Golf travel guide to Jacksonville during the Players Championship

Golf travel guide to Jacksonville during the Players Championship

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<strong>Final Round at the Memorial</strong><br /><br />Tiger Woods added another dramatic victory to his resume at the Memorial on Sunday. He birdied three of the last four holes to shoot 65. It was his fourth win at Jack Nicklaus's tournament and his 67th on the PGA Tour.
Fred Vuich/SI

BEST PLACES TO STAY
It’s a sad sign of our current economy that a
week before the Players spare rooms can be had at the host Sawgrass
Marriott (904-285-7777, sawgrassmarriott.com). Your stay will set
you back five Franklins a night, but as part of its Players Package,
the hotel throws in two tickets a day and unlimited Vijay sightings,
among other perks. A week later rooms plummet to $165. Cocktailing
at V. Kelly’s or at the Lobby Bar and civilized dining at the Augustine
Grille are highlights.

Now that the beloved, if tattered, Sea Turtle Inn in Atlantic
Beach has morphed into the pricier,
more pretentious One Ocean Hotel
Resort & Spa, the runaway winner
in the region’s value department is
the new Holiday Inn Express Jacksonville
Beach (904-435-3000, hiejacksonvillebeach.com). It’s less
than a mile from the Atlantic, only
seven miles from the TPC, offers wireless
Internet, flat-screen TVs, a free
hot breakfast, fresh cookies at happy
hour — and it’s asking $145 a night during
the tournament.

BEST EATS
Call ahead, because in the last few months alone, longtime
favorites Cafe Carmon, Dolphin Depot and Plaza III Steakhouse have
closed their doors. Local boy Jim Furyk recommends Dwight’s Bistro
(904-241-4496, dwightsbistro.com), a tiny eatery hidden in a Jacksonville
Beach strip mall that serves memorable crab cakes with a wine list to
match. For steaks that sizzle, Furyk likes Ruth’s Chris (904-285-0014,
ruthschris.com) right outside the Sawgrass gates. (Of course, Furyk
used to be sponsored by the chain.)

Budget-minded fans of smoked meats
lacquered with tangy, mustard-based
sauces
will find their tastes satisfied at any
of the area’s Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q locations
(bonosbarbq.com). If you’re down St. Augustine
way and have a hankering for old-Florida atmosphere,
Saltwater Cowboys (904-471-2332,
saltwatercowboys.com) is drenched in it. Housed in an old fish camp,
this local legend is Big Easy meets the Everglades,
ladling out portions
of alligator tail, frog legs and jambalaya in a wooden-floor, rusted-
tinroof
setting along the Intercoastal Waterway.

BEST ALTERNATIVE AIRPORT
None. Jacksonville International
Airport is 35 miles north of TPC Sawgrass, offers cheap, nonstop flights
from New York LaGuardia
(Delta, from $199 round trip) and from Chicago
O’Hare (United, from $199) and has reasonably priced rental cars (Budget,
from $212 for four days). If you’re driving, Jacksonville is impossible
to miss, bisected as it is by two of the
nation’s megahighways, I-10 and I-95.
From I-95 south, two easy turns onto
State Route 202 East and A1A puts you
in PGA Tour town.

BEST ESCAPE FROM THE GOLF
America’s oldest surviving city (1565)
is St. Augustine, 25 miles south of
Ponte Vedra Beach, and it’s chockfull
of “oldest” tourist stops, such as
oldest house, oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
and oldest Jail. You might find
Gary Player here as well. The narrow
streets take you past Castillo de San Marcos National Monument,
a 330-year-old walled Spanish fort that overlooks Matanzas Bay.
Nearby is Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, where apparently
Kenny Perry has been sipping the same water that Ponce de Leon
imbibed in 1513.

BEST RAINY-DAY ACTIVITY
“If you love golf, you’ve got to go” to the World Golf Hall of Fame at St. Augustine’s World Golf Village (904-940-4000, wgv.com). Though you might not be able to get Ben
Crenshaw’s nasally twang out of your head, you can’t help but feel the
same love Gentle Ben and other history buffs profess when you partake
of the treasures here. Sampling ancient clubs and balls, stepping across a
replica of Swilcan Burn Bridge and playing a virtual round at St. Andrews
are among the interactive exhibits, though the true fan could spend all
day simply perusing the records and legacies of the game’s greats. A Bob
Hope exhibit, Shanks for the Memory, is special for 2009.

BEST DAY TO ATTEND THE PLAYERS
It’s tempting to say Friday,
so that you’re guaranteed to see every player in golf’s strongest field
before the cut. Personally, I’d pick the windiest day in the forecast
just to watch the carnival of horrors at the island-green 17th. In truth,
though, if you have a ticket for Sunday, use it. There’s no gut-check in
golf as daunting as the final trio of holes at TPC Sawgrass. Whether
it’s Woods versus Mickelson or O’Hair versus Mattiace, it doesn’t really
matter: As long as it’s close, the drama is unbeatable.

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