In 2016, Hurricane Matthew reigned terror up and down the East Coast, from Florida north to the Carolinas. Although the storm never made landfall in Florida, it did leave its calling card along the coast.
During storms like this, nothing is spared. The Ocean Course at Hammock Beach in Palm Coast, FL was one of Matthew’s casualties. The storm surge breached the barrier between the beach and the golf course, pouring thousands of gallons of salt water into the course’s irrigation system and ultimately rendering the course a total loss. Management was faced with a major decision: do they patch up the course and get it playable ASAP or close the course for a significant period of time, and do some major renovations.
After considerable deliberations, a major renovation was planned, and, on October 6th, 2016, the course was closed, with a scheduled reopening set for October 2017, one year after Hurricane Matthew paid a visit. Salamander Hotels and Resorts, the owner of Hammock Beach Resort, contacted Nicklaus Design, the course’s original architect, and plans were set in motion. The renovation was to include re-grassing all fairways, greens and rough with salt water-tolerant Platinum Paspalum grass, reconstructing each tee box, bunker and green complex. Essentially, rebuilding the entire golf course. The renovation and Platinum Paspalum was put to the test several weeks ago when Hurricane Irma paid the area a visit. Remarkably, the course came through with flying colors.
Last week, on November 2nd, The Ocean Course was opened up to local and national media, government officials, as well as a number of members. You can still see some remnants of Matthew’s wrath on the property. The scrub brush that separated the beach and golf course was hit hard, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. According to Director of Golf Brad Hauer, about 10,000 golf balls were blown into the fairway by Matthew’s hurricane force winds, showing that the course is played by all caliber of golfers.
With a lot of the coast scrub brush gone, the course has been opened up and the ocean views are better than ever. Sure, the winds blow a little stronger and are more noticeable, but I think it’s a fair trade off. The Ocean Course is still the same beautiful and challenging course it was before Matthew. Other visual enhancements to the course include bright white Angle-G sand in all the bunkers. This new sand adds even more brilliance.
Water comes into play on at least twelve of the holes; more if you spray it. Several holes require forced caries, but nothing that can’t be handled if you’re playing from the right set of tees. The green complexes are marvelous and, since being redone with Platinum Paspalum grass, the greens are some of the best in the state, if not the country. There is quite a bit undulation in them, but not as radical as what I have seen on other Jack Nicklaus designs. To me, this is one of Nicklaus’ more player-friendly golf courses.
Most Memorable Hole: Number 6, 485 yards (White Tees). This dogleg left features two lakes down the left side separated by a waste bunker. Off the tee, hit the fairway or pay the price – in the way of a cluster of pot bunkers on the right side of the fairway. Unless you’re a long hitter, you’ll want to layup short of the water rather than go for the island green in two. The green has two tiers with the front sitting well below the back. Although this is a short par 5, par is a good score here.
Favorite Par 3: Number 8 or Number 17. Take your pick. These two holes are pretty similar. Number 8 plays 154 yards and Number 17 plays 138 yards; both play toward the Atlantic Ocean, so club selection is crucial. The waste bunker between the tee and green should not come into play; if it does, check with the PGA professionals in the pro shop for a lesson! Number eight’s green is elevated and guarded by three deep bunkers on the right and a nasty little pot bunker on the left. The wind typically blows in from the left, so consider an extra club and aim for the left side of the green. A ridge bisects the green and holding it off the tee can be a challenge. Pars are well earned here.
Number 17 plays 138 yards from the White Tees, back into the teeth of the winds blowing off the Atlantic Ocean. Your tee shot plays over water and a large waste bunker between the water and green. The putting surface is elevated and flanked by bunkers on either side. Ranked the easiest hole on the course, 17 offers a great chance for birdie.
Favorite Par 4: Number 9, 437 yards (White Tees). Even from up here, this is a long hole. Head to the back tees and the hole stretches to 468 yards, a whopping par 4! The hole parallels the Atlantic Coast line and usually plays into the wind. Avoid the fairway bunkers on either side off the tee and your half way there – as long as you hit it about 250 off the tee. Your approach shot will typically be a long iron, hybrid or fairway wood into a long and narrow elevated green that features two distinct tiers. Deep bunkers and grass hollows await any errant approach shots, making a difficult par that much tougher.
Favorite Par 5: Number 10, Par 5, 482 yards (White Tees). A favorite of mine because of the risk/reward, although the reward far outweighs the risk. The green is definitely reachable in two with a good drive down the left side; just avoid the fairway bunker. The two-tiered green is elevated and may require an extra club; it’s also well-guarded with four bunkers. Number 10 offers a great chance to get you back nine off on the right foot.
Last Word: As Sheila Johnson, Salamander’s Founder and CEO, so eloquently put it at the reopening ceremonies “Today, the Ocean Course reclaims its position as one of the finest golf courses in the country.” And rightfully so; it’s everything I remember and then some. The new Platinum Paspalum grass is a golfer’s delight from the tee box through the green. The course is always impeccably manicured, and the staff is passionate about what they do.
Before your round, be sure to visit the full length driving range where you can hit every club in the bag. Not a bad idea, since you’ll most likely use every one of them at some point during your round. There’s also a large practice green where you can get a feel for what awaits you on the new putting surfaces.
Tee times on the Ocean Course are not available on any of the online discount tee sheets. Basically, there are only ways you can play here: as the guest of a member or as part of one of Hammock Beach’s reasonably priced golf packages. For more information or to book your next golf holiday at Hammock Beach, visit their website at www.hammockbeach.com.