ST AUGUSTINE, Florida – Millions of golfers each year flock to the Sunshine State to play golf. From Destin in the Panhandle to Key West, the year-round warm weather makes Florida a golfer’s paradise. While there are great courses to be found all over the state, the Orlando area seems to be the most popular among golf travelers. In addition to some fantastic golf courses, there’s a lot to do off of the golf course.
One of the areas that seem to be overlooked is St. Augustine, which in my opinion has the most to offer golfers: World Golf Village. World Golf Village is to golfers what peanut butter is to jelly. They just naturally go together. Within World Golf Village is The PGA TOUR Golf Academy at World Golf Village, the World Golf Hall of Fame, the Renaissance World Golf Village Hotel, several eateries, and two championship golf courses: The King & Bear and The Slammer & Squire.
Whether you’re new to golf or just fine-tune your game, the PGA TOUR Golf Academy at World Golf Village can set you on the right path. They specialize in providing clinics, group exercises, as well as one-on-one teaching for all levels of golfers. The academy also offers group activities such as team-building exercises, night golf, and challenges. They can help with every facet of your game, from the driver to the putter using the latest technology: TrackMan and the SAM PuttLab.
If you’re a golf junkie like me, you can easily spend a couple of days at the World Golf Hall of Fame. Next year (2022), four new members will be inducted into the Hall of Fame including Tiger Woods, Tim Finchem, Marion Hollins, and Susie Maxwell Bering. Exhibits include the Member’s Locker Room, containing personal items from each member, Tales From the Collection, Tributes to Nancy Lopez and African American Golfers, THE PLAYERS Experience, built around the PGA tournament in nearby Ponte Vedra, and The Challenge Hole – a 132-yard island green reminiscent of the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
The Renaissance World Golf Village Hotel is located in the middle of WGV and puts you in walking distance of the Hall of Fame, PGA TOUR Academy, Bill Murray’s Caddyshack Restaurant, and The Slammer & Squire Golf Course. The rooms are spacious and well-appointed, offering everything you’ll need to relax after a round of golf or touring the grounds. The Villagio Restaurant is located on the first floor and serves a great breakfast buffet during non-COVID 19 times as well as sumptuous dinners.
All this leads us to the golf courses, The Slammer & Squire, and The King & Bear. The Slammer & Squire course was designed by Hall of Fame members Sam “The Slammer” Snead and Gene “The Squire” Sarazen with the help of well-known golf course architect Bobby Weed. The three of them shared a desire to design and build a golf course that rewards good shot-making while maintaining the natural beauty of the Florida property. They have created a layout that showcases the naturally wooded areas and wetlands. This resort course is wide open, with only a few water hazards and some well-undulated greens. Just like the two legends that helped create the course, the layout places a premium on the short game, which requires several finesse shots. The Hall of Fame is visible from just about anywhere on the course.
After your round at the Slammer & Squire, head over to The Legends Restaurant and Grille located inside the clubhouse. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide stunning views of the golf course and the surrounding area. The restaurant is all Florida with warm colors and unusual ceiling fans. Enjoy your favorite post-round libations and try some unique golf club food including Smokey Shrimp Tacos, Cauliflower and Field Pea Paninis, and a variety of leafy green salads.
The King & Bear is the coup de gras of the two courses. It’s located a couple of miles away but is definitely worth the trip. You’ve probably figured out by now the designers behind it, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Not only were these two champions part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, but their collaboration on this course is also amazing. Of the two courses, King & Bear is much more of a “players” course although, with seven different yardages on the scorecard, there’s an appropriate distance regardless of ability.
The King & Bear can best be described as a tale of two nines. The front nine is more of a links-style course, open and airy with lots of native grasses. The back nine is where the fun begins. In true Florida golf fashion, many of the holes are lined with tall, loblolly pines and ancient oak trees, waste areas created with crushed coquina shells, and several water hazards. Since both Palmer and Nicklaus excelled off the tee, good driving is at a premium, especially on the two signature holes designed by each player. They are handicapped as the two most difficult holes on the inward nine. Number 15 is Arnie’s, a risk/reward,311-yard par 4 with a slight dogleg right. Most players will opt for a two-shot approach into a green surrounded by water. Number 16 is Jack’s hole, a 416-yard dogleg right par 4. A long drive down the middle goes a long way in succeeding on this hole. Trees line the right side and anything long and left off the tee is not likely to be found. Most players will be left with a long iron or hybrid approach shot into a large, elevated green protected front and right by a large, deep greenside bunker. Par these two holes and you’ve most likely shot a good round!
The clubhouse at the King & Bear was recently remodeled and is spectacular, especially their brand new restaurant, AJ’s Kitchen & Cocktails. World Golf Village’s newest dining venue recently won a Golden Fork Award, placing second in Best New Amenity 2021. AJ’s specializes in specialty drinks, beer samplers, and a wine wall as well as some uncommon comfort food with a local twist including Grilled Jerk Spiced Wings, Braised Short Rib Quesadilla, and Hatch Pepper Spiced Grouper. Whether you’re looking for something light or a multi-course meal, AJ’s has something for everyone.
Both courses have comprehensive practice facilities with full-length driving ranges, short game areas with bunkers, and large practice greens. Many players that don’t have time for a round will spend a couple of hours at one of the two practice facilities.