Hidden Hills Golf Club in Jacksonville, FL is not exactly what you would expect, after all, this part of the state is pretty flat. Yet hidden from the surrounding area are the ups and downs you will encounter on the course and not only on your scorecard.
Hidden Hills Golf Club has been a fixture of the East Arlington area near Jacksonville since 1966. In 1986, Arnold Palmer and his design group did a total makeover of the course, creating the challenging layout you find today.
In its heyday, Hidden Hills had over 700 members and played host to the Greater Jacksonville Open, a tournament that has morphed into the Players Championship, now played annually on the Stadium Course at Sawgrass. Winners of this prestigious golf tournament included Gary Player, Tony Jacklin and Don January.
With the downturn in the economy that occurred in 2007 – 2008, membership dropped to about 400, not enough to keep a club of this caliber up to par so to speak. A little over a year ago, Hidden Hills relinquished its “private club” status and became a daily fee facility. Memberships are no longer available, however long-term player passes can be purchased through the pro shop or online.
Hidden Hills offers all the practice facilities you need to get you golf skills honed to maximum efficiency. There’s a full length driving range where you can hit every club in your bag. There’s a separate chipping area where you can work on your short game and a massive well undulated putting green where you can practice many of the breaks you are about to encounter. Whether you’re looking to work on your game for an extended period of time or just knock out a quick bucket before your match, there’s plenty of room for everyone. In the event your game’s not where you want it to be, the PGA professionals at Hidden Hills are ready to help you get your groove back.
If you’re an “A” player, looking for a challenge, play Hidden Hills from the Gold Tees. At 6,892 yards with a course rating of 73.7 and a slope of 138, the course is every bit a tournament-caliber course as you will find and brings many of the water and sand hazards into play. If you’re new to the game and are just looking to get some exercise and have a good time, play it forward. From the Red Tees, Hidden Hills plays 5,016 yards with a rating of 70.0 and a slope of 120. Something for everyone!
This Arnold Palmer signature design is resplendent with rolling hills and fairways; enough elevation changes to boast one of the highest elevations in the Jacksonville area on the green at the par 3, 5th hole. On some holes, the mounding on either side will funnel the ball back into the fairway; on others, missing the fairway can result in an ugly lie or a lost ball. I was thankful to play the course with someone who was very knowledgeable about it. Many holes are tree lined with stately ancient oaks and majestic pines.
Looking down the fairway of the 1st hole from the elevated tee box, you get the idea you are in for a treat. Trees line both sides of this 365-yard par 4 and anything long and left off the tee could very well find the water. A good tee shot will leave a mid-iron into a green guarded on the left side by water and a small trap on the right. A great starting hole!
Hidden Hills offers the advanced golfer several risk/reward opportunities. Such is the case at the par 5, 471-yard, 6th hole. Players that can carry the trees at the dogleg and the pond, will have around 200 yards into a green fronted by a lake and protected by sand front left. If long off the tee doesn’t describe you, take the more conventional route: play to get close in three and one-putt!
Number 6 is followed by another trying hole. The par 3, 7th plays 141 yards to a small, narrow green with a nasty little pot bunker that catches many short shots and a long, narrow bunker on the left that leaves a nerve-rattling chip shot to a small green with water on the other side.
Number 8 also fits the mold of challenging holes. It plays 318-yards from the White tees and requires an accurate long iron or hybrid off the tee, short of the pond that guards the front of the green. Success off the tee will leave a short pitch shot over water into a green which slopes back to front. Try and leave your approach shot below the hole for a good chance at birdie.
The back nine is home to Hidden Hills’ signature hole: the par 5, 11th. From the Gold Tees, this hole plays 612 yards, from the Whites, a mere 550. From the back tees, you’re looking at a tee shot that needs to carry the water 210-yards; 230 if the wind is in your face. The fairway is the widest on the golf course, so bombs away off the tee. Playing your layup down the right side will leave the easiest approach into the green and take the greenside bunker out of play. Your approach shot is to a slightly elevated island green that is pretty flat. Par is a good score here; however lower numbers are possible.
After your round, stop by the Hills Grill. This casual bar serves up your favorite beverages from 11 am to 7 pm. Lunch is available from 11 am to 3 pm and features some truly remarkable menu items. The buffalo chicken wings are more of a meal than an appetizer and the pressed Cuban sandwich featured pork that was freshly grilled and absolutely delicious. Hills Grill is the place to be on Friday nights when the kitchen whips up some tantalizing dinner specials from 6-9 pm.
Hidden Hills is one of those courses that you will have to play several times in order to get the hang of it. Water comes into play on 12 holes; 8 of 9 on the front and none after the 13th hole. The front nine plays 4 to 5 shots harder than the back nine and the emphasis is on brains rather than brawn. You’ll need to hit the ball a specific distance or to a specific spot to simplify an approach shot into the green. Many greens are elevated, thus eliminating the senior-favorite bump and run!
Hidden Hills has been around a long time and you don’t survive that long in the golf industry without offering a superior product. This course has everything imaginable to challenge a scratch golfer yet remain playable for a high handicapper. For more information or to book your next tee time, visit the Hidden Hills website at www.hiddenhillsgc.com.
Golf Life Contributor