South of the Spring Break Capital of the World, Daytona Beach, lays Florida’s Space Coast, with over 72 miles of unspoiled Atlantic Ocean beach. Besides the beach, the Space Coast has so much to offer visitors with such venues as the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where you can get a glimpse of America’s space program as it used to be. There are also the historical downtown areas of Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Eau Gallie and Melbourne. Each of these downtown areas has its own bit of history and is a great place for shopping, dining, or just taking a stroll before heading over to Port Canaveral to board your cruise. Did I forget to mention that Port Canaveral is Florida’s fastest growing cruise port? And the charming Brevard Zoo is centrally located in the county. Lastly, no visit to the area is complete without spending a couple of hours at the Ron Jon surf shop; it’s hard to not leave that store with at least a T-shirt!
But the beach isn’t the only place you will find sand around here; there are also plenty of great golf courses that adorn the Space Coast. Golf is one aspect that is often over looked in this part of the state, and Florida’s Space Coast Golf Association is on a mission to reach golfers that are planning their next Florida golf vacation. The Space Coast is a viable destination worthy of consideration when looking to discover that great place for your next golf vacation.
If you’re new to the game or just need a tune up round because you’ve been off for several months, Cocoa Beach Country Club is a great place to get your groove back. Cocoa Beach Country Club offers three 9-hole courses; they are at sea level so the lay of the land is flat. What they have done with three things common to golf in Florida – sand, water and palm trees – is impressive. The Dolphin Course is impeccably maintained and starts out with a short par 5 that is reachable in two with a good drive. Sand traps down the right side are reachable off the tee and there is a lot of sand to the left of the green, should you pull your approach shot. What was most impressive about all three nines was the speed and condition of the greens; they were in perfect shape and rolled true.
Number 6 on the Lakes Course is a challenging, double dogleg par 5 that plays 550 yards from the back tees. Your best bet here is to play down the right side; but not too far right or you’re likely to find the lake. The layup shot is what can make you or break you on this hole; the best approach to the green is from the left side, however a small lake protects the landing area. An approach from the right side means taking it airborne over a bunker; do that successfully and you’ve got a great shot at par or better.
By far, the most scenic of the three layouts is the River Course, with several holes playing right along the Banana River. My favorite was number 3, a par 5 that plays 514 yards from the back tees. Hit it left off the tee and you are bound to find the river, so the right side is preferred. Again, your layup shot is critical with a lake on the right side and the ever-imposing Banana River on the left. The green is protected on both sides by sand and the green itself has some interesting undulations. (www.golfcocoabeach.com).
The Habitat at Valkaria is the southernmost course of the Space Coast’s Golf Association’s offerings, but worth the trip. The course is aptly named due to its proximity to the Indian River Lagoon and it’s not uncommon to see gopher tortoises, gators, scrub jays and Sandhill cranes as you make your way around this championship layout. From the back tees, The Habitat plays 6,836 yards with a course rating of 73.7 and a slope of 141. Above average golfers will find that the Gold Tees (6,468/71.6/137) will give them all that they can handle. Unless you unleash bombs off the tee, the par 5s are 3-shot holes, so you will need a good short game if you’re looking to score well. You’ll also need a good long iron game for the par 3 holes; they’re all over 150 yards. The first four holes can lull you into a false sense of security, allowing you to spray the ball at will. Once you hit the fifth tee, things tighten up and you’ll need to start thinking your way around the golf course. All in all, The Habitat will provide you a true test of golf. (www.thehabitatgolf.com).
The Savannahs Merritt Island is also a certified Audubon cooperative Sanctuary and it too is a Brevard County course and managed by Integrity Golf. This Gordon Lewis design is just minutes away from Kennedy Space Center and winds its way through a majestic hardwood forest and around several scenic lakes. It’s not uncommon to see various species of exotic water birds, hawks, osprey as well as the occasional eagle. You’ll need good control of your driver off the tee as several of these holes are extremely tight. The most memorable hole for me was Number 11, a dogleg left par 4 that requires a long approach shot over water to a well undulated green. It takes two good shots to hit this green. Savannahs greens are undulating and in great shape, and will require golfers to stay sharp until the last put drops. Both the Habitat and Savannahs courses are managed by Integrity Golf. (www.savannahsgolf.com).
Two courses that accomplished golfers will be impressed with are Viera East and Duran Golf Club. Both courses are in the master-planned community of Viera East and sit on opposite sides of Interstate 95. Viera East is a Joe Lee design and is a favorite among local golfers and out of state players. The course is not without its share of accolades, having received a 4-star rating from Golf Digest and was voted “Florida’s Best Public Golf Course Under $50” in 1999. Recently, new TifEagle greens were installed as well as GPS Systems on each cart, adding to your golfing enjoyment. Viera East is a course that can be enjoyed by low handicappers who will find an abundance of risk/reward opportunities and challenging green complexes, and by newbies with its wide-open fairways and plenty of bailout room.
One of the more memorable holes at Viera East – and there were a few – was number 10, which is a pretty tough par 4 by anyone’s standards. Water poses an imminent threat for those that try – and fail – to cut the corner on this dogleg right. The positioning of the greenside bunkers eliminates any bump and run options, meaning you are going to have to fly it onto the green. A front left pin position can be especially tricky. A par or better is a job well done. (www.vieragolf.com)
The area’s top rated facility is the Duran Golf Club. Golf Course designer Chip Powell moved more than a million cubic yards of earth on land that was once a thriving cattle ranch and sod farm to create a layout featuring strong links characteristics – open fairways, rolling terrain and mounded greens. He also created 15 ponds and lakes that not only add beauty but create intrigue for golfers dealing with them on just about every hole. Duran is playable for seasoned players and newcomers to the game and was designed with minimal but strategic bunkering, so the average golfer can play without finding an overabundance of trouble and have more fun. Duran’s Development Center offers a lighted practice range and Par 3 course, rated in the Top 50 in the country for practice facilities.
Duran’s signature hole is Number 18, “Cape”, a long sweeping par 4 dogleg left that makes its way around a lake. This hole is the ultimate in risk/reward as players are challenged by both the water on the left and bunkers to the right. Playing into the wind, a well struck drive will still leave a long iron or hybrid into the green fronted by water on the left. Pot bunkers await any errant shots hit short and right of the green. Number 18 is just one of several memorable holes at Duran Golf Club. (www.durangolf.com)
The Florida Space Coast Golf Association has teamed up with several well know hoteliers, one of which is the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront. This hotel property will have you checking out sunrises directly on the Atlantic Ocean, and offers spacious rooms that are modern and very tastefully decorated. The Hilton offers the Longboards Tiki Beach Grille, an outdoor bar/entertainment venue that features great food, live entertainment, all your favorite libations, and the perfect atmosphere to “Get Away”. Be sure to start your day off right with the breakfast buffet at the Salt Restaurant, located in the hotel lobby. The breakfast buffet features an assortment of healthy breakfast items, made-to-order omelets and just about anything else you could imagine for breakfast.
For those looking for a great hotel property right off Interstate 95 that is close to several of the golf courses, the Holiday Inn at Viera offers great, spacious rooms and a secluded swimming pool, perfect for a dip after your round.
After your morning round, great lunches can be found at all the courses, The Habitat at Valkaria has outstanding hamburgers and chicken tenders that taste like they were made by the Colonel himself.
At the Tradewinds Restaurant at Duran Golf Club, you’ll find a great lunch menu, featuring buffalo wings available in a myriad of sauces and juicy burgers. I saw two guys eating Cuban sandwiches, boasting they were the best they’d ever had. I opted for the fish and chips and was not disappointed. Tender white fish in a light batter. For you French fry aficionados, the Parmesan fries are a must try, hand cut fries tossed in garlic and parmesan cheese. Also worth mentioning is Duran’s homemade energy bar made with rolled oats, coconut, dried cranberries and peanut butter, to name just a few ingredients.
Another course with outstanding food is Viera East, home to Divots Grille. Divots offers both breakfast and lunch menus and I highly recommend starting off your round with one of their breakfast sandwiches that tastes great and is easy to digest when you’re running late (as I was). After your round, try one of their signature sandwiches including the Ultimate Grilled Cheese or Blackened Chicken Breast (my favorite). They also make a mean deli sandwich or wrap and their burgers won’t leave you much room for dessert. www.divotsgrille.com)
As you can see, Florida’s Space Coast is one of those hidden gems that have a lot to offer golfers. When you compare the cost of staying and playing here versus other destinations in Florida, you’ll find it’s a tremendous value. Travelers can fly in directly to the Orlando-Melbourne International Airport, or Orlando International is only 45 minutes away. For more information or to book a golf package through the Florida Space Coast Golf Association, call one of their Golf Vacation Package Specialists at (866) 745-4735 or visit them online at www.spacecoastgolf.com.