a ton of on-site amenities, and golf resort packages. Both courses have made the list of the most women-friendly courses in the country, along with being top golf resort courses.
King & Bear
King & Bear is a collaboration project between the techniques of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Both are renowned golfers who each call Florida “home.” Every hole on King & Bear is characteristic of the players, and the course is essentially a “driver’s” course. The course green fees are $169 during the winter months, with twilight rates at $99 four hours before sunset.
Slammer & Squire
Slammer & Squire is another top rated course at World Golf Village, opened in 1998 and designed by Bobby Weed with the help of consultants Sam "The Slammer" Snead and Gene "The Squire" Sarazen. This course plays host to the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, a Senior PGA TOUR EVENT. Rates are $129 during the winter months, with twilight rates at $79 four hours before sunset.
The Players Championship is one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, and many don’t realize this, but it’s played right in Ponte Vedra, just a few miles north of St. Augustine. It boasts tons of courses both public and private. Getting a tee time is competitive and expensive, but well worth the investment for golfers looking for the kind of unique and elite golf experience that only professionals can get.
The Players Stadium Course
These are the same greens that championship golfers have graced with their presence. It’s been honored with multiple accolades including 9th overall among America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” in 2011–12. Reservations for this course are highly competitive. Golf only reservations are available 14 days in advance, and Stay & Play packages are available 1 year in advance. Green fees are around $300, but hey, do you expect any less to be playing on the same TPC course that professionals like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have golfed on? #worthit
TPC Sawgrass, Dye’s Valley Course
Dye’s Valley Course is the other public course located at Sawgrass. It has water on every hole and a well-manicured green. It is the sister course to the Players Stadium Course, providing all the trimmings without the price tag and the crowds. Green fees are around $160 in the morning hours, but drop to around $80 later in the day.
St Johns Golf Club
This public course is a favorite among local golfers. St. Johns Golf Club's specials in December include holiday packages that include sweet sports gear with your games of golf.
St. Johns Golf and Country Club
Not to be confused with St. Johns Golf Club, the St. Johns Golf and Country Club has 5 tees plus a family tee, and is situated into Florida's pine forests.
The Royal St. Augustine
An 18-hole public course with three tees to accommodate golfers of every skill level. Practice facilities are available on site to help players improve their golf game.
Golf Club at South Hampton
The course at South Hampton shows a view of all 18 holes online so you know what you’re getting. The most challenging hole is a par 5 stretching 571 yards.
St. Augustine Shores
Multiple tees at this 18-hole course allow for beginners still learning the ins-and-outs, and professionals looking to maneuver water hazards and long drives.
Tee Times and Green Fees
The sun may shine bright and clear during the day, but since it is winter, the amount of daylight is much shorter than in the summer months. As such, it is important to book a tee time in advance for your golf vacation. Take advantage of the winter solstice by getting a discount on your round of golf for the twilight tee times 4 hours before sunset.
Locations like World Golf Village have special packages catered to guests who plan on golfing during their vacation. It usually includes the green fees for a discount in the price of the hotel.
Green fees at courses around town can range from $18 to $300 depending on the club and tee time.
Packing all your clubs may be cumbersome and pricey on airlines. To avoid paying a hefty fee checking your luggage, take advantage of club rentals in St. Augustine. Many golf destinations like World Golf Village offer club and golf cart rentals to visitors.
If you need some practice swings to gear up for a game, there are also practice facilities at the clubs around St. Augustine. St. Johns Golf Club has a driving range longer than 325 yards, and a small bag of 35 balls is only $4.50. World Golf Village's practice facility at King & Bear and Slammer & Squire is complimentary with a round of golf. Their practice area has a driving range, putting green, and chipping green.
If you’ve left something behind or maybe just want to check out the inventory in Florida, golfers will find a pro shop to browse through at almost all the courses, even municipal ones. You can browse through an inventory of golf balls, gear, and souvenir golf shirts to remember your round of golf on Florida’s courses. If you need a new grip on your club or your driver re-shafted, club repair is available at several clubs, including St. Johns Golf Club.
Many clubs, like South Hampton, have an online shop as well. Folks still looking for a gift will find a suitable one on South Hampton's website with gift cards for a round of golf available for the golfers in your family.
Food Fares on the Fairway
Remember that 19th hole bar I mentioned earlier? The one that I sit at while everyone else golfs? There are actually some pretty nice ones and they serve some impressive meals along with having a full bar menu. You’ll find mint juleps and bloody marys and whatever other Southern cocktail you’re intent on trying in order to really pull off that full Southern prep experience. Legends Grille at Slammer & Squire has happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. with $2 draft beers, $4 house wines, and $4 well drinks. The Murray Bros. Caddyshack Restaurant is co-owned between the six Murray brothers, including award-winning actor Bill Murray. It features a fun golf caddy theme and proudly displays the family's love of good golf and appetizing food.
If you're hungry, dining at these Florida-style golf club restaurants can be a relaxing and satisfying way to end the day. Champions Grille at WGV has a full menu for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with dinner served from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Sunday nights. There is also a cafe if golfers are looking to grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich before their round.
Your loved ones don’t have to sit in the clubhouse on a couch while you’re riding around on the golf cart for amusement. While the golf-lovers are hitting the links, family and friends can enjoy nearby attractions in St. Augustine. The World Golf Hall of Fame is home to an IMAX theatre—the largest in North Florida at 70 feet wide and 5 stories high. The theatre plays documentaries and feature films, in 2D and 3D. Tickets are usually the same price as for a late night show anywhere else, making the experience worth the investment.
The World Golf Village is also home to the World Golf Hall of Fame—a museum dedicated to golf. Learn about the greatest players in the game of golf, and see memorabilia from golf history. The museum showcases beloved golfers like Arnold Palmer, Mickey Wright, and Francis Ouimet. Plus, admission to the hall of fame includes a round of golf.
If you want to share golf with the rest of the family, another great activity is to play a round at one of St. Augustine's many mini golf courses. During the winter, courses like La Fiesta decorate to give the experience a "winter wonderland" feel. The putt putt course at Adventure Landing is just off the next exit south of World Golf Village.
Places to Stay for a Golf Vacation
World Golf Village Renaissance is an obvious first choice for many when it comes to available accommodations for a golf vacation. The hotel is within distance of all the World Golf Village amenities.
Another option that many don’t think to consider is a vacation rentals within golf club communities. Realtors in the area can help visitors find a vacation rental in places like St. Johns Golf Club.
Wherever visitors may stay on vacation, there will always be golf courses nearby, and attractions and activities for families to enjoy while visiting St. Augustine.
Paul, an avid golfer in our office, shares some info about a few places to golf around town and what makes them unique!
- St. Johns Golf Club : the county course where the locals go.
- Royal St. Augustine: Great if you're looking for a challenge.
- Ponte Vedra Inn & Club: a great course off the beaten path.
- South Hampton: Affordable and relaxing game of golf.
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