By David Theoret
Most golfers are familiar with Tom Watson, winner of eight major championships, including five British Opens and outdueling Jack Nicklaus on several occasions. He certainly was fun to watch.
Not as many people are familiar with Tom Watson, the golf course architect. As a golfer, Watson was praised for his passionate play, attention to detail and outstanding course strategy. His company, Tom Watson Design, employs the same integrity, dedication and focus to each of their designs. The company only builds one or two courses each year using a few fundamental requirements: beauty, variety and challenge. Each course design will challenge a golfer’s mental and physical skills and at the same time provide a memorable golf experience. This is especially evident at the Watson-designed Conservatory Course; part of the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida.
In 2008, Golf Digest ranked The Conservatory third on its list of America’s Best New Public Courses. As you meander through the course, you will encounter some breathtaking sights: waterfalls, babbling brooks and veneered field stone work.
Seven tee boxes, ranging in distance from 7,740 yards to 5,168 yards, assure that you will find a suitable tee to fit your game. Most golfers will find the White tees manageable at 6,281 yards.
One of the first things that you notice is the amount of mounding and undulation at the Conservatory, not only on the greens but through the fairways and roughs. The Conservatory is anything but your typical Florida course my suggestion is to relax, take a deep breath, look around and enjoy your beautiful surroundings.
What sets this course apart from any other I have played around the world is the bunkering; there’s sand everywhere. And it comes in all shapes and forms: there are your typical greenside bunkers and coquina-shelled waste bunkers, which are fairly easy to navigate. But then there are a number of pot bunkers – some visible off the tee, some not – that can wreak havoc with your score not to mention your mind.
Some of these are sod-walled, which adds a true Scottish feel. Most are penal in nature; one in particular on the first hole is in play off the tee if you hit it right. The face of this bunker is five feet high and still 140 yards from the green. Find this bunker and par, or even saving a bogey presents a steep challenge.
Most Memorable Hole:
There are certainly many memorable holes at the Conservatory. No. 8 is the shortest par 3 on the course, but with an island green, it is the signature hole.
No. 4 is a long par 4 and offers great risk, as well as, reward.
My personal favorite is No. 15 a Par 4 that measures just 377 yards from the White Tees. With a Tom Watson course, what you see isn’t always what you get; many shots appear more difficult than they actually are. Case in point is the 15th hole, a par 4, dogleg right. The waste bunker that runs up the right side of the fairway blends in with the bunkers on the far side of the fairway, creating the illusion that the landing area is miniscule. Trust me, it’s not; there’s plenty of room out there. The large multi-tiered green is also surrounded by sand, so it will take an accurate approach shot to get it close.
This course rates as one of the top tracks in Florida; far and away Tom Watson’s best work in the state. His use of bunkering is unrivaled on any course I’ve played; they are plentiful and penal. They must be avoided, if you want to score well.
Although this course can play long for the men, ladies enjoy many benefits. From the Red Tees, the majority of hazards faced from the back tees are taken out of play.
In building The Conservatory, Watson’s two major goals were to create course that was both beautiful and playable and he succeeded on both fronts.
The best way to experience this course is to book at vacation at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, FL. When doing so, be sure to package it together with a round on the newly renovated Ocean Course. Combined, these two courses offer the best one-two punch of any two courses in the state.
For more information, visit their website at www.hammockbeach.com.