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Play Away: Action Jacksonville

It's a cruel hole. Tiger, Phil and Ernie deserve what they earn for playing it.

Northeast Florida has three first-class resorts and one fascinating dowager of a hotel. All four of the resorts boast fine dining choices, spas and pools, tennis, and beach access. The one to pick probably depends on the golf course you'd most like to play. Starting in the north, there's the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, with no less than one-and-a-half miles of beach. Moving south, the plush Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is nestled in one of those quiet Florida oceanside enclaves where the right people live. Even better, guests get access to its Ocean course. A few miles away, the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa is a 4,800-acre resort with all the facilities. It can smooth your way onto the Stadium course.

If you fancy a taste of lodging the way the Four Hundred, the aristocrats of the Gilded Age, experienced it en route to their Florida winter homes a hundred years ago, stay at the Casa Monica Hotel in St. Augustine. Once owned by Henry Flagler, who founded Palm Beach, it's a lavishly restored Moorish Revival "castle" replete with ceiling beams and gauzy drapes. The World Golf Village courses are about fifteen miles away.

There are some predictable franchises at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, including a branch of Sam Snead's Tavern that displays everything from the Slammer's Ryder Cup team badges to his collection of forty-two hole-in-one balls. The steaks are a wise choice. The Murray Bros. Caddyshack, to its credit, glorifies loopers in its collection of wall memorabilia. Think of a Hard Rock Café for fans of Fluff Cowan.

To eat where the locals go in St. Augustine, try Cap's on the Water, on the beach side of the Intracoastal Waterway. You can get there by car or boat. Order fried shrimp and vanilla grouper. Sit on the deck under a tree dripping Spanish moss. Sip a margarita. Watch the fishing boats head home as the sun sets over the water. This is living.

Close to downtown Jacksonville, there's the cozy Bistro Aix, offering rustic French cuisine such as mussels with pommes frites. For a casual meal after a round at Amelia Island, try the Down Under Marina Restaurant in Fernandina Beach. It's a waterside seafood shack under the bridge that carries Highway A1A over the Intracoastal. You can't get much more Florida than that.

You'll want to see the World Golf Hall of Fame, but be advised it's a work in progress. They still haven't figured out how to memorialize the honorees. Originally the greats were commemorated on crystals that looked like glass sunflowers. For a few years, they tried portraits in inlaid woods; the effect made Gentle Ben Crenshaw look like the Phantom of the Opera. Recently they announced plans to redo the memorials as bronze-relief plaques. We'll see.

For those who like to mix golfing with angling, the Jacksonville area has some of the best fishing, both saltwater and freshwater, in the country. Book an all-day or half-day trip with Captain Kevin Faver, of Double K Charters, who'll show you where to catch redfish all year and tarpon in summer. Faver spent three years as a PGA Tour caddie, and he's a good raconteur. Ask him about his adventures at the 1987 Players Championship.

St. Augustine is also among Florida's leaders in roadside attractions. In addition to the standard alligator farms and the surprisingly interesting Victorian collectibles to be found in the town's Lightner Museum, there's the site where Ponce de Leon, according to legend, thought he'd discovered the Fountain of Youth. Six bucks gets admission and a drink. Alas, it's tap water. And when you get to your next golf course, you're still not going to hit your drives as long as you did when you were twenty-one.

TOURNAMENT PLAYERS CLUB AT SAWGRASS (Stadium), 904-273-3235. YARDAGE/SLOPE: 6,954/149. GREENS FEES: $150-$290. ARCHITECT: Pete Dye, 1980. T+L GOLF Rating: *****

PONTE VEDRA INN & CLUB (Ocean), 800-234-7842. YARDAGE/SLOPE: 6,811/138. GREENS FEE: $185. ARCHITECTS: Herbert Strong, 1928; RTJ Sr., 1947; Bobby Weed, 1998. T+L GOLF Rating: ****1/2

AMELIA ISLAND PLANTATION (Long Point), 800-874-6878. YARDAGE/SLOPE: 6,706/132. GREENS FEES: $140-$160. ARCHITECT: Tom Fazio, 1987. T+L GOLF Rating: ****

OCEAN HAMMOCK GOLF CLUB, 800-654-6538. YARDAGE/SLOPE: 7,201/147. GREENS FEES: $185-$215. ARCHITECT: Jack Nicklaus, 2000. T+L GOLF Rating: ****

WORLD GOLF VILLAGE (King & Bear), 904-940-6088. YARDAGE/SLOPE: 7,279/141. GREENS FEES: $69-$200. ARCHITECTS: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, 2001. T+L GOLF Rating: ****

HYDE PARK GOLF CLUB, 904-786-5410. YARDAGE/SLOPE: 6,468/125. GREENS FEES: $26-$36. ARCHITECT: Donald Ross, 1925. T+L GOLF Rating: ***

RITZ-CARLTON, AMELIA ISLAND, Amelia Island; 904-277-1100. ROOMS: $159-$339. SUITES: $289-$539.

PONTE VEDRA INN & CLUB, Ponte Vedra; 800-234-7842. ROOMS: $170-$430. SUITES: $330-$630.

SAWGRASS MARRIOTT RESORT & SPA, Ponte Vedra Beach; 904-285-7777. ROOMS: $149-$299. SUITES: $300-$1,500.

CASA MONICA HOTEL, St. Augustine; 904-827-1888. ROOMS: $169-$289. SUITES: $369-$899.

BISTRO AIX (French), Jacksonville; 904-398-1949. $$$$

CAP'S ON THE WATER (Seafood), St. Augustine; 904-824-8794. $$

DOWN UNDER MARINA RESTAURANT (Seafood), Fernandina Beach; 904-261- 1001. $$

MURRAY BROS. CADDYSHACK (American), St. Augustine; 904-940-3673. $$$

SAM SNEAD'S TAVERN (American), St. Augustine; 904-940-0161. $$$

DOUBLE K CHARTERS, 904-829-0027.

LIGHTNER MUSEUM, St. Augustine; 904-824-2874. 9-5 daily.

WORLD GOLF HALL OF FAME, St. Augustine; 800-948-4653. Mon.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 12-6.


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