07 June 2010
Playing Golf & Enjoying Nature at St. James Bay
Have you ever watched the PGA or LPGA golf pros playing a deciding Sunday afternoon round on television and wondered just what it would be like to play a round on a perfectly manicured, fair, but extremely challenging golf course?
A course that rewards wise decisions and severely penalizes unsound judgement.
Florida's Forgotten Coast residents and visitors are mighty lucky! They only have to take a short scenic drive along US Highway 98; plunk down a few bucks; and instantly take on a course that even the final foursome pros would find challenging.
St. James Bay Golf Course, located between the eastern Franklin County communities of Lanark Village and SummerCamp, wasn't designed for duffers! I should know! But, wow, what a delightful golf challenge. But, frankly, the game almost takes a back seat to the "one-with-nature" experience that the course provides.
The Robert Walker designed "Audubon Signiture Sanctuary" course and surounding community was created at a time when Franklin County officials and general public demanded that any proposed golf resort community be environmentally compatable with the pristine ecology of the surrounding region. The " not near our fishing grounds" hoops were monumental but the wait and results were well worth it.
Were it not a golf course, St. James Bay would be a picturesque and popular "audubon trail" complete with dozens of all-natural wetlands areas; thousands of opportunities for birders; and a lushness loved by the resident critters.
Speaking of lushness, I played a round with one of the some nine members of the greens and maintenance crew that keeps the course looking so magnificent. Rising before dawn to start the usualy thankless task of cutting, trimming, seeding and planting. In Kenny Pigg's case, one of his chores (twice a week) is to relocate and cut the cups. The man golfers love to hate when the pin is nestled only 10 feet behind a bunker.
Kenny, an accomplished guitarist/vocalist, who performs regularly at American Legion Post 82 in Lanark, also plays a pretty darn good game of golf. I needed to have someone with me that could warn me of hazards ahead. And show me how a knowledgable golfer would play the layout.
Having endured a frozen shoulder on both sides, I no longer have the capacity to send a "Bear" ball soaring some 200 yards off the tee. More like the length of a football field. And the same for my straight, but very short, fairway efforts. Not complaining, but important imformation to know when you are about to play an 18-hole Championship course like St. James.
Because wetlands and water hazards come into play on every hole, and many extend well beyond 100 yards, you must be capable of lofting the ball beyond the farside bank. I failed more often than I excidedly succeeded. My large stash of smiles and range balls dwindling with each passing hole.
If you would like to get a true picture of the challenge (and get a free round of golf with three paying playing partners) just go to www.stjamesbay.com and click on the interactive aireal view of the course layout. It even suggests how a "good " golfer should strategically play each hole.
The key word here being "strategy." This is not a course for the 800-pound gorilla who blasts every shot 250-300 yards. Proper club selection, and your true capabilities with that club, is crucial. A thinking man's course.
The St. James area of Franklin County is actually an island surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, Carrabelle River, Crooked River and Ochlockonee River. So I guess it is only appropriate that the St. James Bay golf course is made up of a series of islands. Your main job is to play the role of Columbus - discover the island locations and land on them.
Lending a helping hand are the GPS systems installed in the golf carts. At all times you know precisely how many yards it is to your next destination.
Of course, if you have been exaggerating to friends, the length of your nine-iron shot, this magic system could make a real liar out of you. By the way, you don't even need a pencil to mark your scorecard. The carts feature electronic scorecards. And still other hightech stuff. All that was missing was an attractive server dispensing tall, cold glasses of swing lubrication.
Unlike some of my other previous playing partners on other courses, Kenny P was generous in warning me about looming disasters. (Did you hear that Jimmy Akers?) Other things I figured out for myself. We started on the 10th hole and after a pair of "looked up" dribblers I realized that on this hole I should keep the ball on the right side of the fairway. Because the cart had to remain on the right side cart path. The alternative is to carry a couple clubs.
On another hole I learned (the hard way) that I shouldn't tee off with a colored ball. It was rather difficult to find my yellow ball among the hundreds of mellow yellow ones that had scurried away from the neaby driving range.
The par 72 course ranges from 5,122 yards (greens tees) to 6,730 yards (black tees). Each side features a pair of threes and fives. Contrary to false rumors, I didn't play the green tees. I should have.
Every golfer in the world knows that the golf gods dispense about three good shots to each of us each 18 holes and that's what keeps us coming back to the frustrating game. In my case, I actually shot par on two holes. As for the rest of the holes, the good news is that the hightech scorecard wouldn't accept anything higher than an eight. The bad news is my penciled scorecard had no such compunction.
St. James is a complete golf resort and residential community. Additional golfing practice amenities include a driving range, pitching green, two greens and a bunker. Plus a pro and pro shop.
Both golfers and non-golfers enjoy the exceptional dining served up at the Crooked River Grill. Lunch is served Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm. Dinner is available Thursday through Saturday, 5pm to 9:30 pm. A popular Sunday brunch is available 10 am to 2 pm.
Several different golf packages are available. Accomodations include attractive "Clubhouse Villas" and two and three-bedroom "Residence Condominiums" overlooking the course.
Tee times can be arranged by calling 850 -697-9606. Collard shirts (no denim) are required and green fees (including GPS cart) are $65 before 3 pm and $35 after 3 pm.
Oops, I almost forgot. Did I mention the numerous bunkers lining the course? Probably not, because I didn't land in a single one of them. As previously noted, this is a thinking man's course and despite taking some 125 strokes I had predetermined it would be prudent to avoid the sand. Shame I couldn't outthink the water.