Jacksonville lives up to its reputation as a golf town

jacksonville
Fred Vuich/SI
The area has plenty of high-end courses but also some quality public facilities, like Hyde Park.

The thing is, the whole enterprise could have been in Orlando, according to Seely. That's where Beman was looking to move the Tour headquarters from Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s. Beman, not a tall man, is still regarded as a towering figure in town. As for Finchem, Seely, who was the longtime sports editor of The Florida Times-Union, says, "Nobody knows him. I don't know if he's shy or haughty, although he did once say hello to me by name when we stood at neighboring urinals. But the Tour's done well by him, and people here are grateful to him for what he's brought to the area and what he's kept here."

In the past quarter century or so Jacksonville has gone from a horse-and-timber town to an NFL city with a skyline. But it's had golf forever (by Florida standards of forever). Timuquana has a Donald Ross course that dates to 1923, and the Jacksonville Open was a regular stop for Hogan and Snead and Nelson. For some years in the '40s and '50s, the tournament was played at Hyde Park, a simple and enjoyable public course now co-owned by two former Tour players, Billy Maxwell and Chris Blocker. Hyde Park is thought to be a Ross course, and it is surely the course where Hogan once made an 11 on the par-3 6th. There's a sign at Hyde Park that reads no personal coolers, but it doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent. "I don't even think it's legal, bringing in your own like that," says Maxwell, now 79. "Geesh — we only charge $2.25 for a beer."

Cheap beer and cheap digs were the two main draws for caddies to Jacksonville Beach and its neighbor, Atlantic Beach, years ago. A motel in the latter, the Atlantic Shores, was always friendly to Tour caddies, and there were some who would take rooms there for weeks or months at a time. The all-caddie basketball games at the Shores are part of the Tour's caddie lore. For some years the Tour caddies favored a Jax Beach bar called the Monkey's Uncle Tavern, and there are people who remember excellent karaoke versions of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World by Jeff Dolf, Craig Stadler's longtime caddie.

The caddie Terry Holt, an Englishman, began renting in Jacksonville Beach as a young bachelor in the early 1980s while working for Andy Bean. It was the perfect spot, he said, because within an eight-hour drive you could get to at least a dozen Tour events. "We didn't fly much then, and if your player wasn't playing, you picked up another bag if you could," he says. Holt talked while sitting in his van with Florida plates parked in front of the Saint John the Baptist cathedral in Savannah. He was there to work the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. There was a baby seat behind the driver's seat. Now he has an American wife and four children and owns a house in Jacksonville Beach. He still drives to tournaments when he can.

If you live in Jacksonville, you're more likely to see players shopping than playing. Singh is often at the GNC vitamin store on A1A in Ponte Vedra Beach. Furyk is a semiregular at Publix in Ponte Vedra Beach, picking up groceries with his wife, Tabitha. (You'll see shoppers in soft spikes at that Publix.) Funk drops in at the Target near Marsh Landing to get Wiffle ball bats and other essentials. You'll almost never see any of them play the crowded Stadium course, even though they can play for free. Even Tour employees, who can play the course at certain times of the year for cart fees only, don't often take advantage of it: A regular diet of the Stadium course will rob you of golf balls and steal your soul. Holt has caddied plenty of times in the Players, and he has caddied for Finchem on the Stadium course, but he's never played it. The high greens fee ($375) offends his caddie sensibilities.

Buchna, who has caddied for Sindelar for 26 years and lived in Jacksonville Beach nearly as long, feels about the same. He prefers his Thursday game at the Jax Beach municipal, which draws 40 or 50 people each week, Tour caddies almost always among them. Everybody throws in $20, and you play for points — one for a bogey, two for a par, three for a birdie, four for an eagle. One time Johnny made $150. Some people simply know how to live: house near the ocean, outdoor job that lets you see the world, regular Thursday game at home.

A few years ago Funk was flying back to Jacksonville from the Tour stop in New Orleans on a chartered jet, and he was giving his caddie, Long, and Johnny Buck a lift. Fred was chatting with some folks on the tarmac, and it was going on for a while, and finally Buchna had had enough. He called out the plane's open door, "C'mon, can we get going here? I got to get home!"

So Funk boarded his plane, and the golfer and the two caddies flew home, back to Jacksonville, whence they came.

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