Once called Ocean Hammock, the Ginn now seems to have been distilled and dropped in another re-branding exercise by Hammock Beach Resort, but this is the one and only beachfront property that lies on the Atlantic coast a few miles to the south of historic St Augustine.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean was the first course to be laid out at Hammock Beach and it seems appropriate that Jack’s “duel in the sun” opponent should design the second course at the oceanfront resort.
The Conservatory course is certainly not elementary and Tom Watson’s Hammock Beach 7,746-yard inland monster may well have played host to the inaugural 2007 Ginn Tournament – one of the richest events on the Champions Tour – had the property owners not acquired the Ocean course a few months earlier. Nevertheless, the Conservatory course, a Watson signature design, is rather special in its own right.
Named after the British-styled glass domed clubhouse, the Conservatory course was built with a big budget where the landscaping alone topped $4m. The result is dramatic elevation changes, tree planting on a forestry commission scale and more than 70 acres of manmade lakes.
It seems strange that the architect, who, let’s face it, knows a think or two about links golf, should remark that his Conservatory design is: “My vision of a links-land golf experience, providing an impression similar to many courses I have enjoyed in the British Isles.” How many links courses do you know that feature manmade lakes and a signature, 170-yard par three that plunges down to an island green flanked by palm trees?
Turnberry is perhaps the most scenic Open Championship venue and a course that Tom Watson knows rather well. His interpretation or impression here on Florida’s Palm Coast is an Atlantic Ocean apart from a real links experience but dreams are much bigger at Hammock Beach.
Hammock Beach Conservatory is a monster. Lots of earth was moved to create the elevation changes and the lakes on this course. The first hole is a welcoming par four that leans right. Favor left of center to avoid the fairway bunkers on the inside elbow. The green is about 50 yards deep with five bunkers. The second appears much tighter than it is, due to the multiple fairway bunkers and water left. Take an extra club to this elevated green with a false front. The first par three is over 200 yards with water and deep bunkers left. Block it right and you will have mogul, downhill or side hill pitch. The first par five is also the longest with water down the entire right side. Power and finesse are keys here due to the strategic bunkering. Left is better, but there is a middle fairway bunker about 120 yards out. The fifth is a straight away par four with a large waste bunker left and water. The fairway is squeezed on the right by two fairway bunkers. Another green about 50 yards long and a bunker so ginormous left that in an effort to avoid it some people leave it out right into the other bunker, yeah, I was that guy. The 6th is the longest par four on the front with bunkers on each side where they should be. It also plays uphill with two greenside bunkers left and one right. The 7th is the number two handicap hole, which surprises me. The fairway tightens up in the landing area with large trees on each side. There are three fairway bunkers right that should not come into play and you can drive thru the fairway and into the water hazard right. The 8th is the signature hole, the shortest par three to an island green. The front ends with a reachable par five for big hitters. The hole bends left around a water hazard. The right is guarded by over half a dozen dispersed bunkers.
The back starts with the number one handicap hole that does not make a lot of sense to me. It is long over 600 yards, straight with woods right, an assortment of scattered fairway bunkers, a large waste bunker that cuts across the fairway about 90 yards out and 5 greenside bunkers. The long narrow 11th is a much tougher hole in my opinion. The 12th is the longest par three at 243 yards and slightly uphill. I swallowed my pride and hit driver and barely got there. The 13th is a long left leaning par four. It has waste bunkers running down both sides, this creates the illusion that it is tighter than it is. Take an extra club on the approach. Left is death and right is not much better. The 14th is the longest par four on the course and is over 500 yards. It doglegs right around a water hazard. Left of the right fairway bunkers will still leave you with a long approach, tough hole. The 15th is the shortest par four and will seem pedestrian after its predecessor. Big hitters may be able to drive it, but there is water right as well as a waste bunker. The water hazard sneaks in and is not noticeable from the tee, or at least that is my excuse for splashing my drive. Consider laying up as the fairway narrows the closer you get to the green. The 16th has water down the left side and a dastardly place middle fairway bunker that reached out and grabbed me. The 17th is a long uphill par three. Take an extra club. The 18th is a good finishing hole. A par five off an elevated tee box, it bends left around a water hazard. Big hitters maybe able to get there in two but it is just about all carry. For the rest of us lay up at the elbow to set up a flip wedge.
This is a good course and I really liked the back nine. I prefer this one to the Ocean, but the ocean certainly adds a little sizzle.
I agree with Cedric's comments. The Conservatory is a solid yet unspectacular course. Good conditions and its various tee boxes lends the course to wide variety of skills levels. No "wow" moments but nothing too bad to say about.