If you're a golfer, you can't go wrong with a trip to the Jacksonville, Fla., area, home of the PGA Tour and the World Golf Hall of Fame.
After all, this is where The Players Championship is played, and it's also where the game's greatest are enshrined. As a spectator or golf tourist, both are must-see, but there are stay-and-play options for golf as well.
In fact, that's the beauty of The Players Championship. Unlike many PGA Tour tournament venues, you can play the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. It's become a modern classic, if you will. And there's golf to be had in World Golf Village near the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine.
The trouble is that if you're limited to just a couple of days, which one should you choose? Here's a comparison between the two to help you decide.
Both resorts have 36 holes of golf, but the major difference is that the two courses at the TPC Sawgrass are used for tour events. The Players Stadium Course is host to golf's so-called fifth major, of course, and the Dye's Valley Course (which is being renovated this year) is the site of a Web.com Tour event.
Pete Dye designed both courses, and while the Dye's Valley Course is solid, it isn't as memorable as the Stadium, which we've all come to know all too well. There are few thrills in golf like playing the last three holes on the Stadium Course, especially the famous par-3 17th.
Of course, playing the Stadium Course will cost you, and while the two courses at World Golf Village aren't cheap to play, they're considerably less than the TPC Sawgrass.
The Slammer & Squire Course , which pays tribute to its consultants -- Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen -- is by far the easier of the two. Designed by Bobby Weed, the course offers wide fairways, easier green complexes and fewer forced carries. The 7,300-yard King and Bear Course , named for designers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, features design traits common to both throughout, plenty of bunkers, water on most holes and some tricky greens.
It's hard to go wrong with either of these resort's golf schools. Both have the latest and greatest in terms of hardware, software and instructors.
World Golf Village's PGA Tour Academy offers individual lessons, two- to five-day golf schools, outings and clinics for groups of all sizes. The Tour Academy at TPC Sawgrass features some of the best in the business, plus it's located right on the practice facilities at The Players Stadium Course.
Hotel and spa
The resort of choice for the TPC Sawgrass is the nearby adjacent Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, which has a number of exclusive licensing agreements with the TPC. This beautifully appointed hotel, which sits on 63 acres of magnolias, palms and winding lagoons, hosts many special events associated with The Players Championship, as well as weddings.
There are 510 guest rooms, as well as 21 spacious suites that look more like modern penthouses than hotel rooms. There are also 80 newly renovated one- and two-bedroom golf villas, perfect for families or foursomes. In addition, the resort offers the Sawgrass Spa, a 25,000-square-foot, Zen-inspired escape that offers 19 private rooms for various treatments, as well as a whirlpool and heated outdoor pool.
The atrium-style Renaissance World Golf Village Resort (just steps from the Slammer & Squire course) has 301 luxurious rooms and suites, a 24-hour health club, lounge and full-service concierge. In addition, guests can also stay at the Grande Villas at World Golf Village, a Bluegreen Vacation Club resort, which overlooks parts of the Slammer & Squire Golf Course. The Renaissance does have a sauna, large pool and hot tub. For spas, head to the Spa at World Golf Village, located near the King & Bear facility, which offers full massage and salon services as well as seasonal specials and packages.
History of golf
This is where the World Golf Village has an edge, but it's not as big as you think. The World Golf Hall of Fame is where the game's greatest are enshrined, and artifacts and exhibits are preserved. Exhibits span the development of the game: equipment, memorabilia from the great tournaments and plenty of exhibits on the inductees, including lockers showcasing priceless material donated by the legends and their families.
At the TPC Sawgrass, there's no Hall of Fame, but the 77,000-square-foot clubhouse certainly serves as a museum to the PGA Tour and The Players Championship. Throughout, you'll find artwork, club exhibits, trophies depicting the history of The Players, a room dedicated to the Presidents Cup and so much more. Guided tours of the clubhouse are provided and recommended.
I really love the whole layout of the World Golf Village. It starts with the commemorative Walk of Champions that encircles a lake in the center of the resort. There's also the World Golf Hall of Fame IMAX 3D Theater, an enjoyable 18-hole putting course and island green on the lake, reminiscent of the 17th on the Stadium Course at Sawgrass. Resort meeting facilities include the adjoining St. Johns County Convention Center as well as meeting space in the Renaissance and Shell Hall in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Sawgrass Marriott has four outdoor pools, two whirlpools, 24-hour fitness facilities, kayaking, biking, family activities and 11 tennis courts (at the neighboring facility for the Association of Tennis Professionals). There's also the Cabana Beach Club right on the Atlantic Ocean. Besides the board rooms and outdoor space at the TPC Clubhouse, Sawgrass Marriott has more than 56,000 square feet of meeting space to accommodate all types of events.
Dining and lounges
The TPC Sawgrass might get the edge here, especially the clubhouse dining, which offers fine dining and one of the best happy hours in Florida. At Sawgrass Marriott, there are brand new dining options, including Vernon's -- named after the former president of PGA TOUR Golf Course Properties, Vernon Kelly -- and the 619 Ocean Club, which has great views of the surf. Alice & Pete's Pub not only features a nice selection of comfort food but a pretty good Guinness pour as well.
At the World Golf Village, there are several dining options, including Villagio Italian Grille. Both clubhouses have restaurants that have daily lunch, with the King & Bear serving dinner on Friday & Saturday nights and the Slammer & Squire has a fantastic happy hour and bar menu in late afternoons.
But perhaps the one most people talk about is Murray Bros. Caddyshack, which is owned by actor/comedian Bill Murray and his five brothers. Inside, there are all kinds of memorabilia from the classic golf comedy. The menu ranges from bar food to classic entrees, but the real kick is in hanging out at the bar with a cold one and soaking up the vibes.
Both World Golf Village and the TPC Sawgrass are premium resorts, but because of the more expensive green fees, a golf vacation at Sawgrass Marriott will probably cost a little more.
The nice thing about staying at Sawgrass Marriott Resort, however, is that you can package tee times at the Stadium Course, which isn't easy to get on in the spring and the fall.