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Grip it and rip it on northeast Florida's top par-5 golf holes

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- Most golf course architects will tell you that the easiest thing for them to do is to create a difficult hole. There is little skill in designing a tight 600-yard three shotter laced at all turns with hazards, and usually there is little joy in playing one.

TPC Sawgrass - Players Stadium Course - 11th
No. 11 on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.
TPC Sawgrass - Players Stadium Course - 11thWorld Golf Village - King and Bear course - 18thWorld Golf Village - Slammer and Squire course - 4th

The real trick is to design a long hole that tests the player on every shot, a hole where boldness can directly lead either a four or a seven on the card. The par five in which the green may be reachable with two flawless strokes, and where the penalty for a miscue is severe, is one of the most exciting situations in golf. Most knowledgeable players are willing to accept such risks if the reward is appreciable. In any evaluation, holes such as this are usually preferable to those that call for driver, 3-wood, five-iron into a severely penal green.

Most par fives don't place enough value on the second shot. On the average long hole, the second shot is typically an indifferent play for position, or a conservative play away from a hazard. Conversely, great par fives stress the second shot-it is in this stroke that the character of the player (and the hole) is measured and the greatest opportunity for scoring is afforded.

Without temptation and opportunity there can be little excitement, and the best par fives challenge the player to make decisions and think strategically. Fortunately, the First Coast of Florida (the area from north of Jacksonville down south to Daytona Beach) contains some tremendous examples of this type of par five.

Derek Duncan takes a look at some of them and weighs in with his opinion of the region's greatest long holes.

Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra 11th Hole, 529 Yards

While the island-green 17th at the Stadium Course, home of The Players Championship, is the most famous hole on North Florida's most famous course, the 11th might be its best.

This is a classic example of the strategic hole, interpreted by Pete Dye.

The drive is played out of the trees to a wide fairway, bordered on the left by a vast waste area that gives way to a water hazard approximately 150 yards from the green. The principle fairway continues ahead, narrowing the farther it proceeds, and the green is across the water from it to the left. A second fairway begins at the 150-yard mark on the far side of the hazard and runs into a narrow gap on the green's left, an area guarded by a trio of perniciously placed bunkers and heavy rough. A fearsome looking moat of sand circles the green short and to the right, it is banked by the water.

At 529 yards, two professional-caliber swings will yield an eagle putt, but missing the green results in diabolical recovery shots.

The second-shot decision is fascinating-no matter where it is played, there is a real domino effect of consequence.

The first difficulty, however, is the drive, which must find the fairway and avoid the trees that overhang on the right. Misplays short, in the trees, or in the waste area make the second shot even more interesting.

From the optimum position in the fairway the options are manifold: 1. Play conservatively by continuing up the primary fairway with a short iron. This choice results in an intimidating pitch for the third over the water, where distance control is vital to avoid the moat bunker short and the rough long. 2. Play a long carry across the water and waste area to the slender second fairway left of the green. A better directional angle here is for the third, but there is little room to miss left or right and the trio of bunkers must be avoided. 3. Blast away at the tiny green. 4. Putt the ball across the footpath over the hazard. 5. Hit in the water, drop, then wedge. Repeat as necessary.

The plateau green is six feet above the moat bunker, with typically wild undulation. To complicate matters, a number of trees interfere with preferred lines of play, so although there are alternative routes home, the cost for lack of precision is severe. During The Players Championship the rough is grown up and in, making this not only an intellectual challenge but a severely penal hole as well.

The 11th at the Stadium Course is the finest strategic par five in North Florida, and possibly the state.

Matanzas Course at the Grand Club, Palm Coast, 18th Hole, 529 Yards

If the 11th at Sawgrass is the classic strategic hole, the 18th on the Matanzas Course at the Grand Club is the classic risk/reward hole.

This 1986 Palmer/Seay design features a collection of four interesting par fives. The 18th is the most significant of the four, both because of its placement in the round and its heroic options.

The hole's principal feature is the "island" green, a sizable chunk of green, sand and trees in the center of Lake Hope and Pray. The lake begins approximately 310 yards from the rear tee (its reachable from the men's tee), the edge of which is not visible from where the player stands amid the trees. The rolling fairway runs along the left side of the lake, with the island at a right angle from it at the conclusion. The lake can be crossed at any point from the fairway, but it must be crossed.

The safe play is two shots down the fairway and then a short pitch over the water, but from this angle the two bunkers left of the green must be carried into a green that slopes from left to right and away.

The strength of the hole, aside from its ultimate position in the layout, is the all-or-nothing carry potential of the second shot, which is usually in the 225-yard range and made inviting by the abundance of land surrounding the green-there is a slight margin for error, and this makes the risk that much more appealing.

The 18th hole on the Matanzas Course at the Grand Club is a wonderful tournament hole, a spectacular dangling carrot at the end of the round for players who want to gamble for that last birdie.

The King & Bear, World Golf Village, St. Augustine 18th Hole, 563 Yards

This is the final, largest, and best hole on the Jack Nicklaus/Arnold Palmer collaboration at World Golf Village. For being listed at 563 yards, the 18th at The King & The Bear doesn't play that long-most non-pros will see the hole between 527 to 540 yards and the green is actually reachable or near reachable with strong drives.

The landing area is broad and flat, guarded by a shallow bunker on the right and forest on the extreme left. A solitary pine stands in the left center of the fairway and its trunk is an ideal target from the tee, though second shots can be played from a wide array of positions.

The fairway snakes and curls to the right around a massive crushed-coquina shell waste area and another stately pine before rippling past a deep bunker short of the slightly elevated green. This is the long route; the greater thrill is to rip the second over and through the tightly packed waste area leaving a short third chip into the contoured green.

The 18th is a great theater hole, banked to the right and behind the green to create a contained playing field effect. Though the launch over the waste area drastically decreases the direct yardage, there are any number of ways this green can be approached, and the punishment for misplays is not so severe as to discourage a bold finish to the round.

LPGA International, Legends Course, Daytona Beach 8th Hole, 532 Yards

Everything you need to know is laid out before you at the eighth hole at the Legends Course. This is truly one of the tee shots that makes one say, "Hmm."

This mid-length par five (the men play it from 509 or 518 yards) stretches out distantly to the left, wrapping around a long water hazard. Two sizable pot bunkers are placed staggered in the center of the fairway (something architect Arthur Hills is not shy about doing) at approximately 240 and 280 yards, and a clear decision must be made to play high and right or to thread a drive into a narrow alley between them and the water.

The first option effectively makes this a three-shot hole, but for the player that can pull off the latter, the approach to the green is less than 250 yards. The fairway rolls and pitches convulsively, tumbling down to a low green that protrudes slightly into the hazard and is guarded to the right by three pot bunkers. The putting surface slopes gradually right-to-left as well but it's open in front so shots that catch the down slope thirty yards short might roll on.

This is a hole that hides nothing. It is open and tantalizing from every inspection, beckoning one way and warning another, inspiring alternately the conflicting emotions of fear and greed.

Golf Club of North Hampton, Fernandina Beach 15th Hole, 583 Yards

The Golf Club at North Hampton only opened for play in March of 2001 but already its brutish par fives seem important to the area. All four are strong: the second hole is a twisting 625 yards from the tips; the wonderful sixth is 531 yards over a crest and downhill past creek, pond and dune; and the 554-yard 12th winds uphill around water and over plenty of sand.

The final piece in this quartet is the 583-yard 15th with a formidable tee shot that must clear water and either fly directly a series of monstrous bunkers cut into the opposing hillside or stay to the left of them. Monstrous drives that manage to get over the top of the bunkers will roll indefinitely down a slope and come to rest in an un-level area short of a second lake. The green sits amid a collection of bunkers on the other side of the water, 230 yards distant.

Conservatives will play the fairway around the right of the large hazard, but at some point the sand and water must be challenged to get to the well-protected green. Though the length of the hole seems prohibitive, the author watched three of four players in the group behind him fire at the green in two, all three clearing the water. Such is the roll and reward for challenging the bunkers off the tee.

The uneven stances in the fairway make all approaches on this hole difficult, but this is a deciding, heroic hole that gambling players will love.

Honorable Mention

The Slammer & Squire, 4th Hole, 522 yards, World Golf Village, St. Augustine - Designed by Bobby Weed and titled "Double Trouble," this hole bends first to the right over a marsh, then back to the left around the pines and another marsh. The hole is fairly heroic in that on both the first and second shots, the player must decide the level of aggression, cutting off as much wetland on either shot as desired. The hole is reachable for long, bold players, and equally as punishing for errors. Bunkers complicate matters and the green is narrow and slick.

The Golf Club at South Hampton, 17th Hole, 571 yards, St. Augustine - The quietly impressive 17th at this underrated Mark McCumber design on the south side of Jacksonville is another long, double dogleg hole in which the player may choose from various lines of attack. Challenging the lake on the inside corner of the first bend will open up the view of the green around the tall pines at the next corner. The landing area for the second shot is extremely tight with the pines on the left and severe mounding on the right, and the massive green is semi-blind from here. This is a winding, formidable hole with real presence.

Amelia River Golf Club, 18th Hole, 550 yards, Amelia Island -- The men's tee at the 18th of this Tom Jackson design on Amelia Island is an appealing 496 yards, but even from the long tees the green is reachable for big hitters. The presence of trees on either side constricts the drive, but from the fairway the second shot can be taken up and over them on the left inside corner. The green is triangular shaped, semi-blind and oriented at an unconventional angle from the fairway, tucked behind three well-spaced bunkers. A stream cuts through the fairway at the 185-yard mark to make lay-ups interesting, and more trouble is to the left and long. The Intracoastal Waterway provides an attractive backdrop to this fine finishing hole.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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