World Golf Village, Florida: Haven For Golfers, Vacation Haven For Families
By Karen Rubin
World Golf Village is a surprising destination. I really didn't expect to have IMAX (the only one in northern Florida), an interactive World Golf Hall of Fame, surrey cycles, mini-golf which recreates the actual putting greens, and a score of interesting activities in a ringed hub of a resort community the size of a city. And while it is no surprise that fans of golf will think they are in heaven, what is most surprising is that people who are only cool to the game and even kids who are more typically discouraged from being anywhere near a green, will be thoroughly delighted. Here, the elements are designed to engage children and hopefully ignite their love of the game for their lifetime.
Indeed, World Golf Village, located between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida, right off the famous I-95, will give visitors more of an incentive to make St.Augustine/Jacksonville a vacation hub. From the 6,300-acre resort, you can visit St. Augustine just 12 miles away, with its extraordinary living history attractions, as well as the many intriguing historic and natural sites of Jacksonville and Amelia Island about an hour away. Especially for families driving down to central or south Florida (DisneyWorld is about three hours away), World Golf Village makes an excellent destination (another way to look at it: it is about eight hours closer than Miami). The golfing is superb, but the vacation experience is well rounded with such features as access to a nearby private beach club on the Atlantic.
Called "the most ambitious project in the history of the sport" when the concept was first broached in 1987, World Golf Village offers a remarkable array of first-ever features: the World Golf Hall of Fame (with engaging interactive elements); the first PGA Tour Golf Academy; the first of Bill Murray and brothers' Caddyshack restaurants ("eat, drink and be Murray"), and the King & Bear, the first-ever golf course design collaboration between legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Of course, the heart of World Golf Village is its two 18-hole championship golf courses, the King & Bear and the Slammer & Squire. Owned and managed by Honours Golf, the courses feature such signature amenities as complimentary range balls and fresh chilled apples on the 1st and 10th holes, as well as a Global Positioning System in every golf cart. Here, too, guests will be pleasantly surprised that despite the championship pedigree, the courses are player-friendly.
The King & Bear, named for its co-designers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus (their first-and-only course design collaboration), opened in 2000 with a ceremonial exhibition between the two. They designed the 7,279-yard course to be eminently playable and picturesque, with memorable par 5's amid lakes, loblolly pines and 200-year-old live oaks.
"It's characteristic is to be very player friendly and memorable, not because you lost 12 balls or had to hit out of the woods, but for being fun, for letting you feel good about your game and yourself," said Cathy Harbin, General Manager of the courses. "There is no one signature hole. We want guests to enjoy each hole. Every hole is capable of being a signature hole; each person will have his own signature hole."
The Slammer & Squire, which opened in 1998, is named for Hall of Famers Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen, who served as consultants to course architect Bobby Weed. The 6,939-yard resort course is distinguished by impressive par-3's, and the way it preserves the woodlands, wetlands and natural beauty of the area.
"Slammer & Squire is a little more generous, and therefore better for the newer or infrequent golfer," Ms. Harbin said. "It has wider fairways, not as much bunkering, a great resort golf course. The King & Bear has more bite to it-both are championship but Palmer & Nicklaus put in their own character. It has more challenge, more bunkering around the green, and requires more precise shot making."
The course is listed as one of the top 100 Women Friendly golf courses and is also very "junior friendly," hosting four junior camps each summer.
Greens fees range from $80- to $200, but package rates can bring the fee down to $49 (carts are included in the rate but not required on the course).
Unique is not a word you can use too often to describe a destination. But what makes World Golf Village truly unique is that it is now the home of the World Golf Hall of Fame, a formidable edifice where visitors can take an interactive journey from the game's roots in Scotland to the modern game. At its pinnacle, is a 190-foot tower offering panoramic views of the entire World Golf Village.
The Hall of Fame, recognized and supported by the world's 27 major golf organizations, is imaginatively laid out like a golf course with 18 separate exhibit areas. The front nine is dedicated to the history of golf, told through interactive exhibits, photos and artifacts; this section begins with a stroll across a life-size replica of the famous Swilcan Burn Bridge of The Old Course at St. Andrews to an 1880's style green where you can try your hand with an old-fashioned, wood-shafted putter and a replica 19th-century gutta percha ball.
Separating the front nine from the back nine is Shell Hall, a comprehensive tribute to 84 male and female members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Portraits and crystals describe each inductee's career highlights, while six interactive computer stations provide statistics, sound bites, pictures and video clips.
The back nine showcases the modern game through in-depth exhibits and interactive displays. Nothing escapes reverent attention: visitors trace the history and heritage of the caddie, view a cutaway of a modern golf bag, and gain an appreciation of modern course design and grounds-keeping. A highlight here are the hands-on exhibits which allow visitors to analyze their swing and how it stacks up to a database of professional golfers' swings, or log on to a favorite golf website. One of the most popular exhibits, which is produced by PGA Tour Productions (which has its facility in the complex, as well), lets you imagine that you are playing a major championship put under the "eyes" of spectators and television cameras, complete with crowd noises (the kids love this).
Interspersed throughout the Hall of Fame is a collection of artifacts, including astronaut Alan Shepherd's "lunar club" from the 1971 Apollo 14 mission to the moon; a pair of President Eisenhower's golf shoes and socks, and golf-related etching by Rembrandt. Champions such as Tiger Woods and Nancy Lopez provide commentary via hand-held Acoustiguides.
You are ushered through the Hall of Fame by volunteers-225 of them on the roster-who conduct tours two or three times a day. Some of the volunteers have gone further and become "Storytellers," taking on the role of a famous golf legend, such as Ben Hogan (played by volunteer Bob Peters), Babe Zaharias (played by Lee Byroade); Kathy Whitworth (the first female golfer to win $1 million, played by Demi Lacouture), and Nancy Lopez and her husband, Ray Knight, portrayed by Ginny and Frank Kane.
A distinctive element is its Education Program geared to children in grades 4-8 that features "Science of Golf," various interactive displays and hands-on exhibits that provide real-life applications of science and inspire potential stars of tomorrow. Science of Golf illustrates scientific principles that govern the game of golf through dynamic and interactive demonstrations. Rob Krampf, also known as Mr. Electricity, developed the program, which is conducted by specially trained volunteers with science, math and education backgrounds.
The annual induction ceremony is only one of many special events and tournaments that go on during the year at the World Golf Village.
World Golf Hall of Fame is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 800-WGV-GOLF, www.wgv.com.
Adjacent to the World Golf Hall of Fame, on a circular "Walk of Champions" set around a pond (115,000 commemorative bricks interspersed with granite slabs featuring the signatures of Hall of Fame members including "old" Tom Morris, Sr., the first Hall of Fame inductee), is the 300-seat World Golf Village IMAX Theater, North Florida's only IMAX facility. During our visit, "Beauty and the Beast," T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous" and "The Living Sea," were on view.
Another unique element of World Golf Village is the first PGA TOUR Golf Academy, a joint partnership between the PGA Tour and Honours Golf. Operated by Resort Golf Group of Scottsdale, AZ, the state-of-the-art teaching facility offers three types of golf instruction and is available to leading golf instructors for clinics and schools. You can take advantage of a scheduled offering but you can also customize or combine any golf school, golf vacation or private lesson program. School programs feature dinners and cocktail parties, and tickets to the various Village attractions, as well as alumni benefits like discounts on future stays and the ability to email instructors with questions.
One of special events during the year is Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teacher Weekend (held in April in 2002), a three-day weekend featuring personalized instruction clinics of your choice, accommodations, all meals, visits to Hall of Fame and IMAX, on-course instruction and Challenge Hole and Putting Course Instruction. Participation is limited to 300 registrants.
Golf Packages are available which let you play as many as six rounds at six different courses in six days.
Also on this circular complex is The World Golf Village Renaissance Hotel (which has a swimming pool and playground), PGA Tour Stop store, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a Challenge Hole (where for $5, you try your hand at hitting a hole-in-one) and the Murray Bros. Caddyshack Restaurant.
'EAT, DRINK AND BE MURRAY'
World Golf Village is also distinguished by the first Murray Bros. Caddyshack Restaurant, which epitomizes the same irreverence, humor, as well as the sheer love of the game, of the "Caddyshack" comedy which Brian Murray, a writer for "Saturday Night Live," co-wrote, describing the five Murray brothers' teenage years when all of them worked as caddies and other golf-related jobs to pay their way through school. Andy Murray, the co-founder and co-chairman, is an accomplished chef and restaurateur and all the Murray brothers-comic actor Bill, John, Joel, Ed, and Brian Doyle are all involved.
The restaurant is designed to look and feel like a country club gone awry and you find yourself laughing at the sight-gags (the bar stools are cut-off golf bags; the door to the Ladies Room looks like a portosan, but is beautiful inside while the Men's room has a beautiful door but looks like a portosan inside) and hidden jokes, all the while reveling in the marvelous, but eclectic and fun food (only here could Midwestern specialties like Sheboigan bratwurst, Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef be gourmet), along with salads (the Greens), pizza (Slices), pasta, seafood, barbecue and sand-wedges. Whimsy is the most used spice, such as in the Chinese tacos (Bill's favorite).
The flagship restaurant (other potential sites include Phoenix and Myrtle Beach) includes the Bunker Bar with two, 150-inch quad television screens plus additional TVs to cover multiple sporting events (golf is big on the list), and the Looper's Lounge which doubles as a game room with another widescreen TV, two billiard tables and video games and can be used as a private room for large groups. The Shed sells Caddyshack merchandise. The room is decorated with pictures and a script from the movie, plus various Murray Bros. memorabilia. There is a small stage designed to periodically host live entertainment such as bands or comics (904-940-FORE).
Even if you are not staying at World Golf Village, the Hall of Fame, IMAX, miniature golf and the Caddyshack Restaurant are well worth visiting, but staying here is tremendously fun, and is just off I-95.
You walk into the World Golf Village Renaissance Resort to a breathtaking, towering lush atrium with running streams and tall palms, and take an elevator ride (the kind you can see through) up to the floor. The 300 guest rooms and suites all include wet bar, mini-refrigerator, cable television, coffee maker and two televisions. The resort-hotel also has a fitness center (massage therapy available), a delightful outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, and playground. There is also a virtual-reality golf simulator featuring 30 golf course options. The Cypress Pointe Restaurant is lovely for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and the Cypress Pointe Lounge offers a big screen TV and billiards room.
For other options, you just walk out the door, onto the Walk of Champions, to the other activities and amenities around the circle. We took out a surrey cycle for a little ride ($7/half hour, seats four), and played the 18-hole miniature golf course (this is serious fun, mimicking the putting greens with real green grass), or visiting the IMAX or Hall of Fame, or enjoying dining at the Caddyshack. And try your hand at the 132-Yard Island Challenge Hole, reminiscent of the 17th Hole of the Stadium Course at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, you have to play across Kelly Lake; part of the $5 fee (for two shots) goes to the First Tee Organization, a PGA effort to support youth development programs, which is also headquartered here.
What was surprising about World Golf Village Renaissance Resort was that as grand as it is (you can easily imagine corporate groups and incentives meeting here, especially with the St. Johns County Convention Center just across the circle, making it one of the largest combination hotel/conference centers between Atlanta and Orlando), it is also family friendly. Indeed, I can envision many coming for corporate functions, bringing their families along because of all the attractions at the resort as well as its proximity to St. Augustine and Jacksonville.
World Golf Village Renaissance Resort (which is planning to offer a Little Legends Kids' Club supervised activities program) offers a Family Escape Package starting at $49 per person, per night for a family of four. The package includes deluxe accommodations (incredibly beautiful), breakfast daily, tickets to both the World Golf Hall of Fame and IMAX Theater, and family play on the 18-hole natural grass putting course. The package also provides access to the exclusive family-oriented Serenata Beach Club, as well as roundtrip shuttle. World Golf Village Renaissance Resort, 500 South Legacy Trail, St. Augustine, FL 32092, 888-740-7020 or 800-HOTELS, www.worldgolfrenaissance.com).
Other accommodations within World Golf Village include Comfort Suites, a 162 property with heated indoor swimming pool, outdoor swimming pool and exercise facility (800-228-5150), and Sheraton's Vistana Resort, overlooking the Slammer & Squire golf course, offering nightly rentals of one and two-bedroom vacation villas (as well as timeshare units), a heated outdoor swimming pool, sand volleyball courts and tennis courts (800-477-3340).
This is only the first stages of the development of World Golf Village, which at 6,300 acres is larger than all of Hilton Head, S.C. Four other tracks of land were purchased by other hotels, which will increase the number of overnight accommodations from 700 to 1500 over the next five years. The 20-year master plan also calls for 7,000 single family and one-to-three bedroom condos. There is already a high-end senior assisted living facility, Glenmoor, with 140 units (almost sold out). The complex also contains 5.5 million sq. ft. zoned commercial real estate.
World Golf Village is 45 miles from Jacksonville International Airport and very near to St. Augustine/St. Johns County Municipal Airport, a private, non-commercial airport. B y car, it is just off I-95 at Exit 95A.
World Golf Village, 21 World Golf Place, St. Augustine FL 32092, 800-WGV-GOLF, 904-940-4000, www.wgv.com.
We were amazed at how much there is to do in Jacksonville, about 40 minutes drive from World Golf Village. Families will enjoy the Jacksonville Zoological Gardens with more than 700 animals (www.jaxzoo.org), the Museum of Science and History offering hands on exhibitions (www.themosh.org), the Ritz Theater and LaVilla Museum, and visiting the collection of shops, eateries and Ostrich Landing arcade at Jacksonville Landing.
Make a special effort to visit the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, the only museum in northeast Florida which presents the art of many cultures and time periods. There are phenomenal European and American pieces in the permanent and eclectic collection which includes Western art from 2000 BC to the present including Old Master and American paintings, pre-Colombian ceramics and one of the most fabulous collections of Early Meissen porcelain, as well as world-class special exhibits, magnificently presented. One of the most outstanding recent additions is Thomas Moran's painting, "Ponce de Leon in Florida."
The museum also offers innovative interactive areas to inspire and engage children including an award-winning art education center.
Housed on the site of benefactor Nina Holden Cummer's family's mansion, the museum also has 2 ½ acres of formal English and Italian gardens overlooking the St. John's River, and which the crew maintains exactly as it is presented in a needlepoint she made. One of the rooms replicates the original Library.
The museum incorporates tremendous creativity in featuring exhibitions: a recent Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit featured a "Slumber at the Cummer for Kids" event, An Evening in Paris event (with flashlight tour of exhibit); Cabaret and Bistro Nights, a family day with scavenger hunts, storytelling and hands-on art projects. (Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, 829 Riverside Ave., Jacksonville, 904-356-6857, www.cummer.org).
For dining, try River City Brewing Company (904-398-2299), across the river where you can walk across the bridge (we saw a school of dolphins) or take a water taxi from Jacksonville Landing. This is the Maritime Museum Historical area and there is presently a 1.5 mile river walk that will be extended to the Cummer Museum.
For further information, contact Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, 201 East Adams St., Jacksonville, FL, 800-733-266, www.visitjacksonville.com.