CONGRATULATIONS AMELIA ISLAND
|Florida's 50 finest golf courses were ranked by Travel &
Leisure Golf Magazine (T&L Golf) in their October, 2000 issue and all three of Amelia Island's courses made the top 50.
Of the 1,200 courses in Florida, Long Point ranked #8, Ocean Links, #28 and Oak Marsh #42. Amelia Island Plantation's courses have also been recognized as Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries by Audubon International.
31 courses in Florida have be recognized as Audubon Cooperative.
Right up front you should know I've been to Amelia Island Plantation several hundred times in the nearly 20 years I've lived in North Florida. I've been there for both business and pleasure, vacationing there with my
family and covering the myriad of sporting events the Plantation has hosted.
Over the years I've had a great relationship with Dick Cooper and his management staff, especially Jack Healan, Norman Bray, Ed Tucker and Bonnie Wise. It's been interesting to see the Plantation and the island
in general change and evolve over two decades.
The first time I ever heard of Amelia Island was when then amateur and future LPGA Tour star Beth Daniel said she was going there from Charleston to work on her game with some friends. She showed me some
pictures and I thought it looked fascinating and like nothing I had seen before. It's not Hilton Head, Charleston or Myrtle Beach. It's not Jacksonville, Daytona or Palm Beach. And it's not South Florida. It is 1350 acres of some of the most perfect blending of nature and fun I've ever seen.
Amelia Island Plantation has been a golf destination for my regular traveling foursome for the past three years. Keith, Jimmy, Nick and I have arrived on Wednesday and departed on Sunday each time.
Amelia is easy to get to by car or by plane. The Plantation is 29 miles north of the Jacksonville International Airport. It sits just south of Fernandina Beach on Hecksher Drive.
By car from the north, take the A1A exit off I-95, go through Yulee, over the bridge, turn right on
Hecksher and follow the signs. From the south take the Hecksher Drive exit north. The drive there is half the fun, following the St. Johns River as it winds its way to the Atlantic Ocean.
If you're in the Jacksonville Beaches area you can take the Mayport ferry and go north on Hecksher. By plane, Jacksonville International Airport is about 25 minutes away. Amelia has a shuttle service that will
pick you up and drop you right at the arrival desk on the Plantation.
I've stayed all over the Plantation. On the north end next to the tennis courts, the south end in a high rise condominium. Ocean front, lagoon front, golf course view, marsh view, they've got all kinds of
accommodations on the Plantation and I've stayed in most of them. They can pretty much fit any budget as well.
The Amelia Inn and Beach Club is a great new addition to the landscape and the accommodation base at Amelia. Two hundred and forty nine rooms, all ocean front, the Inn was part of a multi-million dollar renovation that included swimming pools, Jacuzzis, restaurants and shops. There's not a bad place to stay on the island. Many of the condominiums have unique architectural designs in each unit. All have their own pool.
On our last two golf trips we've stayed in ocean front condos, both fantastic and comfortable for four guys. We're always looking for a common area to hash out the day's round, share a few cocktails and watch
television. Our accommodations couldn't have been more perfect for that. The check-in is right in the front of the Plantation, so once you go through that, it's like you're going to your own home each time you return.
To nit-pick, they could use one of those velvet ropes or lineups at the check-in during busy times like the airlines or at a bank. They always have plenty of staff behind the desk, but if you get in the wrong line, you're stuck looking at the people who walked in after you, blasting through and off to the beach. I know, I'm nit picking.
We played four rounds of golf while at Amelia Island Plantation. They've done a massive renovation of the golf there with three courses, all very different. Ed Tucker has been a Golf Professional, Director of Golf and now Director of Sports at Amelia Island Plantation. He knew what we were trying to accomplish in our four days, so he laid out a nice plan, letting us get in 27 each day including a 9-hole two man scramble in the afternoons.
The setting at Amelia is such that if you don't know where you're going, you might get lost. They've done a great job integrating the golf courses and the buildings with the landscape that you feel like you're by yourself most of the time. The golf clubhouse is a one-story building with some nice views, a place for a quick lunch, and an excellent selection in the golf shop. It's very functional and centrally located. Drop your bags at the front and go park; they'll take care of the rest.
The practice facility is next to the first tee at the Oak Marsh course. No hitting off mats here. Good practice balls, good location.
They used to have 27 holes at Amelia. Three nines they worked in rotation. They added Long Point in 1987 (most of the course is across the street) and most recently nine more holes to fill out a full three golf course complex at the Plantation.
Oak Marsh is the most seasoned of the three courses. Built in 1972, it is a Pete Dye design; tight fairways and small greens, in the Harbour Town style. It is a nice blend of a links course and country club course
and a resort course. Undulating fairways, and really interesting views make Oak Marsh a great place to just be let alone play golf. We played there for our opening round and our final 18 holes as well. If you're hitting the ball straight, Oak Marsh will be fun, if not, bring lots of balls. It's not tricked up, it's all right there in front of you. It's a par 72, 5,821 from the whites and 6,502 from the blues. A significant difference. The whites would be fun but seemed a little short. We played the blues and had a blast. Length was never really a factor. The 16th,
17th and 18th holes offer spectacular views of the marsh and a real good test to finish off the round. The 18th is a par five that might be reachable in two with a big drive. Real good risk/reward when it comes to the number of presses that have added up.
The Ocean Links is the newest jewel in Amelia's golf crown. It has five oceanfront holes, and they're not fake oceanfront, they're the real thing. Stand on the tee, see the ocean. Stand in the fairway, see the ocean. Stand on the green, see the ocean. Four might be one of the hardest driving holes anywhere. It's not long, but the tee is tucked back into a notch between the beach, a walkway and some oceanfront condominiums.
When you stand on the tee it's pretty intimidating. Anything right is on the beach.
Five and Six are part threes with virtually no bailout. There's always some kind of breeze so take that into account. Hit more club than you think on all three of these holes. It'll pay off. Anything below the hole on five is usually good. Six goes right by the Inn and is a tough green to hit. There's aren't too many more picturesque shots anywhere. Some guys fall apart on this stretch. Just keep your wits about you and you'll be a couple up when you turn back inland. Fifteen and Sixteen are also on the ocean. Fifteen goes straight out to the
beach, a par three with an elevated tee and green. Plenty of club here as well. Sixteen tee is also tucked back on the beach to where you have somewhat of a blind shot through a notch to the fairway. I love it back
there, but it is one of the toughest tee shots ever. If you hit the fairway, the ball will roll a long way. Straight is good! The second shot is so deceptive, hit less than you think and the ball will end up right were you want it. At par 70, the Ocean Links is plenty challenging from the back at 6,301. The course ends with a par 3 that's a little
tougher than it looks. Take plenty of club and place your bets accordingly.
I've been lucky enough to play Long Point many times, including during its debut weekend. I've played it with designer Tom Fazio, with PGA Tour player Mark O'Meara and with many friends over the years. Long
Point opened in 1987 as one of Fazio's favorite projects. I'm sure it remains that today. It's a championship golf course set in one of the most pristine locations anywhere. To this day I remember Dick Cooper telling the story on himself about questioning the back-to-back par three's when Fazio first proposed the routing. Fazio said "Well Dick, Cypress Point has back-to-back par threes on the ocean." And with that
Cooper chuckled and said "Back-to-back par threes sounds like a good idea."
From the opening hole to the 18th, Long Point doesn't disappoint you anywhere. Fabulous vistas, challenging shots, ocean front holes, Long Point looks like it has been there forever. The back nine could be the finest collection of nine holes anywhere. Carved through the forest and bordering the marsh, you might be distracted by the wildlife if you're not paying attention. By using the natural topography, Fazio forces you to
use all kinds of different shots. On thirteen, you've got a choice. Try and bomb it over the marsh on the left or just knock it down the middle and have a mid to long iron into the green. There's a lot of that at Long
Point. I'm not sure why I've always liked the golf course because it can be hard, especially when the wind is blowing. I guess it's fair, and that's what I'm usually looking for. The only thing I don't like is how the range borders the 18th hole on the right. If anybody loses it right off the tee, they're virtually out of the hole because you can't find your ball and the range itself is marked out of bounds. Perhaps they can mark it as hazard instead of OB to keep play going.
Long Point is one of the best courses anywhere. A par 70 at 6,086 from the whites and 6,775 from the blues, you can choose how difficult you want it to be. We played the blue tees and it can make a difference if you're not hitting the ball long off the tee. It feels like most of the yardage is made up on the par 3's and par 4's.
One of the nice things about staying at Amelia Island is the choice it offers when it comes to food. Its proximity to Fernandina and the many restaurants in town gives you a chance to get off the Plantation if you
like, but there are several nice places on the Plantation as well. And room service is always an option. If you want to stay close to home, the tennis club has a restaurant, as does the golf club, the Inn and the Beach
Club. You can get pretty much anything you want from a full course dinner to a quick bite. I've eaten in them all over the years and found only the Beach Club a little spare. It's a nice restaurant in a nice setting and convenient. It just needs better food and better presentation. The lunch at the golf club was really good the last time we ate there, and room service actually delivered hot pizza to our condo!
The star food attraction at Amelia is the breakfast buffet on Sundays at the Inn. Great food, beautiful restaurant, helpful staff, and more choices than you could ever imagine on a buffet. Seafood, pastries,
breakfast foods, breads meats, desserts, just about anything you could possibly want, and lots of it. This is a "don't miss" stop during any stay at Amelia.
There are plenty of places to eat in Fernandina, but there are two we keep returning to year after year.
Brett's Waterway Café looks like a tourist trap at the end of the main road in Fernandina. It sits right out over the water, overlooking the marshland and St. Mary's, Georgia on the other side of the river. Don't write it off. The food there is very good at both lunch and dinner and the crab cakes at lunch are worth the trip alone.
Beech Street Grille is an every-year dinner destination whenever I'm at Amelia either for business or pleasure. Good cocktails, nice wine list, fresh seafood prepared all kinds of ways. If you're looking for entertainment, ask for a table upstairs where John is at the piano. It turns into a party the closer you get to closing time. John makes it fun. Just know your show tunes!
Amelia's recent renovations have pushed it toward the top of resort destinations in the country. They have identified another need, a full time spa facility, and it will be complete in 2001 with a daily spa and a new fitness center.
The tennis facility at Amelia takes a back seat to none.
As the host of the annual Bausch and Lomb Championships in April, the tennis club is world renown and for good reason. Twenty-three har-tru courts, a beautiful stadium court and a fully stocked pro shop make it one of the top tennis resort destinations. But it is the campus-like setting, the out of the ordinary quiet seclusion that makes tennis at Amelia especially appealing.
If you're so inclined, the fishing in the lagoons is fantastic. I went into some of the back areas with Capt. Terry LaCoss once, "the Amelia Angler" and we caught and released no fewer than six, five pound bass.
And that's not a fish story.
Much like the nearly perfect land it was built on, Amelia Island Plantation keeps evolving and getting better. You can check out rates and availability at Amelia as well as some of their other offerings at