A golf trip to Florida can often have an assembly-line feel to it: characterless, crowded hotels and characterless, crowded courses. But on a barrier island near Jacksonville, one first-class resort and an independent local course have teamed up to offer golfers an experience that seems more sedate than sedative-worthy.
\nThough independent from the Ritz-Carlton, The Golf Club of Amelia Island is a sand wedge shot from the front door of the hotel. This 6,692-yard layout doesn't boast a trophy name designer its authors were Gene Littler and Mark McCumber, two names unlikely to draw even the most open-minded of architecture aficionados but it's still quality.
\nCompared to traditional Florida parkland tracks you know the type, watery wastelands with fairways wide enough to land a jumbo jet on the tree-lined fairways here frame a course with plenty of character. Sure, there's no shortage of water, but at TGC Amelia Island it's used as an element of strategy, not just for landscaping. Take the second hole, a 572-yard par 5 that is almost U-shaped. It's a hole that plays to long hitters but not straight hitters. Shaping the ball is essential here, and the water lurking along the left side comes into play just enough around the green to give even long ballers pause for thought.
\nYou won't leave the 18th green thinking this is the best course you've ever played, but you should leave thinking you had a fun, challenging experience without having your wallet gouged.
\nEven as the Ritz-Carlton chain has sought to shed its formal image in favor of a more diverse experience in its hotels, one thing remains constant: the quality of the service and the sense of luxury. The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is no different, and its barrier island setting 30 minutes north of Jacksonville airport is considerably better than many of its sister properties.
\nEvery room here has a private balcony, most overlooking the pristine dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. The highlight of any stay here, though, is Salt, the hotel's premier restaurant where salt (duh!) looms large in the menu. Be sure to ask for a takeout selection of the chef's salty seasonings, which seem to span more flavors than a Ben & Jerry's store.
\nThe Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island's "Fairways and Greens" package includes accommodations, one round of golf per person, and breakfast. The cost starts at $489 per night, single or double occupancy.
\nFor reservations, call 904-277-1100 or visit ritzcarlton.com\n