With that in mind, I flew to St. Augustine, Fla., in early October and met up with six golf-crazed buddies for our fourth annual "Man Weekend" golf trip, and third at Florida's "Ancient City." St. Augustine, of course, is home to the World Golf Hall of Fame, and even if there weren't so many great courses in the area, the Hall alone would be worth the trip.
Before our first tee time, we scoped out the exhibit that honors the Hall's newest high-profile member, Phil Mickelson, who headlined the class of 2012. Among the relics displayed from his storied career are trophies, photos and a couple of miniature clubs -- Mickelson's first sticks. (Appropriately enough, they're both tiny and wooden.)
A highlight of any trip to the Hall is the closing exhibit, the mock "locker room" where members adorn their own locker with any memorabilia they see fit. We all know Phil loves playing team golf, but it turns out those team-room Ping-Pong matches really do mean a lot to Mickelson, as evidenced by the top shelf of his locker [right]. That's where you'll find a Ping-Pong paddle he used to slay his teammates at the 2011 Presidents Cup. And tucked into the top corner of the locker is a photo of Phil hitting a powerful spike against a flailing Zach Johnson. It's a nice touch.
Our weekend's first round kicked off at the Slammer & Squire, one of two courses located on the property at the Hall of Fame. This was our third round at the sturdy, Snead-and-Sarazen-designed track, and every time I play it, I find myself coming away with a new favorite hole. This year I particularly enjoyed the 522-yard par-5 fourth, which has a stream flowing along the right and thick forest left. But if you're a righty who generally tries to play a power-fade (cough, cough), the tee shot sets up perfectly, and if you can keep it on the right side without watering the tee shot, you'll have a great angle to the green with your second. It's a hole that's scenic, makes you think a little and rewards good shots, which is the Slammer in a nutshell.
Of course, with this group of guys, there were many memories (and previous horrible shots) that had to be re-lived. For example, my buddy Brian, the fearless leader of our group, has been known to occasionally struggle with his tee shots. Last year at this event he tried to straighten his tee shots by stuffing his golf bag with "Brush-Ts," for which he was mercilessly ridiculed. In a separate meltdown, he once stormed off the course and spent a few holes sleeping in the group's rental van. These events spawned his Man Weekend nickname, "Brushtee VanNap," which is, as you might expect, a great moniker to leave for restaurant reservations and hotel concierges.
Anyway, this year Brian left the Brush-Ts at home, and we whipped out our iPhones as he nervously tried to beat back the demons late in our round at the Slammer. The results were ... mixed. (Warning: Video contains a quick, mostly incoherent burst of PG-13 language.)
The next day we played our final round of the trip at The Palencia Club, a posh, but not audacious, spot in the heart of St. Augustine. The course is a members-only, Arthur Hills-designed track that opened in 2002, and it meanders seamlessly through trees, marshes and rivers while offering some unique shot-making decisions that no doubt keep members coming back for more.
My favorite hole was the 172-yard, par-3 third, which has a tall live oak slumped over the fairway right smack in front of the green. Turns out the tree was discovered by Hills on one of his site inspections, and he liked the look of the tree so much, he decided to preserve it. Today a small steel pole supports it in case of a storm, but the tree is alive and well, and it creates quite a visual from the tee box. It's not every day you have to hit over a tree on a par 3, you know? Here's a photo, courtesy of the club:
Initiation at Palencia runs $18,000, and dues for folks age 40-72 are $442 per month. Need some bang for those bucks? In addition to exclusive access to the course, Palencia has expansive practice facilities, four restaurants, a wine club, a shoe club, a book club ... you get the idea. It was a fun afternoon, and as someone who does not currently belong to a wine, shoe or book club, it was fun to take in the Palencia experience.
As an added bonus, there was a classic car show right outside the club on the day of our visit. What's more manly than 18 holes of golf followed by an up-close look at some hot rods? (Insert your own book club joke here.) It was a fitting way to close out the trip.
Can't wait to do it again next year.