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Selva Marina Country Club near Jacksonville, Florida is preserving the past, building for the future

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. -- In some ways, Selva Marina Country Club embodies Florida's golf history.

The course has been a staple in Atlantic Beach near Jacksonville since 1958. It rightfully trumpets its claim to fame that Jack Nicklaus carded his first professional double eagle here in 1966 in the final round of the Greater Jacksonville Open. It's on land that was home to a golf course in the early 1900s, a casualty to a World War I-era recession.

Today, the golf course is undergoing another revival under its new management group, Hampton Golf. The clubhouse, pool, tennis courts and golf course are getting a big dose of tender loving care.

But the course also is laying the groundwork for even more ambitious plans that enlist the help of Bobby Weed to completely rebuild the course around a town center.

Even its motto -- "preserving the past, building the future" -- hints of what's to come.

That's not to say the course is being neglect. It's a classic in prime condition with enough embellishments to engage today's golfers.

It's walkable, can be played in less than four hours and has five tee sets, from 7,007 yards to 5,340.

Selva Marina (which means rainforest by the sea) is subtle in its approach. The course doesn't go crazy with bunkers, mounds or swales, but uses them sparingly, so they appear exactly where you don't want them and nowhere else. They don't punish conservative shots, just those that might overreach a bit. That's understated class. Selva Marina isn't brash, but it's intelligent.

One hole particularly embodies that approach -- the par-4 seventh. It's a dogleg left around water and a single tree that could knock down a reckless attempt to cut the corner. Insisting on honing your skills, another single palm tree stands in the middle of the fairway. The chance is slim that you'll hit it with your drive or land behind it, but if you do, you'll have to improvise your next shot. Recalculation, that's the game.

But the hole isn't done yet. Jutting out from the left farther up is a single swale covered in gnarly Bermuda. If you land in that with a failed second shot, you'll have to devise another alternative to reach the green. That's what makes that hole great: variables. It's like a math story problem. You've got to think it through and you don't get credit for the steps in between, just your final answer.

The last hole, a par 5, is similar in number of factors, but they're different. In this case, you have to clear a ditch that's not right up against the tees, then launch a second shot over a cluster of bunkers that stretch across the fairway. Your approach has to be just so, because the green is surrounded. On the right are bunkers, on the left and rear only a bulkhead rail next to a pond. Again, a chess lesson.

It's great to hear about Selva Marina's plans to rebuild, but it there is an element of sadness if the work begins. The golf course is simple, sophisticated and sassy. So, before the bulldozers move in, take advantage and play a round on this 18-hole chessboard.

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