Each week this season, TravelGolf.com is highlighting a key college football matchup and looking at the golf options around the home team's campus. This Saturday the Florida Gators host the Miami Hurricanes in the notorious Swamp. Here's a look at the golf courses in Gainesville, Florida.
There was a time in the not-so-distant, glorious past when the Florida-Miami game drew the breathless attention of the college football world.
Actually, whenever any of the Sunshine State's Big Three — Miami, Florida and Florida State —played one another, it was a major story. Nowadays, you can toss in Central Florida.
That's changed somewhat in recent years, with FSU Coach Bobby Bowden closing in on his 200th birthday and Miami on the skids.
Still, Miami-Florida is always a spectacle, usually festooned with brotherly love, backyard rivalry, NFL-like talent and just plain hard feelings.
The Gators have Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and a serious shot at another national title, but they still have not beaten the Hurricanes in 23 long, tedious years. The last time Florida beat Miami, Vinny Testaverde was making his debut for the 'Canes.
Miami rolled in its season opener, topping Charleston Southern 52-7. The Gators also enter this week at 1-0 after topping Hawaii 56-10 on Saturday.
I'm not making any predictions, but this game is crying out to be called an upset special. Miami has been thinking about it for a year. Florida won't be looking past the Hurricanes, but the Gators have much more to lose. Still, this is probably the year they break the streak.
Golf in and around Gainesville
You'd think a college town in Florida, the state with more golf courses than any other, would be brimming with golf options. Not so. Gainesville's offerings are paltry compared with other Florida cities. The best course is the Mark Bostick Golf Course at The University of Florida, a Donald Ross design that opened in 1930. But it's a private course and so, to play it, you must be affiliated with the university, or be the guest of a member. Plantation Oaks has been around since the late 1970s, one of those mid-level Gainesville-area courses that's easy on the wallet.
Also, like other Gainesville golf courses, it's short at 6,570 yards from the back tees. It's a traditional layout in a parkland setting with oaks and pines. The main obstacle here is the narrowness of the fairways. "For courses around here, we feel this is one of the tighter ones," said Assistant Golf Professional Allen Rose. "Some of the others are a little more forgiving. It's not long, but you have to keep it in the fairways and out of the trees. I think it's a little more target golf than the others." Meadowbrook Golf Club is one of those courses you play and dream about what might be, what could be. It has a lot going for it, built on the rolling Santa Fe hills on the outskirts of Gainesville, on beautiful, rolling terrain where an Indian reservation used to be. It has a big-name designer in Steve Smyers. But - and this is a big but — it could be so much more. The course is in need of some tender-loving care. "I have a dream where I win the lottery and buy this course," said former Manager George Blumberg. "I'd shut it down for a year and renovate it."
Ironwood Golf Course is a good municipal layout, a short but facile course that, unlike other development-driven courses in the area, is a pleasant walk in the park — or more specifically, the woods, since there are all sorts of critters ambling around. The course is Audubon certified, scoring high on all the points Audubon looks for. Ironwood's what a muni should be — a cheap course with an interesting layout that caters to anyone who wants to play the game of golf without all the expensive bells and whistles. The course was built back in the 1960s, and the city inherited a fine layout. Designed by David Wallace, Ironwood has a nice variety of holes that play through mostly secluded surroundings, offsetting its relative lack of length, at 6,464 yards from the back tees.
Florida didn't get a reputation for partying for no reason. Gainesville has a ton of watering holes. Some of the favorites are Market Street Pub (120 SW 1st Ave., tel. 352-377-2927) —drink, eat and listen to music, what more do you want? — and Stubbies, for "mature" beer drinkers," with 200-plus beers to choose from. Others are Durty Nelly's Irish Pub and the Gator City Sports Bar (1728 W. University Ave., tel. 352-377-7333). Or just walk down University Avenue and stumble into the bar of your choice.
Road trip: Golf near Gainesville
The golf courses of Jacksonville and the First Coast, about an hour and a half away, are your best bet if you want to take a little time for a short road trip. Also, Ponte Vedra Beach, just south of Jacksonville, is home to the two courses at TPC Sawgrass, including the Stadium course, host of The Players championship. The World Golf Village spreads conspicuously off Interstate-95 in St. Augustine and sports the Golf Hall of Fame and two beautiful golf courses. The King and the Bear was a true collaboration of two of the most revered names in golf, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The two actually walked the layout together, consulted one another, even played the course together. It is a beautiful design, though some say the less famous Slammer and Squire at the village is more challenging to hard-core golfers.
Next week: A look at golf in Los Angeles in advance of USC's Sept. 13 showdown with Ohio State.