JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you're planning a golf trip to the Jacksonville area, there are some natural resort choices, none more obvious than the TPC Sawgrass and Marriott Sawgrass Resort in Ponte Vedra. It's essentially the home of the PGA Tour, but more importantly, it's the site of one of golf's biggest tournaments and most famous courses.
But it's hardly the only choice. In fact, the Sawgrass Marriott technically isn't on site with the TPC Sawgrass, where The Players Championship is contested in May. It's a couple of miles away, but there is a regular shuttle that takes golfers from the resort to the golf. It also is a great base for playing some other really cool golf courses in the area, such as Sawgrass Country Club, which hosted The Players from 1977-81.
Just down the road near St. Augustine is the World Golf Village. And east of Jacksonville is a destination not everyone in America is familiar with but should be -- Amelia Island. Here's a look at some of my favorite resorts on the First Coast of Florida.
Omni Amelia Island
Opened in 1972, the 1,350-acre Omni Amelia Island resort recently underwent an extensive $85 million renovation. Among the improvements is a new lobby, which now opens up to an elevated deck of fire pits, an infinity pool and miles of beaches and ocean. The look rivals some of the best seaside resorts in Hawaii and Mexico.
Offering more than 400 rooms -- all ocean-view -- golf, nature excursions, biking, Segway tours, a plethora of kids' activities and nine superb restaurants and a world-class tennis center await guests.
The golf is highlighted by two terrific courses. The Pete Dye-designed, championship-level Oak Marsh Course, set between the hotel and the marshes of the Intracoastal, recently got new greens, a little lengthening and new practice facilities. At more than 7,000 yards, this Pete Dye design is a great test for accomplished players as it winds its way around acres of live oaks and through the marshland, culminating with three fantastic finishing holes.
The Ocean Links Course, designed by Bobby Weed, features five holes along the Atlantic and 13 other good holes that make their way around the lagoons and marshes on the property. The course also has been ranked among America's best 50 courses for women.
Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
Like the Omni, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island offers beach access as well, and it's done Ritz-Carlton style, which means no detail was omitted. All 446 guest rooms have private balconies with coastal or direct ocean views. The resort also boasts four restaurants, a lobby lounge, first-rate spa and tennis facilities. The private Golf Club of Amelia Island, to which resort guests have access, is right next to the hotel.
Designed by Gene Littler and Mark McCumber, the golf course is everything you would expect -- great conditioning, fun design and playable for the majority of players. Large greens, majestic oaks and plenty of water, fountains and flora complete the picture of this well manicured, 6,700-yard layout. The club also offers an extensive instruction program at the Academy at the Golf Club of Amelia Island.
Marriott Sawgrass Golf Resort & Spa
If you're going to play the Players Stadium Course at Sawgrass, you might as well book a package and stay at the official resort -- the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa. After all, it's going to cost upwards of $300 to play the Stadium, and that's if you can get a tee time. Fortunately, the Marriott is allotted tee times for its guests, so you can book a package there, which could include the other course -- the Dye Valley Course, which hosts a Web.com Tour event and was recently renovated.
With more than 500 rooms, seven restaurants, lagoons and even a Cabana Beach Club, there's plenty to do and see at this resort, which underwent a $22 million renovation in 2008. Among the improvements: an expanded and refreshed lobby area and lobby bar as well as a new Irish bar. With its open atrium-type look, it's the perfect spot for networking, talking to other golfers or simply relaxing before or after a round of golf at the famed TPC courses, just a five-minute shuttle ride away.
In 2006, the TPC Sawgrass overall underwent a $40 million renovation, and the following year, the facility got its spectacular 77,000-square-foot Mediterranean, Revival-style clubhouse, which offers regular tours of the trophies, artwork and other artifacts contained inside. During your stay, be sure to check out the clubhouse's Nineteen Bar and Lounge -- or you can enjoy fine dining in the Champions Room.
World Golf Village
The Renaissance Resort of World Golf Village has 300 renovated luxurious rooms and suites as well as the Grande Villas at World Golf Village, a Bluegreen Vacation Club resort, which overlooks parts of the two golf courses at the resort.
As for golf, one is right next to the hotel and World Golf Hall of Fame, and the other a few miles away in a gated community. The closer Slammer & Squire Course, which pays tribute to its consultants -- Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen -- is by far the easier of the two. Designed by Bobby Weed, the course offers wide fairways, easier greens complexes and fewer forced carries. The King and Bear Course, named for designers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, is appropriately difficult considering the pedigree of the two great champions. You'll see design traits common to both throughout, and with plenty of bunkers, water on most holes and some tricky greens, the nearly 7,300-yard course is very challenging. Both courses are always in top condition, as you might expect.
While the golf courses are well above average, the real attraction here, however, is the World Golf Hall of Fame, where the game's greatest are enshrined, and artifacts and exhibits are preserved. Exhibits span the development of the game as well as equipment, memorabilia from the great tournaments and plenty of exhibits on the inductees, including lockers showcasing priceless material donated by the legends and their families.
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club
One resort that doesn't receive as much national attention as Sawgrass is the five-diamond oceanfront Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, but it probably should. After all, it has a lot more history than Sawgrass, having been around since 1928, and the resort itself is right on the beach.
With 250 elegantly appointed guestrooms and suites, an oceanfront fitness center, shopping, horseback riding, tennis and miles of beach, the 300-acre resort is one of the state's premier spots.
The golf courses, which include the Ocean Course and Lagoon Course, are also pretty memorable and both have undergone recent renovations. The Ocean Course, designed by British architect Herbert Bertram Strong, opened in 1928. It was supposed to host the Ryder Cup in 1939 but never did because of World War II. The par-70 Lagoon Course came a little later as a gradual collaboration between Robert Trent Jones and Bobby Weed. In 2007, it was renovated by Bobby Weed.