PALM COAST, Fla. — Most resorts with more than one golf course face a dilemma: One track stands out as a consistent favorite, while the other (or others) often serve as a Plan B. Players only go there if they already played the main course more than a handful of times, or if they can’t get a tee time on the big course.
There are, of course, several prominent exceptions where guests can debate which of multiple courses is the favorite, with Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Forest Dunes in Michigan and the relatively new Streamsong in Florida among prominent examples. Add Hammock Beach Resort to that list.
Its Ocean Course is ranked No. 11 in Florida on the Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list, and the Conservatory Course is ranked No. 20 on the same list.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course gets a lot of love, for good reason. Its six holes along the Atlantic Ocean offer plenty of beachfront photo ops for golfers, and a wall-to-wall renovation with new grass – part of rebounding efforts necessitated by two hurricanes in the past two years – has the course in pristine shape. The course wraps around the resort with a dramatic 18th green adjacent to the main beach path.
Oh, yeah, there’s also the Tom Watson-designed Conservatory Course across the Intracoastal Waterway and marshland on the mainland. It’s not physically connected to the resort, it doesn’t offer beach views and it isn’t front and center in the viewfinder.
But to some golfers, none of that matters. At a Golfweek Raters event this month at Hammock Beach, two dozen course raters couldn’t pick a consensus best course. Some raters loved the Ocean, others seemed surprised to favor the Conservatory after one loop around each.
“The Conservatory is a really nice design with some very interesting par-4 holes,” said Golfweek course rater Mike Corbin, who expressed the opinions of many on the trip. “I really enjoyed the elevation changes, which you do not often see in Florida golf courses. The bunkering was well thought out, honoring the links design and making the holes challenging without the use of trees. The practice area was also very well designed allowing for a great warm-up.
“It is hard to pick a favorite because the two courses are so different. I actually liked both and felt that the two courses complement each other. If I was a member, I would not be disappointed rotating between these two courses.”
Other raters clearly favored the Ocean Course but still enjoyed the Conservatory.
“As far as the courses, I felt the Ocean Course was one of the more friendly Nicklaus courses that I have played,” rater Rich Styles said. “… I really like the layout, and the new (Platinum Paspalum) grass makes the fairway lies stand up, but I did find it hard to keep ball on the greens, not much bite but a lot of run off. I would definitely play it again.
“The Conservatory was my first Watson course. Decent layout with a lot of contours, which made it difficult to visually picture the hole from the tee (distance seemed longer, which I am sure is by his design). Nice layout and used what the property gave them to design.”
And yet others would commit all their golf time on any possible subsequent trips to the Ocean Course without repeating the drive across the Intracoastal Waterway to the Conservatory.
“I loved the Ocean Course,” rater John Pearson said. “The routing was interesting, the variety of holes kept you guessing each time you turned the corner and it was in great condition. … The Conservatory Course gets much lower ratings than the Ocean. Without the GPS on the carts, it would have been most difficult to play, as there’s no natural flow to the course.”
It’s all an example of a quality second course presenting a nice problem for a resort. Everyone will have a favorite, and the difference and similarities in the courses makes for nice 19th-hole debate. The best advice might be to book a long enough stay to play all the available courses at any resort, then decide for yourself. Gwk