The last Saturday in October means one thing in college football: “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” is ready to roll in Jacksonville. In a nod to political correctness, the “Cocktail Party” reference is now verboten and there are new limits this year on alcohol sales and consumption at nearby Jax Landing, but rabid fans and alums will still find a way to celebrate. In 2007, underdog Georgia shocked everybody by drawing an intentional unsportmanlike conduct penalty, on coach’s orders, when every single player rushed the field following their first touchdown. This time, however, the thrice-beaten Bulldogs will need more than stunts to stop Tim Tebow and the Gators as they march toward SEC and BCS glory. If you’re around for the festivities, here’s where to play, eat and drink in Greater Jacksonville.
The closest, cheapest quality course to Jacksonville Municipal (formerly Alltel) Stadium is Hyde Park Golf Club (904-786-5410, hydeparkgolfclub.com; $26-$40). Situated 15 minutes southwest of the stadium, Hyde Park hosted many hall-of-famers as a PGA Tour site in the 1940s and 50s. Some sources credit Donald Ross for the Golden Age design, others tab Canadian great Stanley Thompson — either way, expect a classic layout in less-than-pristine condition on a track that’s loaded with mature trees. Legend has it that Ben Hogan once took an 11 on the watery par-3 sixth, but the rest of the 6,468-yard, par-72 spread shouldn’t give you too much trouble.
East of the St. Johns River, your best bet is Windsor Parke Golf Club (904-223-4653, windsorparke.com; $32-$55), a 1991 Arthur Hills design that trots out an array of strategically placed trees, mounds and bunkers in its watery 6,765-yard journey. There may be one too many houses here to please the purists, but for the price and the location, 25 minutes from the stadium, this one is hard to beat.
If you’re in town an extra day, you may as well dine on the whole enchilada and devour the TPC Sawgrass (904-273-3235, tpc.com/sawgrass) in Ponte Vedra Beach, roughly a half-hour southeast of downtown. No longer do you need to be a hotel guest to access the PLAYERS Stadium course and its insanely enticing island-green par-3 17th, but at $375, it might help to own a hotel to pay for the privilege. A worthy alternative is its sibling, Dyes Valley, a superb (but obviously overshadowed) Pete Dye/Bobby Weed track that will run you $130.
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). Perhaps the closest to the game is on Beach Blvd., near Emerson, just across the river (904-398-4248).
Cheap eats don’t come simpler or better than at Orange Tree Hot Dogs (904-598-0006, orangetreehotdogs.com), a local institution since 1968. Conveniently situated practically next door at Jax Landing, Orange Tree dishes out favorites like a Slaw Dog and Chili Cheese Dog, though some connoisseurs swear by their Onion Sauce Dog. Dee-lishious! Those looking for an upset (stomach) special should look to Thursday night, when the winner of Orange Tree’s hot dog eating contest scores two game tickets.
For steaks that sizzle, chomp down on a massive slab at Ruth’s Chris’ Riverfront location (904-396-6200, ruthschris.com) at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Area resident Jim Furyk also likes the second location, right outside the gates of the TPC Sawgrass, but of course, he used to be sponsored by the chain.
You’ll have to buzz over to the coast, but it’s worth the drive to Sneakers Sports Grille (904-482-1000, sneakerssportsgrille.com) in Jacksonville Beach for the region’s best sports bar experience. Six 23-foot giant projection screens, five 32-inch plasma-screens around the bar, pool tables, dartboards and Golden Tee are among the attractions. Inside, there’s an actual racecar mounted to the wall; outside, you can watch the game, then swivel around and watch the ocean. Note to Georgia fans: Gator bites come lightly breaded, citrus-marinated and go for $8.99.
The Scoreboard Sports Bar & Grill (904-744-6199, thescoreboardbar.com) is a classic neighborhood joint on Merrill, just a 10-minute ride over the Matthews Bridge. Family owned, and 17 years in the business, the Scoreboard oozes a “locals” ambience, with many regulars oozing Vodka — they pour 30 different types and flavors.
With nearly 450 establishments nationwide, there’s nothing particular distinctive or local about Hooters. There are at least two reasons, however, why the formula succeeds brilliantly. Check out the Hooters Jacksonville Landing (904-356-5400, hooters.com), just steps away from the game and you’ll see what I mean. It’s got a great riverfront location, great, ahem, indoor scenery, terrific wings, cold beer and a big-game vibe. ‘Nuff said.
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