'We’re maybe a golf trip that people don’t realize is out there'
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Sunshine State has a wealth of great golf stretching from the Panhandle north all the way south to Miami, and it seems like a person can’t go more than a few miles without encountering some type of golf “destination.”
Lost among Florida’s plentiful golf offerings is Daytona Beach and its surroundings on the Atlantic coast. Known mostly for its beaches and the excitement of motorsports racing, Daytona Beach also is home to some unique golf experiences.
And even if Daytona Beach isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when talking golf trips, perhaps it should at least be entertained simply because many of the area’s golf courses are rich in history and well worth packing the clubs for when headed for a visit.
“I think we’re maybe a golf trip that people don’t realize is out there,” said Andrew Booth, director of communications for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I would describe it as a little bit of a hidden gem.”
Daytona Bech golf: nearly 20 courses to choose from
The Daytona Beach area features nearly 20 courses, including many with a deep history. There are a couple of Donald Ross designs (New Smyrna Golf Club, Daytona Beach Golf Club). The LPGA calls Daytona home with two courses, and Spruce Creek is home to the largest fly-in community in the country.
Just down the road, Riviera Country Club in Ormond Beach, is home to the longest-running mini-tour event in the country, which began in 1960. This year marks the event’s 63rd playing and past champions include Morris Hatalsky, Bert Yancey and Slugger White, whose name you may recognize as the recently retired PGA Tour rules official.
“The connections to golf here historically run deeper than a lot of people realize,” Booth said. “And when you take a look at the off-course stuff, I think it is kind of a natural. Fortunately, the game is growing right now so that never hurts us.”
All of the courses are worth the time to play. They won’t break the bank and will offer a respite from soaking up the sun on the beach or listening to the roar of racing at the Daytona International Speedway.
Where to play golf in Daytona Beach
New Smyrna Golf Club: So much history here, it is difficult to know where to begin. The New Smyrna Golf Club was one of Donald Ross’s final designs, with the first nine holes opening in 1949. The second nine was not complete until 1956, eight years after his death. It underwent a full renovation by Bobby Weed in 2006.
Fourteen of the original 18 holes designed by Ross remain, including the entire back nine. It’s those nine holes where you get the full Ross treatment with his signature (and perplexing) greens.
New Smyrna is definitely an old-school Florida course with its tree-lined fairways and strategic bunkering. It won’t wow you with its length – only 6,543 yards from the tips – but the immaculate platinum paspalum grass greens are challenging in true Ross fashion. The greens complexes include slopes, swales and gentle mounds, yet show no signs of wear from the 51,000 annual rounds that are played at New Smyrna.
Course Manager Gary Wintz played on the PGA Tour and the European Tour in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is a native of the area. He has plenty of stories to tell, including a nugget about how well-known caddie/on-course announcer Jim “Bones” MacKay used to babysit Wintz’s children.
Spruce Creek Country Club: This Bill Amick design dates to 1971 and was built on land that once was home to a U.S. naval base during World War II. Now, Spruce Creek is considered the largest fly-in community in the U.S., so get ready for a continuing parade of planes taking off and landing.
Although according to Spruce Creek head professional Jason Pomroy, John Travolta once had a home in the community and landed a 747 jet there, many of the planes are single- and dual-engine prop jobs.
“When (Travolta) would come in, he would rattle the whole community,” Pomroy said, laughing. “He’s probably the most famous person that has lived here.”
Retired NASCAR driver Mike Skinner is a member at Spruce Creek, and Pomroy said that during race weeks several drivers show up to play.
Spruce Creek skirts the edges of the main runway and the community has a series of taxiways that allow residents to drive their planes straight into their hanger homes.
Although Spruce Creek is a member-owned club, it is open for public play. On the tight front nine, Spruce Creek meanders through five of the holes, and players get and up-close and personal view of the landing strip along the eighth and ninth holes when seemingly a parade of planes is either taking off or landing.
“Wednesdays and Saturdays are big days for the pilots,” Pomroy said. “I’ll be giving a lesson and it’s hard to talk sometimes because jets are going off and stuff. But the cool thing is it’s is just part of life here. It’s definitely unique.”
Spruce Creek gets a little tougher on the back nine and, although a little more open, water comes into play on eight holes.
Like New Smyrna, the entrance to most of Spruce Creek’s greens are open, giving players options on their shot selections.
LPGA International: Many would consider LPGA International the premier public facility in the Daytona Beach area. With 36 holes – a Rees Jones signature course and an Arthur Hills signature design – LPGA International has a pair of distinct, challenging but playable courses.
The Jones Course is more of a links-type layout that plays 7,088 yards from the tips. Many holes have wide fairways that feature strategic mounds. The Reese course also features expansive bunkers, a variety of lakes, and marshes. It has large, fast Bermuda greens.
The Hills Course, which opened in 1997, is distinct and one of the best in the area that stretches to 6,984 yards. Like the Jones Course, the Hills Course features a variety of natural wetlands and water hazards. The Hills Course has narrow, pine tree-lined fairways place a premium on accurate approach shots due its small greens.
LPGA International has been the home course for the LPGA and has an outstanding practice area, including a Rees Jones-designed three-hole short course.
Where to stay in Daytona Beach
The Daytona Hotel: There are all sorts of hotel/motel options when visiting Daytona Beach, but a stay at the Daytona Hotel across the street from the Daytona International Speedway won’t disappoint. You know you are in racing country when you pull up to the front, as a NASCAR race car is prominently displayed. The NASCAR theme continues throughout the hotel with more motor sports-themed race cars on display throughout the second floor.
A Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, the Daytona is located in the trendy shopping/dining One Daytona venue and just four miles from Daytona Beach. It’s also convenient to the area’s many golf courses.
What to do in Daytona Beach
Motorsports Hall of Fame of America: You don’t have to be a gearhead to enjoy a visit to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Located at the Speedway, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America offers a historical overview of all things motorsports – from motorcycles and race cars to boats and aviation. It’s a perfect place to spend a couple of hours after a round of golf.
You can also get a tour of the Daytona International Speedway while there.
For more information, go to www.daytonabeach.com
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image of New Smyrna Golf Club by Gregg Dewalt