Tallahassee Primer: A Look at the Hard Working Golf Courses of Tallahassee

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Those who know the South will tell you that Florida is not a "Southern" state. Miami has as much in common with rural Mississippi as day does with night.

Tallahassee, however, is different. If there's one city in Florida that could blend seamlessly into Georgia or Alabama, it's this one (it's closer to the Georgia border than it is to the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico). If you've ever been to Tallahassee, you've probably noticed that not only is its scenery different than most of the state, is character is too. Specifically, conservative Tallahassee doesn't exude a "Fun in the Sun" personality the same way that locales to the south do.

Aside from being the state's capital, gateway to the Panhandle, and a college town (Florida State University and Florida A&M, most notably) Tallahassee is a no-nonsense, working town. There exists here a businesslike persona and a matter-of-factness lacking in the state's coastal destinations. Perhaps it's the "Old South" influence or the political centeredness, but there is little fanfare or color in the area's day-to-day operations, especially when compared to places like Orlando, Sarasota, Palm Beach, or even Panhandle neighbor Panama City.

This no-nonsense mentality also applies to its golf, in both the number of courses and their style. In Naples, a city of comparable size, there are nearly four-dozen public golf options within a 30-minute drive, many of which are ranked among the most prestigious in the state. Conversely, the Tallahassee area can offer less than ten, the latest built in 1995. It's not that they don't play golf here, but it sure isn't their identity. Perhaps they're too busy.

The public courses are relatively blue-collar, or to put it another way, functional. Lacking beachfront or billion-dollar amusement parks, the area boasts no resort-level courses that would be an attraction on their own. What Tallahassee does offer is good value and fair courses with no frills.

The first name the springs to mind in Tallahassee golf is Don Veller Seminole Golf Club (850-644-2582). Noted for its convenient location south of the Capital and Florida State's campus and friendly green fees ($10-$32), Seminole has been serving the public since 1962. By all accounts this used to be a "good ol' boy" course where the locals ran the show, but a recent $7 million upgrade has sprung the course into the 21st century. "We've taken it from a dog track to a course that can rival Golden Eagle (Tallahassee's premier private course)," Head Pro Steve Soriano says. As one expects from a Bill Amick-designed course, Seminole is fairly open with no trickery and modest hazards. It certainly serves as a welcoming venue for all levels of player. It's also home to the Florida State golf teams (until this fall). Though the collegiate players tend to think it plays too easy, Soriano says, "I've yet to see any of them shoot a really low score."

In addition to Seminole, the other Tallahassee standby would have to be Hilaman Park Golf Club (850-891-3935), a municipal track located in the southeast section of town. Hilaman opened in 1971 and offers some fairly interesting and sloping terrain to play over, along with a familiar "muni" atmosphere. Designed by Larry Zimmerman, the course is a traditional set-up with holes bordered by trees, large greens and mild bunkering. Mature and simple, Hilaman rates as a good value to walk ($15), while green fees with carts range from $27-$32.

Just north of town is one of the "newer" courses, The Players Club at Summerbrooke (850-894-4653). Designed in 1988 by Dean Refram, this course is tight and hilly with some of the most advantageous golf terrain in the county. Though not long at just over 6,800 yards from the championship markers, it's one of the more difficult courses in the Tallahassee region to post a score. Summerbrooke qualifies as a great value with green fees usually ranging from $25-$35.

When the Fred Couples/Gene Bates-designed SouthWood Golf Club (850-513-3001) opens this fall (as part of a new Arvida/St. Joe residential community of the same name located four miles southeast of the capital), Tallahassee will finally have a course to rival the top tracks in the Western Panhandle. According to Couples, "The land at SouthWood (at right) is one of the most ideal settings we have ever had the opportunity to work with. We have the perfect palette from which to sculpt the course - rolling hills and wide open pasture lands combined with stands of awesome moss-draped live oaks. Since the first time our team toured the property, we have been confident this will be a premier course in the southeast." SouthWood is certain to leap to the top of the Tallahassee food chain, although it will be interesting to see how area players react to green fees that will likely be at least double those of its competitors. The FSU golf team is also expected to move their operations there.

The Two 'Sleeper' Courses

The most interesting and relaxed golf is found outside Tallahassee. To the west in the small town of Quincy is the under appreciated Golf Club of Quincy (850-627-8386), a 1968 Joe Lee design. The charm of this quiet course is undeniable due to its tree-lined fairways winding out and over some surprisingly beautiful property. General Manager and Head Pro Ben Duncan says the topography sets his course apart. "Unlike most of Florida we've got rolling hills. It's actually quite hilly, and there's no development around the course."

With its intimate feel and gently sloped greens generally surrounded by two or three bunkers, Quincy resembles other Lee courses from this era (see Errol Estate Country Club in Orlando). Compared to the mash of public golf within the Tallahassee city limits, the Golf Club of Quincy seems like a getaway, a step out of time. "It's just a good golf course, usually not very crowded," agrees Duncan. "You don't get stuck behind a lot of groups and since there aren't houses, there's not a lot of O.B. and playing out of people's backyards."

A similarly peaceable course outside of Tallahassee is Wildwood Country Club in Crawfordville (850-926-4653), approximately 20 miles south of Tallahassee on Highway 98. The attraction here are the swiftly moving rounds and the course's relatively low resistance to scoring. Director of Golf David Hoover says, "We've got a reputation for playability and conditioning. When I say playability, I mean that high handicappers always seem to score well out here, and our course is always in good condition."

Wildwood, opened in 1995, is a broad, natural course that treds lightly through lowlands just miles from the Gulf of Mexico. It's quiet and scenic (perhaps only a dozen homes populate the course), and there is a simple, refreshing joy to playing this layout that measures just 6,500 yards from the tips. "Golfers from Tallahassee come here to get away from the hustle and bustle and five hour rounds," Hoover says. "For some reason, even when we're extremely busy, players get around our course in four hours. We're definitely at the top of the market because we're out in the middle of nowhere and we're always busy."

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.

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