Our drive to Amelia Island was filled with anticipation of beachy relaxing, as my wife and I crossed a couple of bridges on A1A and glimpsed terrific views of Fort George Inlet and Nassau Sound before reaching the island itself.
Reality hit two hours later when staring down a tree-lined tunnel on the first hole at The Golf Club of Amelia Island.
The island is blessed with towering oaks just a few hundred yards from the beaches, and this course meanders seemingly through all of them, especially on the front nine. Architects and PGA Tour pros Mark McCumber and Gene Littler created a Lowcountry feel in Northeast Florida, where the oaks and their often-wild branches demand shotmaking.
Club professional Matt Michaux informed that no tee shot would be more demanding than the opener on No. 1, but the tone was set for the rest of the round. I missed two fairways by just a couple yards and protruding trees forced me to play wild curveballs to reach the green. (And let’s just say I don’t often play those with the same aplomb as Bubba Watson.)
We played the back tees, which measure just 6,696 yards (par 72) but are rated at 72.9 with a 140 slope. If you’re looking to say you played the tips while on vacation, this is one place to do it and not feel overmatched for distance – though the ocean breezes can add length in a hurry, and wayward shots can send your score soaring just like any other tight course.
The breezes are usually more severe on the back nine, which runs closer to the beach and has less tree cover but more marshes to negotiate. Most notable is the par-3 16th , 199 yards of carry over marsh that can ruin a round quickly.
The Golf Club of Amelia Island is private but open to play for guests of the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, which sits just steps from the clubhouse.
Three cool holes
No. 3, 343-yard par 4: The plan for most is to think big drive and a short chip leading to a birdie, but a tall oak on the right side of the fairway 100 yards short of the green has other thoughts – and hundreds of spots in its bark from 25 years of ruining those tee-box plans.
No. 15, 490-yard par 5: The No. 2 handicap hole is all about the second shot – lay up short of the water crossing at 130 yards out? Fire just over it and have a half-wedge to an uphill green? Or just bust a 3-wood and hope it chases all the way? Whatever you do, don’t end up in the deep bunker fronting the green.
No. 16, 199-yard par 3: The aforementioned final par 3 has more room around the green than it appears from the tee, but it’s still a deep-breath test that hopefully ends in a long exhale upon reaching with the first shot.