Stillwater will combine old-school, modern design elements for first new golf course on First Coast since 2002
Bobby Weed said the highest praise a golf architect can get is when someone tells him that a course looks as if it has been on the property for years.
He’ll get plenty of that after the Stillwater Golf Course opens in late spring.
The first new golf course to be built on the First Coast since 2002 is targeted for a May opening at the Stillwater community north of State Road 210 in St. Johns, about 3 miles west of I-95. Stillwater is nearly equidistant between the two largest cities on the First Coast, 30 miles from downtown Jacksonville and 23 from downtown St. Augustine.
The Lennar development, which has already sold out of the first of four residential phases, is an “Active Adult Community,” for those 55 and over and eventually will have 550 home sites.
Home prices range from $350,000-to-$600,000.
Public play on the course will be allowed until enough homeowners move in, at which point Stillwater will become private. Hampton Golf, the management company for the Palencia Club, the last new design to be built on the First Coast, will manage Stillwater.
Weed, who designed area courses such as the TPC Sawgrass Dye's Valley, the Slammer & Squire and Amelia Links, plus renovations on Timuquana and the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, led a media tour of the first seven holes of the course on Saturday.
Making minimal use of space and resources and combining old-school and modern design principles, Stillwater winds through an area of native wetlands and cypress, pine and oak trees, but has only 70 acres of irrigated turf, is using reclaimed effluent water as its main source of irrigation and has drastically cut down on the maintenance and cost for its bunkers by using repurposed artificial sod from British soccer fields for the front walls.
“It’s a sensitive piece of property and we respected that,” Weed said of the 148 acres that contain the par-72 course, which will measure nearly 6,800 yards from the back tees. “It’s very linear with a lot of wetlands and the overall site was a challenge. But we think it looks like it just settled into the property. It looks like it belongs here.”
The clientele dictated many of the design principles. Built for a retirement community, Stillwater isn’t overly long, doesn’t have many forced carries over water or other hazards and has drought-tolerant “Tiftuf” Bermuda grass fairways that melt into Tifeagle Bermuda greens, enabling players to utilize run-up shots and use their putter often from off the green.
The fairways are generous, depending on how risky or conservative a golfer wants to play. There are few sharp doglegs but there are subtle movements and the greens are moderately sized (between 5,000-to-6,000 square feet) that Weed described as “more strategic than penal.”
However, numerous moguls, mounds, waste areas and small “pot” bunkers offer most of the challenges and, more important to Weed, increase the options of how to play a hole.
“I’ve never been a fan of a golf course that you can play one or two times and think you’ve got it figured out,” he said. “Here, we have options. Options create interest.”
And while the course is short, with driveable par-4 holes at Nos. 3 (333 yards from the back) and 12 (395) and reachable par-5s (the longest is the 572-yard 11th), Weed said there is no hole that takes the driver out of play for skilled golfers.
There are holes where the fairways narrow and the hazards come more into play for the big hitters.
“You can hit driver on every hole if you want,” he said. “You just have to take the risk.”
While the design and natural look of Stillwater may be old-school, there are some design innovations that are new to the First Coast:
• The “Eco-bunkers” are built by putting layers and layers of artificial sod for the front face. While they look steeper, Weed said they’re angled at about 55 or 60 degrees. The advantage is that the bunkers don’t need nearly as much maintenance as traditional bunkers, which is good for a course’s bottom line and good for the environment.
• The bunkers are filled with “G-Angle” sand. The particles are angled, which cuts down on drifting under windy conditions and also tends to result in fewer plugged or “fried egg” lies.
• Weed, a Pete Dye disciple, has departed from his mentor in one way. Rather than use old railroad ties that are installed vertically as bulkheads for water hazards, Wood simply uses planks of treated lumber that angle from the playing area to the water called “laydown walls.”
• Further cutting maintenance costs are crushed-shell cart paths. More visual contrast from the fairways and greens will be native areas planted with Centipede grass, which has a red tinge. The banks of water hazards will be planted with Bahia grass.
• The course has been designed in “loops,” to give players options other than the traditional 18- or 9-hole round. The “Red” course is Nos. 1-3, the “Blue” course is Nos. 1-6, the “Yellow” course is Nos. 7-15 and the “Orange” course is Nos. 7-18.
“The one thing golfers talk about is disposable time,” Weed said. “They can now come home and play three or six holes before dinner, or go out after dinner in the summer and play three or six holes.
The 16-acre practice facility includes a huge “Himalayas” putting green and Toptracer technology in the hitting areas, where players can get immediate readouts on their distance and swing data, especially important when they receive instruction from the professional staff under general manager Michael Monahan, a former Palencia assistant.
The range will be lighted. The clubhouse will offer beverages and a full menu.
Golf initiation and membership fees will be included in the purchase price of homes and the Stillwater HOA fees will include green fees. The public price point will be in the $120 range, which can be lower or higher, depending on the day of the week and season.
Other activities at Stillwater, once the clubhouse and fitness center are completed, include tennis, pickleball, bocce and a 24-hour fitness center. Hampton Golf will also manage those facilities.
“Everything here is about the lifestyle,” said Gareth Seago, Lennar area sales manager.