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Amelia River Golf Club fulfills final piece of Amelia Island (Florida) Plantation golf puzzle

Tom SpoustaBy Tom Spousta,
Amelia River Golf Club - No. 18
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Amelia River Golf Club ends with a shot to 18th green set against Amelia River. (Tom Spousta/WorldGolf.com)

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Sure, Amelia River Golf Club resides in the shadow of the Amelia Island Plantation resort's collection of four golf courses. It's the only one "off property" - if you count a three-minute relaxing ride down the Buccaneer Trail under a canopy of live oak trees and Spanish moss as a bothersome commute.

It's the only one not set against the Atlantic ocean or with the sprawling marshland as its picturesque backdrop. Hey, Alligator Creek and the Amelia River aren't exactly chopped mullet.

It's the youngest of the resort's golf courses, too, and doesn't have the designer cache of Tom Fazio's Long Point Golf Course, Pete Dye's and Bobby Weed's Ocean Links and Dye's Oak Marsh. Maybe not, but Amelia River G.C. was built in 2001 by Tom Jackson, a well-known South Carolina-based architect who has on his resume The Cliffs at Glassy, a private mountain golf course in South Carolina that has drawn national attention.

"I know we don't have all the scenic views ..." says Barry Richardson, head professional at Amelia River Golf Club.

Stop right there.

Richardson said that with a wink and nod, because Amelia River happily embraces its status as the newest and freshest member at this diverse golf destination.

The golf course winds through a pristine, lowland forest of oak and pine trees. There are no houses lining the fairways. Future plans include a hotel along the Amelia River, giving the golf club its own on-site guest list.

Oh, and you have room to roam and not fall into the ocean or marsh.

"We have a lot of our older members who play Long Point and Oak Marsh and don't want to beat themselves up anymore, so they come here," Richardson says. "You can breathe a little more on this course. Anybody can play it."

Still, last May, the public course hosted a U.S. Open local qualifier. This year, a U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier is scheduled to play here. NCAA tournaments and college events might be in the club's future, too.

"We can make it as tough as you want," Richardson adds.

Amelia Island Plantation had been looking for a fourth golf course to stamp itself as an official golf destination when it found Amelia River Golf Club struggling with foreclosure about three years ago. The resort made the deal with the bank - talk about hitting one on the sweet spot.

Amelia River Golf Club at Amelia Island Plantation: The verdict

The greens here are medium-sized (read: harder to hit) and relatively flat compared to the resort's other golf courses. And Richardson isn't bragging when he says, "The greens are phenomenal. In the summer, we can get them to 10 or 11 on the speed meter."

The front nine tastes a little more vanilla than the back side, and No. 2 warms you to the idea of how to play Amelia River G.C. A short par 4, this 350-yard dogleg right has a big oak tree standing sentinel on the left side about 75 yards from the green. The message: Amelia River isn't narrow, it's not tricked-up, but it protects itself in other ways.

Like again at No. 6, another short par 4 at 358 yards where a small bunker fronts the green. It's nothing dramatic. It's a simple challenge with a short iron if you want to make birdie.

The golf course's clean, smooth lines and sharp doglegs are a theme carried across both nines, especially during an impressive three-hole finish.

The par-4 16th forces you to muscle up against a sweeping dogleg left with two oak trees hanging over the fairway in the landing area. The 17th is a classic, tranquil, 164-yard par 3 that's all carry over water to a large bulkhead green.

And the par-5 18th starts with the tightest drive on the course and forces your second shot to clear a low-lying hazard. That sets up for the perfect final approach, a short iron to a green tucked in the trees with a postcard view of the Amelia River in the background.

You'll find that Amelia River is a golf course comfortable with its identity.

Golf instruction at Amelia Island Plantation

Amelia River Golf Club has full practice facilities and lessons available from Richardson and his staff.

The resort's golf academy, located at Long Point, also hosts the ESPN Golf Schools. Ed Bowe, the director of instruction, has worked extensively with Hank Haney, coach of Tiger Woods. Bowe, who also is Haney's brother-in-law, and his staff offer a complete range of personal teaching and video analysis.

Amelia Island Plantation's practice range has five target greens, a short-game area with putting and chipping, and a state-of-the-art digital video system.

More photos

Amelia River Golf Club - No. 12Amelia River Golf Club - No. 2 Green

Veteran golf writer Tom Spousta keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. He has covered golf and other sports for USA Today and The New York Times. Tom lives on a Donald Ross-designed golf course in Sarasota, Fla.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Oak Marsh

    Jim wrote on: Apr 18, 2009

    played in early Feb. and greens were in absolute lousy condition, no warning given by staff and no accomodation made for alternate play..shouldn't a guest be notified at time of reservation regarding course conditions. Emailed back survey to Amelia Island and received no response or explanation.