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|The 17th green at Amelia River Golf Club is nearly surrounded by water. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - The hard-working folks of nearby Fernandina Beach lost a good, affordable golf course a few years back, while guests of the swank Amelia Island Plantation gained one.
The plantation people bought what was then known as Royal Amelia back in 2004 and immediately raised the green fees from the $55-$65 range to $130, which is what resort guests paid for the other two resort courses open to them - the third is members-only. Those have since gone up to $140.
Officials at the time admitted they lost a ton of local play but the idea at the time was to make upgrades to the golf course to bring the green fees into a more realistic focus, even for plantation guests.
It's been several years now, and they have followed through on their word. The course is now known as Amelia River Golf Club, and it has a ritzy, new clubhouse.
The golf course itself hasn't changed much, in terms of the routing and setting, which is good. It was always a popular venue because of its natural setting, despite the fact that several holes border the Fernandina Beach municipal airport.
You get a little bit of a two-for-one deal here. Those holes that border the airport, Nos. 1, 5 and 13, have a very open feel to them; you can watch the planes landing and taking off.
The rest of the course plays through the beautiful flora and fauna of Amelia Island, through live oaks, sabal palms, wax myrtle and pines. There are no homes on those parts of the course to mar the views.
They've also done some things to the layout resort guests want when they travel from the cold, northern climes to a Florida resort: The fairways and green borders are a lush green, with maintenance crews using their green spray guns liberally. The 150-yard markers are clearly marked, and, of course, the service is superior.
The result is one of the plantation's more natural-looking layouts, with that lush, green resort feel where guests are pampered.
It's never been a particularly demanding course, though the slope rating is a respectable 132 from the blue tees and 137 from the back, at 6,823 yards.
Amelia River Golf Club is a very nice addition to the plantation's other courses. There are no homes or resort buildings to intrude on the natural surroundings: You'll see alligators sunning themselves, wading birds and maybe even a rattlesnake or two.
Alligator Creek runs through the mostly flat terrain, popping up here and there as a running obstacle. When the wind whips across its open expanse, those long par 5s into the wind can be nightmarish. There's a good mix of holes, and most of the fairways are wide and forgiving.
It's a well-designed Tom Jackson design with Tif Eagle greens and relatively large greens and some semi-rolling fairways.
As for the cost, the hard-working folks of Fernandina Beach will undoubtedly play cheaper courses, while resort guests probably won't be scared by the high green fees.
The Amelia Island Plantation is probably Florida's prettiest resort, set on the northeast coast, so that you get the ocean as well as the lovely hardwood hammocks.
The resort has two other golf courses available to guests, and the one you want to play depends on what you want.
"We ask people if they're playing for the scenery or the challenge," Head Professional Gary Chambers said.
"If you're looking for scenery, you're looking for the Ocean Links course. It's a great course for the golfer - be he or she, husband or wife - to drag around his non-golfing partner. Even the non-golfer will enjoy a stroll or cart-ride around the Ocean Links course, with its up-close-and-personal vistas of the wide Atlantic Ocean."
The Oak Marsh course, on the other hand, is much longer with your usual array of par 3s, 4s and 5s and a par of 72. Not that it's too shabby to look at, with its views of the Intracoastal Waterway - five holes play along it.
"This is the course I like to play on," Chambers said.
The other resort course, a Tom Fazio design, is open only to members. Ron Philos' School of Golf is located there.
March 12, 2008
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang is a romantic, classic Western-style getaway amid the wine lovers' setting of California's central coast. And there's some great golf, too, with 36 holes of diverse play on site for both the public and resort guests.
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