Review of The Conservatory Course in Palm Coast, Florida
Located about 20 minutes south of historical St. Augustine and just north of Daytona Beach in Palm Coast is the longest and toughest course in Florida – The Conservatory Course at Hammock Beach Resort which opened in 2006. Tom Watson, who has an affinity for British links style golf, designed The Conservatory with a links look and feel and an abundance (over $4 million) of landscaping, flowers and unique accents such as snow fence, drift wood, man made water falls, babbling brooks and veneered field stone work that accents the entire property. Plus 140 sand and coquina bunkers and a few nasty steep faced sod-faced bunkers.
Tom must have moved a lot of sand and dirt on the course's 260 acres to create the steep mounding, natural dunes with pampus grass, heavily contoured and rolling fairways, and dramatic, undulating greens not commonly found on Florida golf courses. In addition, more than 450 live oak, stone pine, cypress, crepe myrtle, magnolia, elm, and maple trees were moved and replanted. Even the winding cart path is cool – a combination of brick pavers and natural sand waste areas.
Wow, what a beauty as well as a beast of a course that will test your nerves and all of your course management, club selection, and shot making skills thanks to:
- yardages ranging from 5087 to 7776 yards
- 76 acres of man-made lakes and three water features
- two Carolina-style creeks that wind next to the greens
- strong trade winds that can severely impact the flight of the ball in all directions
- over 140 sand bunkers that range from small pot bunkers to huge monsters that stretch from tee to pin
- steep sod bunkers, mounding, and swales
- heavily contoured and rolling fairways
- challenging green complexes that put a premium on putting and approach shots
- elevated tee boxes and raised greens
- several risk reward shots to carry lakes and long sand bunkers to shorten the hole
But don't let all of that scare you away, with 7 sets of tee boxes, plus a combo set, you can choose a set of tee that fits your game – don't be too macho, the back tees are a bear with several very long forced carries – and in several cases favor accuracy over distance. The Conservatory also looks much tougher than it plays – the huge numerous bunker, water, dunes, and mounds are intimidating but the fairways are ample, the rough is playable and the bunkers can be avoided. But if you spray it or find the bunkers or water you've got a major problem. Same is true for the approach shots to raised and well guarded greens where slope, undulation, ridges, and tiers.
There are some fantastic holes that are fun, challenging, scenic, memorable and a blast to play – words can't describe them, so I won't but The Conservatory's website has a very good hole by hole description. With all that plus very good conditions, an upscale club house, excellent practice facilities and top notch service, it's not surprising that The Conservatory has received a large number of awards and accolades, some of which include:
- Golf Digest ranked The Conservatory third on its elite list of America’s Best New Public Courses
- Number 19 in The Best Courses Near You in Florida by Golf Magazine
- Golf Week's Best Tour Courses You Can Play – Number 40
The fairways were in very good condition as were the roughs which were cut thin and playable. Most of the fairways are very firm giving you some extra roll that you need to manage, plus they are heavily contoured and rolling and some were like a kids roller coaster ride. You won't see any homes lining the fairways, but you will see plenty of long natural sand waste areas, water, mounds and dunes lining them. Hit the mounds right and they may push you back to the fairway.
The greens had some transition spots as the went from summer to dormant that impacted the visual impact but not the roll of the ball, which was fast at a 10 or more. We were told by a number of people that during the summer the entire course is in near perfect condition and lush and plush. The greens are all shapes and size with most of them being huge and in some cases you might be in a different zip code – which made them easier to hit but also made for some very long putts. All are raised and well guarded and have some combination of slope, undulation, big ridges, tiers, and false fronts or sides that will take your ball back to the fairway. Pin placement can be a killer and you need to try to stay below the pin.
As big as the greens are, the bunkers at The Conservatory are even bigger and more treacherous and there are lots of the them in the fairway and guarding the greens. They range from small steep and deep pot bunkers to some tractor trailer sized monsters to natural sand waste areas that in some cases also function as carts paths and can run from tee to pin. Most of the bunkers are steep and deep with soft thick sand.
If you lift your head up just a little, but not when you're swinging, you're likely to spot a fox, otter, raccoon, gopher tortoise, wild turkey, heron egret, osprey, mallard, owl, deer, or an alligator sunning itself near the green.
The namesake of The Conservatory is the stunning 44,000 square foot one-of-a-kind, glass-domed clubhouse which resembles a turn-of-the-century palace with an interior featuring a British West Indies flair. The clubhouse has a fine dining restaurant, members and guests men’s and ladies locker rooms with over 8000 square feet, a swimming pool, fitness room as well as a full service pro shop.
The Conservatory is private resort course that is open to members, their guests, and Hammock Beach Resort guests. Hammock Beach Resort is outstanding and has an excellent stay and play package – read our review of Hammock Beach Resort to learn more. The Ocean course at the Resort is also fantastic, here is a link to our review of the Ocean Course at Hammock Beach Resort.
Bottom line – The Conservatory is a blast to play, is demanding by fair, and has a lot of very stunning, memorable, and fun to play holes.
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Service is very good, the pro shop is well stocked, and the snack bar has the basics (the restaurant was closed). The practice area has ample hitting areas from both the front and back of the range, with 21 simulated target
greens, a 10,000 square-foot practice putting green, chipping green and a 19th hole par 3 practice hole with greenside and fairway practice sand traps.