Across the St. Marys River from Georgia, the barrier island of Amelia Island lies between Atlantic Coast beaches and the Intracoastal Waterway. Unlike most destination resorts in Florida, the island is privately owned, secluded and protected by a gated entry. Lush, green marshlands and low marine forests cover the island, and one is never far from the sight and sound of the ocean. Condominiums, two resort hotels and residential developments are scattered on narrow roads beneath a shady canopy of oaks, palms, pines and tropical vegetation, along miles of duney beaches.
Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and Bobby Weed laid the Long Point, Ocean Links and Oak Marsh golf courses within maritime forest and marshlands; each is designated an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Wrapped like a green velvet shawl between the ocean and the waterway, Long Point is Tom Fazio's inspired design in a setting of tidal marshes, towering sand dunes and a dense pine and oak forest. Natural waste bunkers, grass basins and deep pot bunkers guard rolling fairways and large, elevated greens. Mounds and moguls along the fairways prevent balls from flying into the impenetrable tree barrier and water hazards. Among several long carries, the second hole requires a 230-yard fly over wetlands to a wide zone that narrows between savannah and the water to an almost blind putting surface surrounded by deep hollows. The Amelia River and the salt marshes are rich wildlife habitat, where Great egrets, wood storks, kingfishers killdeer and gulls are beautiful distractions. A private club except for resort guests, Long Point is set serenely apart, with its own clubhouse, restaurant and golf school.
Serpentine salt marshes and creeks come into play on many holes of Pete Dye-designed Oak Marsh, where accurate shot placement is called for on skinny fairways and small, bulkheaded greens bordered closely by hammock groves and moss-draped cypress and oak trees. Dye uttered an understatement about Oak Marsh: "...we've left the rough in its natural state. Only the areas of play are manicured."
A good short game and efficient approach shots are called for on Ocean Links, a Dye/Weed track just 6,300 yards from the back tees. 7 seaside holes are predictably breezy, while 10 holes are menaced by marshy wetlands and lagoons, meandering through a unique coastal hammock. Greens are small, dipped, swaled and tilted.
Royal Amelia Golf Links is a parkland layout designed around small lakes, a creek and a forest of palmettos, myrtles, Southern pine and oak; fairways and greens are gigantic on this 6,850 yard track. Surprises include a peninsula green on 17n and a palm tree smack in the middle of the 2nd hole. The clubhouse verandah is a good perch from which to contemplate the sunset over the tidal marsh and the waterway.
Within of the surrounding private community of Summer Beach, the Golf Club of Amelia Island, adjacent to the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island, is a Mark McCumber/Gene Littler design open to members and resort guests. Wide rolling fairways, marshlands and lakes, oaks, palms and acres of sand dunes comprise the story here.
Where to Stay on Amelia Island
The 4-diamond rated Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is undergoing n $85 million renovation to be completed in Spring, 2013.
The Villas of Amelia Island Plantation are comprised of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units in several beachfront, medium-rise buildings, with extensive family recreation within walking distance.
The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island sits elegantly above a 1.5-mile beach lapped with calm waters; little kids splash in the warm lagoons here at low tide. Guests staying in the 444 ocean view rooms and suites enjoy priority tee times at the Golf Club of Amelia Island, and tee times can be arranged golf at the other island courses. A full-service spa, nine oceanside, lighted tennis courts, three restaurants, and indoor/outdoor pools complete the package.
Founder/editor of BestGolfResortsofTheWorld.com, Karen Misuraca is a travel and golf writer from the California Wine Country. She blogs golf travel here and writes about culture and eco-travel at DeepCultureTravel.com. Check out Karen's new iPhone app, California Coast North.