Review: King & Bear Course - World Golf Village

Golfmagic tees up on the only course in the world designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus

Andy Roberts's picture
Submitted by Andy Roberts on

THERE is only one track in the world where between the golf course designers and I we've won a total of 25 major championships and it’s at King & Bear in Florida.

When it comes to golf legends, there are few more iconic names in our sport than Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The King, above right, was crowned major champion on seven occasions, while The Golden Bear, above left, clawed his way home for a record 18.

In what stands as the first and only collaborative design by Palmer and Nicklaus, arch rivals since the early 1960s, it was truly an honour to be teeing up on this hallowed turf crafted by two of the game’s finest who own 135 PGA Tour titles and some 350 course designs between them.

I’m not sure I’ve repaired more pitch marks, raked more bunkers and thinned more golf shots in my life before. The latter was my excuse when signing for a round of 84, anyway.

With vision slightly blurred standing on the first tee and staring into the scorecard, in part down to the previous night’s antics at Sawgrass Marriott Resort, it took me several moments to take in the Par-72, 7,279-yard offering from the tips. Then again it was hardly a shock to the system because both Arnie and Jack were bombers of a golf ball.

Opened for play in 2000, King & Bear features two distinctive nines that fittingly sum up the playing styles of both course designers along the way. Palmer loved to thrill his fans with low, piercing drives and go-for-broke heroics, while Nicklaus, 10 years his junior, was more self-contained, methodical and a consummate strategist who loved to rely upon a power fade.

The front side gives you a chance to open the shoulders and get away with a few loose drives with wide fairways lined with loblolly pines amongst open meadows, while things get a little tighter coming home with narrow landing areas off the tee defined by a multitude of mature oak trees.

The course features plenty of right-to-left holes and left-to-right holes, with Palmer no doubt influencing the former and Nicklaus the latter. Funnily enough on the par-4 15th, image above, I noticed a plaque to the side of the tee box explaining how Palmer and Nicklaus argued over the signature hole on the course. Palmer felt it was the short par-4 15th, interestingly a hole that goes against his normal shot shape, while Nicklaus favoured the long par-4 16th, which plays pretty straight.

Of the two holes in question, I’d personally have to side with Palmer. The 15th, stroke index 16, is a real risk-reward hole where you can bail out down the left with a long iron or hybrid or play for the green guarding against water all down the right side. It’s a hole that pretty much sums up Palmer’s risk-reward attitude to the game. The 16th, stroke index 2, is a much tougher prospect, however, with a tight drive and long second all played in amongst mature oak trees. Both very picturesque holes, though, so Arnie and Jack have got it covered between them as you might expect!

My other favourite holes at King & Bear were the bookends of each nine at the stroke index 1 par-4 ninth, image above, and stroke index 10 par-5 18th.

Measuring 448 yards from the tips, the par-4 ninth requires a carry off the tee of at least 240 yards to be safe of the H20 that runs short and all down the right of the hole, not to mention into a prevailing wind. You can give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back if making par, or bogey for that matter.

The par-5 18th, image below, measures little more than 550 yards from the back tee and is a great three-shot hole to finish. There’s quite a bit of room to blast one onto the fairway so open the shoulders and give it a rip, but do not miss your second shot left otherwise you’ll have a long-distance approach into the green from sand – one of the toughest shots in golf, in my book. Keep the second shot right of the bunkers with a hybrid or fairway wood, and leave yourself a nice short approach into a green that slopes right to left.

Verdict

King & Bear was undoubtedly one of my favourite courses on my recent trip to the Florida Golf Coast, and not just because it was designed by Mr Palmer and Mr Nicklaus.

It’s very much a driver’s golf course and requires you to have all the shots in the locker. Low shots under the wind, power fades and draws, and a deft touch on the greens - something Arnie and Jack had in abundance when in their prime.

You can get away with a few errant tee shots on the front side but you’ll need to be piping it down the middle coming home, particularly if playing off the back tees. There’s also plenty of water to keep you on your guard throughout, so be sure to bring a sleeve or two with you.

The practice facilities were some of the finest I’ve experienced this season, too, with a complimentary grass range to bash range balls in excess of 250 yards, alongside a neat little short game area with bunkers and spacious putting green.

The clubhouse is a classic design situated in prime view of the 18th green and the practice facilities. There’s also a full service pro shop, locker rooms with showers and a great restaurant where I had, yes you guessed it, burger and chips.

N.B: If you are playing the King & Bear course, do not turn into the World Golf Village property. King & Bear is located approximately three miles past the entrance to the World Golf Village.

Contact

King & Bear
One King and Bear Drive
St Augustine, FL 32092
Phone: (904) 940-6200
Website: www.golfwgv.com