The Hawk’s Nest course is one of two 18-hole courses operated by the Moorings Yacht & Country Club near Vero Beach. Pete Dye’s Moorings course is a short layout (with nine par threes) offering a fun-packed, friendly game of golf, while Jim Fazio’s Hawk’s Nest is a far meatier challenge, extending to just over 7,000 yards from the back markers.
Unusual for Florida, there’s quite a bit of movement in the landscape here, with many of the undulating holes flanked by large sandy waste areas. Water hazards only come into play at a couple of holes on the longer front nine, which occupies the southern portion of the property.
Author Daniel Wexler, in his book The American Private Golf Club Guide, cites the par fours at the 5th, 6th and 8th as the pick of the holes on the outward half. He then says: “The back nine, whose holes are more tightly squeezed together, is highlighted by the 507-yard 14th (an undulating dogleg left around open sand) and the 406-yard 18th, a sandy dogleg left played to a narrow, tightly-bunkered green.”
Hawk’s Nest is not your prototypical Florida golf course. Two things will stand out on the Fazio design, no houses and elevation changes.
The first hole is welcoming, from an elevated tee the hole bends right. Large waste bunker down the right side with a couple of fairway bunkers on the outside elbow. Favor left of center off the tee and there is a greenside bunker right. I was surprised at arriving to the 2nd tee and seeing a par three. It is the shortest hole on the course, a classic Florida par 3. It was extremely foggy and I had to walk up to the front tees before I could see the pin. Perhaps it is just as well, I hit a decent iron to the middle of the green. Just another example of ignorance is bliss, had I known about the four bunkers. The 3rd is a long par four. When I smothered my drive left I was on the road to perdition. While there is a waste bunker down the entire right side, right is better off the tee. Having said that, there is a cluster of three palm trees on the right about 60 yards out that provide a bunker in the sky affect. The green is raised with a deep bunker front left. The first par five is reachable and relatively straightaway. Yes, there are waste bunkers running down both sides and fairway bunkers right in the landing area. A couple of more small ones about 110 yards out right and then a large voracious deep bunker front left. I went for it and was found wanting. Here comes one of my pet peeves. Three average shots and you should be putting for birdie, this hole should not be the number one handicap hole. The 5th is the longest par 4 and what you see is what you get. Favor the left off the tee. Waste bunkers and treelined on both sides, to give yourself a shot at par, you need to hit two really good shots. Also, moguls and bunkers are right of the green. The 6th is another long par four that leans left. Similar, to the 5th with waste bunkers and trees, but favor the right off the tee. The green has two bunkers front and left. Pars on 5 and 6 are earned. The 7th is a mid-length par 3 with a redan green left to right perched above a left front and right front bunker. This green is narrow. The pin was right when I played it. My advice, middle of the green. The 8th is a how much do I wanna chew off dogleg right around the water hazard? For big hitters it is about 275 yards to the green and just about all carry. For the rest of us, pick your favorite yardage and remember a dry ball is a happy ball. There are two fairway bunkers on the inside elbow and a couple thru the fairway left in front of the green. Also, this green has a swale in the middle and is really three tiered. My favorite hole, I am transparent, yes I birdied. The front ends with the longest par five. The hole bends left initially, before coming back to the right. Waste bunker all the way down the left. A ginormous waste bunker starts about 180 yards out on the right, so favor the left side of the fairway on your second shot. Don’t get to crazy as there are two fairway bunkers on the left side at about 100 yards out. The left does give you a nice angle into the green between the left and right front bunkers. Good hole. Good side.
The back starts off with a valley par four that bends right. Fairway bunkers on the inside and outside of the elbow along with two front bunkers. Take an extra club on this uphill approach. The 11th is a mid-length valley par 3 with water on the left and deep bunkers left and right. The 12th is a dogleg right with water left, two fairway bunkers left and waste bunker and trees right. Take an extra club on this uphill approach to a green with bunkers front, right and rear. The 12th is certainly a great birdie oppty, heck if I can do it so can you. Short par four with waste bunker and trees right and trees left and a fairway bunker about 110 yards out. A decent drive leaves you with a flip wedge. The 14th is a dogleg left uphill split fairway par five. The big boys may be able to get there. Off the tee aim just left of the right fairway bunker. Now you have choices, there are three fairway bunkers in the middle of the fairway stacked on top of each other going up the hill starting at about 60 yards out. There is also a fairway bunker right about 90 yards out. The right side, I think, plays easier, but it is only about 20 yards wide, of course the about 90 yards out. I think the right side plays easier, but is only about 15 yards wide. Of course, the left side is only about 25 yards wide. Choose wisely, good fun thinking man’s hole. The 15th is an uphill par three. Deep bunkers left and right with a two tiered green. The 16th is straightaway with waste bunkers left and right, with the right having a few fairway bunkers starting about 175 yards out. There is also a right front greenside bunker. The last par five has waste bunker all the way down the left and initially on the right. Possible to get home in two, but for the rest of us favor the right. Choose your favorite yardage to attack the pin on a green that is protected by four bunkers. The 18th is a good finishing hole, uphill and bending left. The fairway bunkers are intimidating, I was so concerned about the large right one that I hooked it into the short left one that I did not even think was in play. Take an extra club on the uphill approach to a green guarded with left and right bunkers.
Super layout, super conditions and great blade count in the fairways. Remarkably, little water for a Florida course. I would pay to play it again.
The Moorings at Hawk's Nest is a delightful course. But it isn't even the best in town. Johns Island West is that. It has a nice set of holes. Conditioning is very good and the green complexes are good. If you get an invite it's worth a full day out.
Without question The Moorings at Hawk’s Nest is the best course in Florida I had never heard of. I was shocked at what a solid and balanced test of golf this wonderful Florida course represents. Jim Fazio is a humble, low key architect who does not seem to get nearly the credit he deserves as he knocked it out of the park at The Moorings at Hawk’s Nest.
The elevation changes and use of the land is excellent. The green complexes are perfectly fitting for the length and difficulty of the holes. The par-5 greens in particular represent the true definition of risk/reward and they are angled and on the smaller side ensuring that while reachable you have to hit a spot on shot to wind up on the putting surface for a realistic eagle chance for those longer hitters who want to give it a go. The bunkering and use of coquina areas create great playability even if you spray the ball a bit on the course. Many include judging the par-3s as a big factor in how much they enjoy a course. The par 3’s here are spectacular. The 2nd hole is both majestic and challenging over a water hazard that stares you down. Then you arrive at the 7th and the narrow green and long shot can intimidate even a tour player, no water here, just a small target that is well protected by mounding and perfectly placed bunkering. The 11th is the toughest one shotter on the course where I had to hit a full 5 iron into the wind knowing any bailout would lead to a bogey or worse. Water surrounds the entire shot and left side of the green while the right side miss leaves a brutally tough but fair recovery option. Finally, the 15th is an uphill beauty that has a plenty ample green but requires a full carry and another mid-iron shot that doesn’t allow for you to get away with a poor strike as you are looking at about a 5-rion shot that doesn’t give you room to hide. Recoveries are possible but you have to work hard for it here.
A few other holes stand out as special including the opener that optically makes you think there is little margin for error yet it’s one of the most forgiving tee shots on the course. Almost all the tee shots are playable and allow you to miss with a chance for recovery. However, the green complexes are so well designed that you need to need to hit precise shots to wind up on the greens and have a realistic birdie opportunity.
The 18th hole is an exciting finishing hole – at only 406 yards it’s not overly long but accuracy is hugely important as you must come at this green from the fairway to hold this green, especially in the narrow front section. This hole is designed to create excitement with plenty of elevation change and beauty to match, you had better hit two quality shots here or you will likely be looking at a bogey or worse, the front pin position is by far most challenging as the green looks like just a bottle shape in the front, the back section is substantially more spacious.
As I said in the opening paragraph, what makes Hawk’s Nest special is that it has outstanding balance throughout the round yet it marries championship caliber and playability brilliantly. Kudos to Jim Fazio on a job well done and lucky for us at Top 100 Golf Courses, we have finally discovered a course that surely has not received it’s just due in the rankings until now. As I say often in my reviews, a big part of what makes a golf course great is how much you yearn to play it again. Immediately after walking off the 18th hole, in spite of the 25 MPH wind I played in, I wished I could have headed to the 1st tee to play another round now that I knew how to navigate this gem.