Tee Up Crystal River, Florida

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By Bill Bauer

If you’re itching for a warm and wonderful stay-and-play golf vacation, head to Florida. Finding courses to play on a Florida golf trip is easy, but selecting which courses to play can be a challenge; after all, there are only about 2,000 courses from the Panhandle to the Keys! In a state where the landscape doesn’t allow for a lot of elevation change, most courses route their way at sea level from the first tee to the 19th hole. In and around Crystal River, near the Gulf Coast, you can find a little bit of everything.

The Plantation on Crystal River and a host of chain hotels offer perfect lodging to go along with dining choices to satisfy every palate. And if you have a yearning to seek out a manatee or two, you’re in the right place. There’s even a golf course onsite, and three more just a nine iron away—well, sort of. Juliette Falls and World Woods in particular are well worth the trip.

Play Golf

Juliette Falls

There were two railroads that crossed through the property owned by Ron Clapper, one from nearby Juliette and the other from Romeo. Clapper was fond of the name Juliette, equally fond of waterfalls, and after playing golf all over the world found the perfect setting to build his dream golf course: Juliette Falls. “Ron hired John Sanford, a renowned course architect and gave him a clean plot of 600 acres to design a core golf course with no worries of budget, home development, or roads to work around,” says Clubhouse Administrator Caylyn Milam. Carved out of a forest of mature pines and majestic oaks on a great piece of rolling land by a world-class architect, and a spare-no-expense owner, Juliette Falls (JF) has emerged as one the finest courses to play in the Sunshine State.

Natural and mitigated landscaping provide year-round color and green space and define the layout in a beautiful golf setting. Four gorgeous waterfalls and six spring-fed lakes provide habitats for many of Florida’s native species earning JF the Silver Sanctuary Award from the National Audubon Society. Its sandy soil provides perfect drainage on the Bermuda grasses from tee to green allowing for speedy play and cart traffic any time of the year. The combination of 68 manicured G-angle sand bunkers and six holes where water comes into play enhances Sanford’s plan for playability and strategy. “There’s plenty of width for the recreational golfer to play an enjoyable round and at the same time there’s strategic shot options that will challenge the best players in the game,” says Milam.

When choosing a signature hole “take your pick,” says Milam. “Number 13, a par 3 backed by one of our beautiful waterfalls and surrounded by water is many of our players’ choice, or number 8, a dog leg left with an elevated second shot into the green surrounded by natural beauty and landscaping is like a hole from Augusta National and flanked by a phosphate mining pit to the right from the late 1800s.”

For info or tee times, contact the Juliette Falls Golf Club golf shop at 352-522-0309 or email golfshop@juliettefalls.com.

World Woods

Jekyll & Hyde best describes the two courses at the World Woods golf venue. Pine Barrens and Rolling Oaks are distinctly different and perfectly named. With no actual bunkers, but more waste areas than you can imagine, Pine Barrens is an enjoyable challenge from any of the tee boxes and emphasizes direction over distance from the tee box. Its fairways are clearly defied by towering pines, the remains of the dense pine forest that once covered the terrain. Dramatic elevation changes add not only a degree of difficulty, but also provide beautiful views from tee to green.

Rolling Oaks is also a world-class layout and although it is directly alongside Pine Barrens, has an entirely different look. Majestic oaks draped in Spanish moss and sculpted white sand bunker lie in stark contrast to its neighbor course’s pines and waste areas. More generous landing areas and gently rolling hills lead to large, undulating greens where attention to pin placement is paramount.

Both courses have five tee boxes to accommodate all levels of golfers. Playing from the yardage that best suits your game is highly recommended if you want to land in the short grass, have a makeable approach, and score. World Woods has an amazing practice facility with perhaps the largest putting green you’ll ever see. Arrive early and hone your flatstick stroke on this massive green simulating everything you’ll encounter on both Jekyll and Hyde! Find all you need to know at WorldWoods.com.

The Plantation Course

If you stay at The Plantation on Crystal River, it behooves you to add its home course to your itinerary. You can walk across the street, golf bag in tow, and have a relaxing round on this relatively flat track. The retreat’s traditional Florida-style course features 27 holes of golf, lined with native oaks, palms, and pines, as well as water views. It is a fun course with its challenge being carefully placed trees, bunkers, and water hazards, not to mention tricky greens. At 6,472-yards, the 18-hole Championship Course, a favorite among PGA and LPGA professionals, is playable for every caliber of golfer. There is also an executive 9-hole course where the wedge and putter can get a workout on this 2,511-yard, par 33 gem. It is aptly named the Lagoon Course with water on nearly every hole coming into play. For golf packaging call 352-795-7211 or visit PlantationonCrystalRiver.com.

Stay & Dine

The Plantation on Crystal River offers multiple lodging options, with a combination of standard hotel rooms and villas, as well the West 82° Bar and Grill, poolside Tiki Bar, and the 19th Hole on the golf course. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available daily at the West 82° Grill where house specialties she crab soup, baby back ribs, pan-seared grouper, and a very tasty shrimp & grits. Light fare and libations are served at the West 82° Bar located between the lobby and the dining room. A convenient “grab and go” coffee bar is part of the contemporary lounge. Open seasonally, The Tiki Bar concocts tropical cocktails along with serving up burgers, fries, wings, and sandwiches, and the 19th Hole can take care an early breakfast before golf as well as lunch and a cold drink after your round.

When not golfing, the Crystal River is the catalyst for recreation including boating,
fishing, kayaking, canoeing, diving, and snorkeling in search of manatees in its cool
72 degree water.

The Best Western Crystal River Resort, located near all the golf courses in the area, is also an ideal waterfront location where its heated pool, spa, boat ramp, and Crackers Bar & Grill overlook the Crystal River. It is also the home to Captain Mike’s beach store and snorkel, diving, and sightseeing tours. Ranked in the top 25 percent for cleanliness and condition by AAA, the hotel has 114 rooms and efficiencies to accommodate couples, families, and groups. In the reception building, a hearty breakfast is served beginning at 6:30 AM providing an ideal way to begin a day of golf or adventure. Don’t pass on an opportunity to swim with the manatees that inhabit Crystal River.

Both The Plantation and The Best Western have dive shops on site offering up close and personal visits with these gentle giants.

It’s been said it’s all about location, and Crystal River, tucked along Florida’s Nature
Coast just 80 miles north of Tampa and 95 miles from Orlando, provides the best in
golf and more. The Shops at Heritage Village in its historic downtown section is
complete with celebrated homes and cottages housing unique boutiques and stores
offering everything from locally made children’s clothes to hand-dipped ice cream.
A collection of cafés and wine and tea bars line the avenue and should you decide to
dine out, over 100 restaurants await, offering every type of cuisine from seafood to
barbecue. From fantastic Italian cuisine at Rocco’s to ribs and BBQ at Cody’s, you’ll
find it all in and around Crystal River. For a taste of local flavor, a bit down the road
in Homosassa is the Florida Cracker Kitchen a hotspot among locals for its
breakfast and lunch in one restaurant and amazing pizza, apps, and flatbreads across
the street in another non the wharf.

More Information…

Looking for “old Florida”? The version that some of us remember from the 1950s and ’60s? The Florida that was quiet and unassuming, where hotels and motels were nestled in and around pristine lakes, rivers, wildlife refuges, and state parks? That’s what you’ll find in Crystal River, along with great golf. Check Discover Crystal River Florida to plan your vacation.

– Images courtesy featured properties

Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.

Bill Bauer is a freelance writer based in Fair Play, South Carolina. He writes about golf, travel and adventure as well as human interest stories. A member of the Golf Writers Association of America, his research has taken him to cities, mountain and coastal resorts, golf courses, fly fishing rivers and streams, hiking trails, ski slopes, sailboat races and other places that give new meaning to the maxim, “It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.” Visit his website to learn more.

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