White Oak Conservation and Golf near Yulee, Florida is a special place. First and foremost it is a wildlife refuge that happens to also have a 9-hole golfcourse.
A dozen of us from The Golf Club of Amelia Island wandered off our home grounds to play golf at White Oak Conservation, in the extreme northeast corner of Florida. The whisper was that the place provided golf, but we learned that there are actually two golf courses there: a private 18-hole course and a public 9-hole course.
Twelve of us went to see if the trip was worth it. After all, can you really mix golf with rhinoceroses, elephants and giraffes? I didn’t think it was possible this side of South Africa.
The drive only takes about 45 minutes from Amelia Island, a lot closer than South Africa and no passport required. The scenery along the way is lovely as you pass down long, shaded tunnels of trees. Then you leave the pavement and rumble along dirt roads. I swear I could here faint banjo music in the background as I looked for Burt Reynolds and his canoeing pals over every little body of water we passed.
Waze took us the shortest way which put us through the service entrance. No problem, the pleasant gate guard had all of our names and quickly waved us through. A couple of turns later we found the club house which was well stocked with everything you might require. Even loaner clubs. Not rentals, loaner clubs. Not Junker scraps of club sets, but good ones! The practice putting green near the club house was fast, curvaceous and pristinely cared for. A clue of what was to come.
Jaimie Rogers is the Head Golf Professional and Hospitality Sales Manager. He does a magnificent job. In all my years of golf, in all of the many locations I’ve played golf around the world, I have never experienced such warm hospitality. His sidekick, Tod, must have come around at least three times while we were playing to ask if everything was OK and could they do anything for us out on the course.
The 9-hole course spokes outward from a central, two-story, watch tower. Two or three holes out and then back so you’re never far away from refreshments or a toilet. Nice to have for the group’s elders.
Tee boxes are strategically placed with men playing off different tees after the first 9 holes. If the women had complained about not having a different set of tees for their second 9 holes, we would have gallantly offered them the use of the men’s tees we had used on our first 9 holes.
The fairways and greens are splendidly maintained with plenty of challenging sand bunkers. The most memorable hole is the waterfall hole, a challenging but fair, par 4 with the approach shot over the small lake and waterfall. Splendid hole!
It was strange to play the entire 18 holes and to catch only one glimpse of another 4-ball. There was no one in sight to catch up with and no one behind pushing us along. It was a magnificent golf outing.
But, “Hey”, you might ask. “Where were the rhinoceroses”?
Fortunately, they weren’t on the golf course. They were behind heavy duty, double fences that we passed taking the long way home through the main gate.
After golf we were given a brown bag lunch with a gigantic sandwich, chips and cold drinks which we devoured in the glassed-in, second floor of the watchtower. We also had free access to an extensive collection of cold drinks in the fridge and nibbles.
White Oak has an amazing collection of outings available, including overnight stays. Our next trip will be a two-day event. A tour of the facility on one day and golf on the other.
We’ve survived the first round of COVID-19 and it’s time to get out and move around a bit. You don’t have to get on an airliner or drive a great distance to have a memorable stay-cation. Visit White Oak https://whiteoakwildlife.org/ for a fascinating experience. You’ll also be helping to support wildlife.