In my experience, not enough is made of the fact that a vacationing couple requires more of a golf resort than a versatile, well-kept course. That’s true even if both husband and wife travel with their clubs.
Men may be able to live on golf alone—OK, golf, a burger and a few beers—but women? Not so much.
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is situated in the far northeast corner of Florida just below the Georgia state line about an hour’s drive from Jacksonville. While it does not trumpet its charms like Hilton Head, Sea Island and others, Amelia is one of the loveliest of the barrier islands strung along the Atlantic seaboard.
Fellas, listen up: A beautiful natural setting counts for a lot on a his-and-hers holiday. Fronted by a glorious stretch of ocean beach, Amelia’s natural attributes–tidal lagoons, verdant marshes, shorebirds patrolling the airspace—are more evocative of the Carolina Low Country than the bland, sun-baked flatlands usually associated with Florida.
OK, the setting is nice. What about the creature comforts? In the wake of a six-year, $65-million renovation completed last Marsh, the hotel positively sparkles. This is a large 444-room property that attracts business and incentive groups, but the function space and name-tagged delegates are segregated from the resort’s leisure guests.
The hotel’s design motif is what you’d expect to find in a more intimate getaway. For example, the colors and textures of the guest rooms were inspired by tide lines that mark the dune-lined beach. The dark mahogany wood floor at entry resembles the wet sand and brown reeds pushed to shore at high tide. The carpet design, pressed to the edge of floor-to-ceiling balcony doors overlooking the sea, evokes an image of windswept sand. The effect is subtle. And not lost on women who notice the fine touches.
Next is the spa. Most guys, even with daylight fading, will do anything to squeeze in an extra nine. Women are more balanced. They’ll humor us with their company for fourhours on the course. They’ll hold the pin and concede outside-the-leather putts and compliment shots that we know deep down are not that good. No matter. They’re with us. But when the round is done, so are they. Which brings us to the indispensable vacation amenity of the modern age: the spa.
The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Amelia Island, ranked by Conde Nast Traveler among the “Top 100 Resort Spas” on the U.S. mainland, occupies its own wing of the hotel and features 27,500 square feet of indoor space plus a relaxing outdoor lounge area with a cascade whirlpool.
I went for the extra nine holes, but I wish I had a do-over. Among the spa’s signature treatments is a Couples Wrap, a 2.5-hour experience that includes a honey vanilla milk bath, a chocolate-pomegranate wrap, a warm scalp oil massage and a body massage. Silly me. The resort wants couples to have each other for dessert, not grind over three-footers.
In addition to an expert staff, there’s something else women like to experience at feel-good emporiums: great products. The resort’s spa carries Eminence, an all-organic skin care line imported from Hungary. Made without harsh chemicals such as parabens, mineral oils or sulphites, Eminence products are organic, concentrated and very aromatic. I was fascinated to learn that stonecrop, a mossy green sedum with pungent fleshy leaves, is seven times more potent than aloe vera. Our thirsty skin devoured it.
Next up for women is food. Actually, well-prepared meals. Make that eclectic, innovative cuisine with a nice selection of wines. Here the resort truly shines.
With four restaurants and two bar/lounges, the hotel covers all its bases. Salt, the signature restaurant, uses 35 gourmet salts–from smoked to citrus-infused—to produce brilliantly flavored dishes served in a lovely, pastel-hued room overlooking the sea. I ordered the “Steak & Eggs,” which was served with asparagus on a red-hot, 250-million-year-old Himalayan salt block. Totally unique and extremely tasty.
Café 4750, which offers casual indoor/outdoor dining all day, has a farm-to-table coastal menu featuring local seafood (Atlantic trigger fish, Mayport shrimp, flounder and scallops) as well as seasonal vegetables and fruits sourced from local farms. And perhaps to prove that it knows what guys want, the hotel’s Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge has sliders, local beers, pool tables and wide-screen TV’s.
We’ll get to the golf in a moment, but the resort goes out of its way to make sure couples are happy. On cool nights, a romantic fire for two can be arranged. Nestled against the dunes in an Adirondack chair, with warm blankets to cuddle under and s’mores, hot chocolate, a stargazer’s map and a telescope at the ready, a couple can shed the incessant chatter of modern life and reconnect to the sound of waves breaking on the beach.
Now for the golf. Resort guests have access to the otherwise-private Golf Club of Amelia Island, a parkland-style layout that appeals to players at all ability levels. The front nine is woven through moss-draped oaks and a smattering of slash pines and cabbage palms, with several lakes in play. The back nine is breezier and more open, its broad fairways and large, undulating greens guarded by salt marsh and well-placed bunkers. At 6,696 yards from the back tees (par 72), this 25-year-old track, a former host of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, will not overwhelm you with its length. I’d characterize it as a fun, strategic course. I’d also call it a perfect venue for most women, who can be challenged but not overwhelmed from the red tees at 5,039 yards.
You say you’re a very serious golfer, and that a club of this description won’t cut the mustard? TPC Sawgrass and its vaunted PLAYERS Stadium Course is an hour’s drive from Amelia Island.
After a long barefoot walk on the beach searching for fossilized shark’s teeth (a local passion) while sandpipers trotted ahead of us on the wave-washed flats, my wife and I decided that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Conde Nast Traveler, admittedly a travel/lifestyle magazine with no golf culture in its gene pool, ranks the property fifth among the Top 20 Florida Golf Resorts, well ahead of other properties more closely associated with golf.
By all means make that trip to Sawgrass to dismantle the Stadium. She’ll be waiting for you back on Amelia Island, stretched out on a beach lounge with a good book, or sipping something refreshing on the Ritz-Carlton’s manicured lawn overlooking the foam-flecked sea.
Among other programs, an enticing “Beaches and Bunkers” golf package is available at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/AmeliaIsland/Default.htm