Getting Away from It All at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island on Florida's First Coast

By: Steve Habel


The northeast corner of Florida is considered the "First Coast" as it was the initial place settled in the state by Europeans. But for many visitors it's not likely the first place they'll venture to in the Sunshine State.

The 18th Hole at the Golf Club of Amelia Island

That might be a mistake. Golfers have found that the First Coast offers a wealth of great courses and places to get away from the madding crowd, and none of those destinations offers a better combination of golf excellence, serenity, amenities and luxury than the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.

You always know what you're going to get when you stay at a Ritz-Carlton property: luxurious yet understated accommodations and service that makes you feel like royalty. At the Amelia Island property, with its barrier island along the beach 30 minutes north of the Jacksonville airport, there's also a sense of laid-back style that allows guests to let their hair down and relax.

Set literally steps from the front door of the Ritz-Carlton, the Golf Club of Amelia Island (reserved for members and guests at the resort) adds excitement to the visit, bringing together a good test in a lush setting abutting the Atlantic coast.

Designed by PGA Tour veterans Mark McCumber and Gene Littler and opened in 1988, the course hosted the Champions Tour's Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament in 1998. It winds through palm, pine and oak trees, offering spectacular views of Amelia Island's natural treasures during a fun round of golf.

Don't Let the Yardage Fool You

Though Golf Club of Amelia Island plays to a par of 72 and just 6,696 yards from its back set of six tees, length is the least of the concerns here. The track's difficulty - it's rated at 72.9 and has a 140 Slope from the tips - is in its nuances and the absolute need for accuracy and confidence on the course and its tricky greens.

The course differs from the norm in Florida. Rather than wide fairways bordered by water, the Golf Club at Amelia Island's routing in framed by trees, with its many water hazards determining strategy instead of just being overtly penal. The track's front half curls around the trees and lakes, while the home half plays across marshes and is more affected by winds off the ocean.

There are just two "long" par-4s here - Nos. 11 and 18 at 438 and 441 yards, respectively, and each side has a short two-shot hole where the green can be driven under certain circumstances. The course also has three par-5s that can be reached with two mighty and accurate blows, but a severe price will be paid for poor execution.

A Birds-eye View of 10th & 18th
Holes at Golf Club of Amelia Island

The Golf Club of Amelia Island begins with a bang. The 412-yard par-4 opener feels like it was cut out of a grove of trees (some of them here are more than 100 years old) and the fairway is rolling and mounded at the edges. The putting surface is guarded by a single bunker front-right and slopes back to front.

No. 2 will make wild players go mad. Shaped like a boomerang, the 572-yard par-5 sweeps right to left around a pond and requires a shaped tee shot and approach. There's no way to cut the corner as large trees line the entire left side between the fairway and lake.

The par-4 third plays just 343 from the back tees and can be driven if one can thread a tee shot between tall trees on each side of the fairway at about 100 yards from the green.

The Golf Club of Amelia Island's first par-3 (the 160-yard fifth) is rated as the toughest one-shotter on the course. It's all carry over a pond to the putting surface, so aim for the center of the 27-yard-deep green and do your best work with the flat stick.

The Golf Club at Amelia Island

My favorite hole here is the 365-yard par-4 sixth because it asks to hit a perfect tee shot (likely with a bunted driver) to have any chance at finding the green in regulation. Three trees guard the elbow of the sharp dogleg-left and two bunkers are on the right.

No. 8, a 491-yard par-5, gives the golfer a bit of a breather and a real shot at birdie or better. If the drive is in the middle toward the red and white stakes, there's just 225 yards in to the green. A run-up shot is an option also as there's an opening between two bunkers in the front.

The first real test on the back nine is the par-4 11th, which is open but uphill and usually into the wind. This 438-yarder asks for a club (and sometimes two) more than normal to reach the relatively small putting surface.

The four-hole stretch starting at No. 12 will make or break your round because each gives you a great chance for birdie. The 513-yard par-5 12th can (heck, should) be attacked in two, while the 150-yard par-3 13th plays downhill to the largest - albeit bunker-guarded - green on the course.

Only the really long hitters or the foolish will try to reach the green at the 349-yard 14th because the putting surface is fronted by an 80-yard-deep marshland; just hit a 3-wood off the tee and go at the pin on a very receptive putting surface. The 490-yard 15th will reward a good drive. An accurate lay-up or a ripped shot may find the elevated green.

The 441-yard closer is uphill and extremely mounded in the fairway, and ends at an elevated putting surface in the shadow of the clubhouse. Although there are no bunkers around the final green, there are grass hollows and demanding surrounds.

The Golf Club at Amelia Island was ranked as one of the nation's best new courses when it opened and, through the years, has become even better. It's a fun place to play and allows a close examination of virtually every aspect of your game.

The conditioning is sublime, never more so than each March when the Concours D'Elegance - an event showcasing vintage and rare cars from around the world - is held on its 10th and 18th fairways.

For more information, visit www.golfclubofamelia.com.

Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island

Having a Ball off the Course

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is memorable for its outstanding amenities. Each of the 446 rooms here has a private balcony, and most overlook the pristine dunes and the Atlantic Ocean.

The most remarkable part might be Salt, the hotel's premier restaurant, where sodium chloride from around the world is the star. Chef de Cuisine Richard Laughlin takes simple elements from the earth and sea, properly seasons, artfully prepares and serves them in a contemporary coastal setting. You can be assured you'll never look at salt the same way again.

Ending the day in a lounge chair around a campfire on the beach is another highlight, as is a stint in the full-service spa or a match on the tennis courts. The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is one of the most popular beach destinations on the East Coast. Things are just a little bit better here than most places.

For more info, see http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/AmeliaIsland.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.


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