With football season in the rear-view mirror and baseball still on the horizon, let’s turn out sporting thoughts to two endeavors: NASCAR and golf. Each is easily found in Daytona Beach all year ‘round,in this famous beach city, beginning with this year’s Daytona 500, Feb. 18.
Daytona International Speedway, just off the junction of Interstates 4 and 95, is one of the country’s great tourist destination, filled with memorabilia and the opportunity to share a ride on the famed two-and-half-mile oval track as Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.
Golf has its own royalty in the Daytona Beach, with golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus (Ocean Course at Hammock Beach), Tom Watson (The Conservatory at Hammock Beach) and Rees Jones (LPGA International).
Nicklaus’ Ocean Course was recently renovated and now features wall-to-wall Paspalum grass. It’s six ocean view holes are among the finest in Florida, and the course itself likely will be the last course ever built along the Florida coastline.
The Conservatory at Hammock Beach is touted as a “links’’ style course because of its more than 120 bunkers. Most of those bunkers are on the front nine and there is almost no way to miss at least just one. Some elevation changes on the back nine offer some outstanding panoramic views and make the back side at The Conservatory on of the top back nines in all of Florida.
Hammock Beach is approximately 35 minutes north of Daytona Beach in Palm Coast. It’s an easy ride and the all-suite guestrooms at Hammock Beach make for a great buddy trips.
But for those who want to stay closer to the Daytona Beach action, LPGA International is a good place to begin. The Jones Course has re-opened this past Fall with TifEagle Bermuda, one of the newer strains of Ultradwarf grass, on its greens. The greens also were restored to their original sizes.
LPGA Internationals other signature course, desgned by Arthur Hills, showcases the archtect’s mastery of designing through a terrain’s natural settings – this time through wetland and narrow pine corridors.
As with many courses in the Daytona Beach area, LPGA International offers stay and play packages whose prices vary by season. Regardless of the season, however, they’re excellent values when compared to similar packages farther north in Jacksonville and southwest in Orlando.
Among the “must play’’ courses in the area, Halifax Plantation in Ormond Beach, which plays through centuries-old live oak trees. It’s one of the area’s prettiest layouts, and among its most popular.
Spruce Creek Country Club is built around one of the world’s largest private airports in Port Orange, just a few miles south of Daytona Beach. Designed by Bill Amick, Spruce Creek is a terrific country club course that’s open for public play.
In Deland, about 35 miles from Daytona Beach, is Victoria Hills Golf Club, a Ron Garl design that’s among best public layouts in Central Florida. Central Florida? Okay, Victoria Hills borders the edge of Central Florida and the Daytona Beach area, but no listing of Daytona Beach courses would be complete without it.
Garl, a former University of Florida golfer who has designed courses worldwide, knows the Florida terrain in these parts, and it shows, as Victoria Hills winds around oak hammocks and Augusta pines.
There’s no shortage of resorts, hotels, motels, B&B’s and condo rentals up and down the coast, Most of the larger hotels and resorts are located near the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and Pier, the central gathering place for locals and tourists. With its food stands and T-shirt shops, the Boardwalk and Pier is a good place to capture a bit of “old’’ Daytona Beach in today’s world.
For those who want a little more history, Ponce Outlet and Museum is a “must see’’ on the south end of the Daytona Beach. It’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (175 feet) and has some great views of the Atlantic Ocean.
While Daytona Beach isn’t known as a culinary destination, the area does offer some fine restaurants, the most notable of which probably is The Cellar, an Italian eatery in the home of former President Warren G. Harding.
The area also has its share of craft breweries, among them the Copper Bottom Craft Distiller, just across the bridge from the Boardwalk and Pier, in Holly Hill; and the Beachside Brew Pub in Ormond Beach.
In Ponce Inlet, don’t miss Racing’s North Turn Beach & Grill. It’s exactly like what it sounds and more. Located on a wide stretch of beach, Racing’s North Turn is the quitessentail bar that also happens to occupy the site where beach racing (and eventually NASCAR) began in 1936.
It’s filled with memorabilia (and of course a gift shop) from racing’s early years. In 2007, Ponce Inlet Historic & Archaeological Preservation Board recognized Racing’s North Turn a Historic Landmark.