JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At first glance, Blue Sky Golf Club looks like many golf courses.
At 6,784 yards, this Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay design is certainly a good test. There are five sets of tees, a clubhouse, a range and practice areas.
In those respects, it's similar to the way it was two years ago when this east Jacksonville golf course, which is located next to an executive airport, was called Mill Cove.
But that was before Hampton Golf (founded by past PGA of America President M.G. Orender) bought the property and started making changes. The company sunk $1.5 million into a renovation that brought in new Tif-Eagle greens and other improvements to the golf course. But more important, there were some operational changes that make the course one of the most unique in Florida. And if you haven't played the course since it became Blue Sky, you get your first clue when you check in for golf, which isn't at the golf shop, but rather the bar and grill.
That's right; there's no golf shop at Blue Sky. There's no dress code either. And you don't even have to play nine or 18 holes, and most important, you don't have to pay for that many holes either. In fact, depending on the time of day, you can pay for and play as few as three holes for less than $8.
"A lot of people, when they get off from work, they don't want to play nine holes," said Karisa Akin, events and tournament coordinator for Blue Sky Golf Club. "It (playing three or six holes) is also great for kids and family."
Pay as you play at Blue Sky
The rack rate during the week for 18 holes is just $32.95, but you can play nine holes for $20.95 before 5 p.m. or $17.95 after 5 p.m. Based on how busy the course is, you can also play six holes for $11.95 or three holes for $7.95, the latter of which starts on the 10th hole, continues to the par-3 11th and finishes on the par-4 12th, which just happens to end near the clubhouse.
Offering these options, however, is just the beginning of how things are different at Blue Sky, where the motto is "everyone is welcome."
Although golfers check in at the bar and grill, they can also purchase hats, golf balls, gloves or even socks, get some range balls and a smoothie before their round. Many golfers also like to return after their rounds to the bar and grill, which was a big part of the overall renovation. Beautifully appointed (and that includes the restrooms as well), it's really a sports bar with 22 flat-screen TVs, plenty of beer on tap and specials that include 20 wings and a pitcher of beer for $20. During the Masters the place was packed and, somewhat surprising, soccer matches are a big draw at Blue Sky.
Where the golf shop used to be are now a couple of pool tables, foosball and other games. There's also a cornhole (beanbag) league, weekly golf leagues (including one just for women), junior camps, and the range, albeit on mats, is lighted.
And if you're really looking to have a good time on the golf course, you can even rent one of the "party" golf carts available. The party carts are equipped with oversized wheels and a huge speaker in the back to accommodate your music.
There's golf at Blue Sky, too
So what about traditional golfers? Are they welcome? Of course they are. As long as they're not offended seeing other players on the course wearing T-shirts, traditional golfers shouldn't have any issues at Blue Sky.
The truth is that most of the golfers who play Blue Sky do wear traditional golf attire, and they appreciate the layout. While the renovation greatly improved the old Mill Cove, which had deteriorated greatly since it opened in 1990, Blue Sky isn't one of the best conditioned golf courses in Jacksonville, but it doesn't have to be since it's not priced like one. But the greens are consistent, and there's plenty of grass on the course; you just might run into a few weeds here and there.
Golf Advisor reviewer John57Dunn wrote: "I have played this course since it was started as Mill Cove. For over 20 years this course steadily went downhill. It has seen a remarkable turnaround with the new owners. It is a crazy fun course for all levels of golfers if you play the correct tee boxes."
What you get at Blue Sky is a very good tree-lined layout, with plenty of water, doglegs, nice risk-reward par 5s and even a little elevation change, which is rare for the Jacksonville area. Both nines finish with good holes. The ninth is the no. 1 handicap hole, a 580-yard par 5 that crosses a stream that runs in front of the green. The 18th is a par 4 that plays off an elevated tee to a green that's also protected by a water hazard in front. In between there are plenty of other interesting holes as well. Whether you're wearing a golf shirt or a T-shirt or playing by the Rules of Golf or by your own rules, at Blue Sky it really doesn't matter as long as you don't infringe on anyone else's experience.
What do you think of Blue Sky's relaxed policies? Would they work at your course? Would you welcome golfers with T-shirts? Is a golf shop necessary? Please leave us some comments below.