Ask Travelin' Joe: Ft. Lauderdale and Hilton Head, plus what makes a great match-play course

Heron_660Hi Joe, A group of friends and I will be in Ft. Lauderdale and we would like to catch a good round of golf at a PGA-level course, or something similar you recommend. Sergio Torres Atlanta, Ga. There are no “must-plays” in Ft. Lauderdale, but there are definitely a fistful of solid choices that fit your description. Start with the Club at Emerald Hills ($45-$125; 954-961-4000, theclubatemeraldhills.com), in nearby Hollywood, a water-loaded, 1970 Devlin/Von Hagge creation that boasts surprising elevation changes for South Florida and is fearsome challenge as well, as evidenced by the 76.1 rating and 145 slope from its 7,368-yard tips. In February and March, you can play it after noon during the week for $90.
An option with a serious tournament pedigree is Inverrary Country Club’s East course ($35-$70;954-733-7550, inverrarygolf.com) in Lauderhill. Host to the PGA Tour’s Jackie Gleason event from 1972 through 1983, forerunner to the current Honda Classic, this 42-year-old Robert Trent Jones Sr. design witnessed winners such as Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus during its run. Nicklaus’s 1978 victory featured birdies on the final five holes, one of the Golden Bear’s most dramatic regular tour wins.
Finally, if you love sand, you’ll warm to Heron Bay ($85-$105; 954-796-2000, heronbaygolfclub.net) in Coral Springs, which played host to the PGA Tour’s Honda event from 1997 through 2002, back when the course fell under the TPC umbrella. Vijay Singh, Matt Kuchar and Mark Calcavecchia were among the men who won titles here. The conditioning, service and facilities are top-notch, but if you’re allergic to bunker play, find somewhere else. Hi, Joe I am headed to Hilton Head in March and was hoping you could give me the best course or two to play there. Thanks. Grant Ainsley Alberta, Canada How much do I love Harbour Town? Let me count the ways. Don’t tell me there’s no strategy because the fairways are flat and narrow. Don’t tell me the greens are too small and plain. I don’t want to hear that it takes too long in the round to encounter the Calibogue Sound. And spare me the withering snipes about its conditioning woes. I just played there again in November and the renewed emphasis on course maintenance has me sold.
A PGA Tour staple since 1969 and a fixture on GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World, Harbour Town ($139-$259; 866-561-8802, seapines.com) is technically part of Sea Pines Plantation, but as a destination, it’s completely on its own. The Pete Dye/Jack Nicklaus collaboration set design on its ear when it debuted more than 40 years ago, and today, it remains an absolute treat.
It’s so refreshing to play a course that calls for supreme thought and precision with every shot. It’s a joy to duel with a layout that demands the ability to work the ball, to show restraint on many occasions, but courage on many others, especially on the glorious quartet of par 3s. This isn’t firm and fast linksy stuff, with gigantic undulating greens, nor is it swing-from-the-heels, 7,800-yard bomb-and-gouge stuff. It’s old-fashioned shotmaking, which can occasionally frustrate the modern driver—and I love it.
A second choice might be Harbour Town’s underrated sibling, Heron Point by Pete Dye ($55-$139; 866-561-8802, seapines.com). I still think it’s hamstrung by some old routing issues, resulting in a few funky holes, but as a test of golf that moves the needle on challenge and aesthetics, it’s a winner.
For a more graceful, even prettier course, try May River at Palmetto Bluff ($175-$260; 866-706-6565, palmettobluffresort.com). Ostensibly it’s private or resort guests-only, but call ahead and you’ll have a fighting chance to climb aboard. It’s just a gorgeous walk, with beautiful splashes of sand and a couple of holes that edge the May River. It’s easily one of my favorite Jack Nicklaus designs. Geoff Ogilvy on What Makes a Great Match Play Course Not long ago, I asked Geoff Ogilvy as to whether there was such a thing as a good match-play course—and if so, what elements go into making a good match play course? Ogilvy, a two-time champion of the WGC-Accenture Match Play event and once a runner-up, is also an astute golf course critic. Here were his typically insightful thoughts.
“I guess there are probably good courses for match play,” said Ogilvy. “Four par 5s that people can get to is a good start. If there are holes that people have to make decisions, it’s going to be a good match play course because there might be a guy who wants to lay it up on a par 5, and if his opponent has pulled a 3-wood and hits it on the green, then he has to go for the green. I mean that sort of stuff—it’s interesting—whereas if it’s just an obvious play, where everybody lays it up and where everybody hits the same shots all day, then it’s not going to create the excitement and the decisions.”
Clearly warming to the topic, Ogilvy continued. “The funnest part of golf is watching us struggle with the decision whether to go over the water or not go over the water—should I go for it or not go for it—then go for it. That’s the funnest part of watching golf, isn’t it? If you’ve got four par 5s that you can reach and two par 4s that you can drive it on, then you’ve got decisions. It’s nice to have a few holes like that. Whenever you have golfers making decisions they don’t want to make, golf is a better game to watch.”
(Photo: Heron Point)

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