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TPC's Lead the List of Great Golf Destinations in AFC South

By Shawn Nicholls, Contributor

NEW YORK CITY -- There was a time when Warren Moon was the favorite Texan, and the Oilers and the Steelers, despite being a long way, and then some, away from each other, had division battles for the ages, complete with a few great playoff showdowns.

But those days are gone. Houston has a new favorite quarterback, and the Oilers have migrated to Nashville, and now are division rivals with their previous home. Toss in the Colts and that team from Florida, and you've got yourself an interesting division.

As for the golf, well, it's just as interesting. From PGA event hosts, to courses built right next to the speedways, and a handful of other great tracks, the AFC South may be one of the NFL's best golfing divisions.

Here's a quick run down.

1. Jacksonville

Put those big, towering resort courses aside. Forget about their outward beauty, and return to golf the way it should be played: simple, on foot, rugged. Thankfully, old school courses like this still exist, and one of the best in Florida is the Hyde Park Golf Club in central Jacksonville. It's a Donald Ross design that has been the center of golf in the home of the Jags, long before the NFL granted the town a team.

Another playable course, especially for local residents who receive a reduced fee, is Cimarrone Golf Club, a course that boasts that it's always a beautiful day at the club. While fickle Florida weather can definitely put this claim under debate, what is for sure is that golf at this course will challenge every skill level. Dreaded water hazards are plentiful, and play a hand in toughening each and every hole.

There is, of course, no way to make mention of Jville without thinking of the Players Championship, and that darn island par three 17th at the Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass. Ranked #56 in the world golf course rankings, the TPC is actually one of the better courses that allow daily play. Also on the property, which is just a short 25 miles east of Jacksonville, is the Valley Course and a nice Marriott.

2. Houston

From one PGA tour stop to the next we go. Houston's claim to national golf fame may be the TPC at the Woodlands, home to the Shell Houston Open. While not necessarily easy on the wallet, as green fees push the century mark, the 18 holes designed by Von Hagge are worth the cash.

Like the TPC at Sawgrass, the 17th is considered one of the signature holes, and has been a game breaker during the PGA event, and just plain frustrating to the recreational golfer. The Pines is the second course at this central Houston location, and it is currently under renovation, set to reopen in November.

Another must visit in the greater Houston area is the first Rees Jones designed Texas gem, the Houstonian Golf Club, complete with a spiffy hotel and spa. Hotel guests get a pretty nice price break, and the three swimming pools are a nice way to escape the Texas heat, especially in the late summer.

3. Indianapolis

The best way that I've found to judge a course before playing it is by how far away it is from the road and the traffic. The fewer holes that are separated by asphalt the better. But when it comes to the Hoosier state, that reasoning just goes out the window.

Perhaps the pride and joy of this golfing area is the fairly new Brickyard Crossing Golf Course, a championship course built on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It doesn't immediately sound like a great relationship, but, after all, opposites do attract.

As intriguing and potentially noisy as this may be, the course does sport some great holes, and offers diehard sports fan the ultimate in weekend activity: golf, racing, and football. What else is there?

Venture out of the speedway property, and you're still likely to run into your fair share of great courses. In all, the city of Indianapolis owns 13 courses, including Eagle Creek and Whispering Hills. Each of the city owned tracks has its own flavor, and hitting even half of them during the Colts' home schedule would be quite an experience.

Another must hit is the par-62 Crooked Creek. May be the only time you get a sniff at 59.

4. Tennessee

About 20 minutes from downtown Nashville, home of the once Houston Oilers, now perennial (well, except for last season) playoff contending Titans, sits the Legends Club of Tennessee. The 36 holes designed by Tom Kite and Bob Cupp do their best to capture the beauty of the land's scenery, and the course's quality earned it the Tennessee State Open and the 1997 US Girls' Junior Championship.

All this talk of golf and football is great and all, but what really defines Nashville is its music at none other than Opryland. To best encapsulate the experience of the city, weary travelers would be best advised to spend some time at the Springhouse Golf Club and Opryland Hotel and Resort.

And at the center of all the fun is the 43,000 square-foot antebellum clubhouse, complete with shopping, dining, and views of the immaculate course.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Tennessee - The 2001 season was a frustrating one for the team that was inches from glory just a few seasons ago. However, with Eddie George prepared to make a healthy return and Steve McNair ready to return to his lethal form, the Titans should be ready to pounce all over their new division mates.

2. Indianapolis - Everyone always knew the Colts could score, and this year should be no different, especially with the return of Edgerrin James from knee injury. The big question mark will be whether or not Tony Dungy can scrounge up some sort of defense to help take some of the pressure off Peyton Manning.

3. Houston - It's tough to pick an expansion team over a perennial playoff contender, but the Texans did a masterful job putting together a squad, and as long as their offensive line can stay healthy enough to protect David Carr, this team should find themselves in the playoffs within a few years, much like the Carolina Panthers did.

4. Jacksonville - Well, Mark Brunell is still a Jaguar, but he is pretty much the only one. Gone is his top receiver Keenan McCardell, gone is his best offensive tackle, Tony Boselli (and to division rival Houston, no less). Unless Brunell suddenly is 25 again, the Jags are headed for another long season.

Shawn Nicholls, Contributor

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