USA Today features St. Augustine, FL

Second homes: St. Augustine, Fla., is on par with the best golf spots

By Larry Olmsted, Special for USA TODAY
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the USA’s oldest city and attracts many admirers to its Spanish Colonial architecture. But today, a different "historical" attraction draws more than 300,000 visitors a year: Home to the World Golf Hall of Fame, St. Augustine is a magnet for vacationing and second-home golfers along Florida’s northeast coast.
The TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, opened in 1980, put the area on the golf map. About 40 minutes north in Ponte Vedra Beach, it is the world headquarters of the PGA Tour and home to The Players Championship. Because of its novelty and annual TV exposure, the island par-3 17th hole is arguably the most recognizable golf hole on Earth, and the course is perennially ranked among the nation’s top 10. The Stadium is just one of more than a dozen courses in Ponte Vedra Beach, including the TPC Valley and Sawgrass Country Club. The town is a popular golf second-home community, and such top PGA Tour stars as Vijay Singh have houses here.

ARCHIVE: Find more second-home destinations

"Ironically, it’s the golf that gets people down here, but it’s our beaches and proximity to the ocean that gets them to buy," says Rob Kearney of Kearney Real Estate Services, an avid golfer and Ponte Vedra Beach resident himself. "It used to be mostly second homes, but it has grown into a bedroom community for Jacksonville (about a 30-minute drive northwest), and there’s something for everyone: condos, garden homes, single-family houses, inland, oceanfront, and on the golf course."

St. Augustine is home to the World Golf Village, a vast residential and resort community that includes the World Golf Hall of Fame, two famous courses, shops, restaurants, hotels, a golf academy and about 1,000 houses and condos, with 4,500 residences in the master plan.

"It’s less expensive than the Ponte Vedra golf communities," Kearney says. "Outside the World Golf Village, downtown St. Augustine buyers typically like history and the arts and are more ocean-oriented."

More recently, the golf has stretched south to Palm Coast, where some of the game’s most famous designers have built oceanfront courses. Many buyers consider this stretch to be an undiscovered pocket, more natural and uncongested than the coast north of St. Augustine.

A look at three St. Augustine area neighborhoods

• Ponte Vedra Beach: Like Pinehurst or St. Andrews, the PGA Tour’s hometown is synonymous with golf. There are private and semi-private country club communities, including TPC Sawgrass, but prices are surprisingly reasonable. Realtor Rob Kearney says condos start in the mid-$200,000s, houses around $300,000. Waterfront houses fetch up to $7 million.

• St. Augustine: The nation’s oldest city has a mix of suburban golf communities, most notably the World Golf Village, and more traditional beach-resort living, with many high-rise oceanfront buildings. "Condos in the golf village start at just over $100,000 and homes from $200,000. You can get beachfront condos for just over $100,000," Kearney says.

• Hammock Beach: This golf community about 30 minutes south of St. Augustine has courses by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, tennis, large marina, restaurants, fitness facilities and spa. Second-home owners make up more than half the residents. In the luxurious new Ocean Towers, units run $600,000-$1.2 million. "On the resale market, homes start about $600,000, home sites at about $150,000 and three-bedroom condos around $450,000," says Craig Straky of the Luxury Realty Group of Florida.