Once called Ocean Hammock Golf Club, 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.
Oceanfront holes are in relative short supply in Florida – despite the Sunshine State boasting more than 1,000 miles of coastline – but they “Dream Bigger” in this neck of the woods and the Jack Nicklaus-designed signature Hammock Beach Ocean course has been rated very highly since it opened its five tees for play in 2000.
Great golf courses “that you can play” are invariably successful in a country where the very best courses are exclusively reserved for the club membership and their lucky guests. Hammock Beach is one of the standard bearers in the “courses you can play” category (but you must be a guest at the resort to play the course) and the 7,201-yard Ocean course has increased its popularity since Bernhard Langer – with Stefan, his son, on the bag – won the Ginn Championship here on Jack’s Ocean course in 2008. Keith Fergus won the inaugural 2007 event before the sponsors pulled the plug on the fledgling tournament.
With six holes that play close to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the Ocean course at Hammock Beach has developed a likeable reputation. Known as “Bear Claw”, the closing four holes herald the start of a tough Ocean course climax, especially in a freshening breeze.
Jack Nicklaus reckons: “As it relates to the East Coast in the United States, you are not going to get any better than you have right here.”
There is a second contrasting course at Hammock Beach designed by Tom Watson and unusually named Conservatory. We reckon Hammock Beach may even exceed the sweetest dreams.
Another full disclosure moment for me: I am simply not a fan of Jack Nicklaus-designed courses. While I found Hammock Beach's Ocean course to be a solid resort course, I came away thinking that other architects would have resulted in a significantly better course. Just my $0.02...
Creating a fun and challenging resort course is never an easy assignment. The diverse nature of those likely to play can prove a tough hurdle to overcome for many architects. Make the course too easy and those with serious game will head elsewhere. On the flip side -- make it too hard and those with higher handicaps will likely play one time and say adios for good.
The Nicklaus effort with the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach aligns itself in a solid manner -- being able to provide an elasticity that carries the day on all fronts.
The layout features point blank views of the Atlantic Ocean and there's no questions the scenery elements are among the best in all of Florida.
The routing is also able to weave its way around the predictable inclusion of housing -- but in this case the housing is kept far enough away from the actual corridors of play.
There's little in terms of fairway shaping or ground movement -- Florida simply cannot produce anything remotely close to providing for the bounce of the ball given the spongy turf. But the pacing of the holes and the variety of shots needed to score successfully are blended well.
The round commences with a mild start -- good enough to get the golf muscles untracked for what lies ahead. Like so many other Florida courses water is clearly a part of the design but the Nicklaus team has attempted to provide as much width as possible. There's also a clear risk/reward avenue for players on nearly every hole. You can take on as much as your golf game is capable in providing.
The outward side concludes with two strong holes at the par-3 8th and the long par-4 9th which runs south-to-north along the coastline. The prevailing wind is generally with players and the desire to play down the more advantageous right side is tempting but be sure to heed caution for any miss on that side will pay a heavy price on one's ego and scorecard.
The inward side -- with the exception of the lackluster par-5 10th -- is the better of the two nines. More change of pace situations with a much more comprehensive routing is in store that never lacks for variety. The well-designed effort at the mid-length par-4 11th is a wonderful example in forcing players to think carefully before pulling the trigger. There's water to be avoided but also a few pesky bunkers located in the right place. One of the strong suits at the Ocean Course is the demands placed from all of the par-3 holes. Nicklaus has never been one to create blasé such holes and you find that with the grouping here.
The concluding four holes -- labeled "The Bear's Claw" -- is a good mixture. The long par-4 15th plays back to the ocean. The dogleg left cape-like hole at the 16th is quite good. How much does one dare to take on the corner of the hole with the tee shot? The par-3 17th is also a visual treat to a well-crafted green.
The final hole plays in a similar manner to the 9th -- however - this time you play parallel to the ocean on a north-to-south basis. Each of the putting greens for the quartet of holes is angled to accept only the best of approaches.
Truth be told, Florida golf can only do certain things given the lack of topography and the usual continual involvements of water hazards and the need to fit housing into the mixture. My five golf ball rating is reflective of how the Ocean Course fits in with other courses I've played in the Sunshine State. The Nicklaus effort makes it a point to provide enough visual stimuli that clearly goes beyond what is generally found at other courses in Florida.
Fortunately, Nicklaus did not get carried away as he has done at other courses in the State in applying design features in a clearly heavy handed and artificial manner. Amazingly, the Ocean Course does not get the kind of attention that others do in Florida and likely that's because of its location. For those who are near the Daytona area I'd certainly recommend it.
M. James Ward