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Oak Marsh's scenery and strength defines golf at Amelia Island Plantation in NE Florida

Tom SpoustaBy Tom Spousta,
Amelia Island's Oak Marsh Golf Course - No. 15 Tee
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A narrow chute tests your tee shot on No. 15 of the Oak Marsh Golf Course at Amelia Island Plantation. (Tom Spousta/WorldGolf.com)

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Defining moments confront you everywhere as you tour the nooks and crannies of the Oak Marsh Golf Course at Amelia Island Plantation, arguably the toughest test among the resort's four golf courses.

Pete Dye likes it that way. He doesn't necessarily crush your game into submission with his designs (although the PGA Tour players trying to win The Players Championship each year on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass might disagree).

Oak Marsh offers scenery and strength across both nines meandering through a marsh that's part of a diverse Amelia River/Naussau Sound ecosystem here. And when you reach the 15th tee box, you'll appreciate the subtleties of this tricky yet fun course even more.

It's a standard, 377-yard dogleg right and opens to a roomy fairway and possibility of birdie if you can escape from the chute covering the back tee.

Actually, chute doesn't do it justice. It's more like a tunnel through a canopy of trees arched over a small pond. Nature, not man, created this view, and you could set up a picnic lunch and spend an entertaining day making wagers on players trying to thread a tee ball through its needle.

I popped up my first try, a chunky 3-wood, into the trees and laughed hysterically when the ball ricocheted onto the forward white tee box, which is where I should have been playing anyway.

It's one of those moments of truth that resonates throughout Oak Marsh. Everywhere, Dye sets his traps and tries to paint you into corners but allows you recognizable escape routes. The course was scheduled to host a U.S. Open local qualifier in May, and it should be interesting to see what kind of scores are posted.

"The course just flows from one hole to the next," says Kevin Lindsey, a teaching professional at the Amelia Island Plantation Golf Schools and ESPN Golf Schools based here. "It can be very relaxing with all these great views. You still have to hit all the shots, but it's such a gorgeous setting."

Oak Marsh Golf Course at Amelia Island Plantation: The verdict

Like his Stadium Course less than an hour south in Ponte Vedra Beach, Dye finishes with a brutal flourish. Oak Marsh really exposes its teeth on the final three holes.

The 16th reinforces Dye's rep as the king of the par-3 bulkhead island greens.

A tucked tee box overlooks the marsh to an island target about 170 yards away. It's all carry and occasionally fishermen can be in play; locals consider the spot off one end of the bulkhead a hot spot for redfish. (The 190-yard 12th hole, with the marsh along the entire left side, is a similarly scenic shot.)

The 441-yard 17th might be Oak Marsh's signature hole. It first requires about a 30-yard nature walk to a tee box that juts out into the marsh. Standing under a bird feeder, it's a panoramic view across the marsh, which lines the left side of a fairway that turns slightly left at the end. Oh, and you'll also need to carry a drive about 180 yards to give yourself any chance at par.

The 18th tee box also backs into the marsh, and at 523 yards, it looks like an easy par 5 scoring chance. Except that the layup area tightens quickly, and, of course, your approach shot must carry the marsh to a strongly sloped green.

Oak Marsh can be described as an old soul in some ways. The dominance of the marsh, not Dye's architecture style, blends the layout into the landscape. Sharp edges and angles around the greens help you define the contours and breaks of shots you need to hit. Tee boxes are close to greens, a characteristic seemingly lost in the modern design era.

Overall, it's a great contrast to its sister golf course, Ocean Links, and its seaside style of golf. Oak Marsh defines just about everything for you, including the state of your game.

Golf instruction at Amelia Island Plantation

Amelia Island Plantation has its own golf academy. The program is developmental as well as corrective. A lesson includes full swing instruction, video analysis and a student notebook with practice plans.

The plantation also has a practice range with five target greens, a short-game area with putting and chipping and a state-of-the-art digital video system.

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Amelia Island's Oak Marsh Golf Course - No. 16 Amelia Island's Oak Marsh Golf Course - No. 9

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.

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