Amelia Island golf stands tall despite Plantations troubles

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Amelia Island Plantation Golf Club
Amelia Island Plantation

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – There is plenty of uncertainly when considering the state of golf in this resort community about 35 miles north of Jacksonville.

Amelia Island Plantation, the home of 72 holes that are the most well known, scenic and most difficult on the island, is currently in the process of reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. There is a possibility that the resort could lose at least one of its courses, and this puts the Amelia Island’s entire golf picture in flux.

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At first glance, it might seem that neighboring golf facilities would welcome the idea of fewer courses with which to compete. But operators of other Amelia Island golf clubs say just the opposite is true.

“It’s no good for anyone on the island if Amelia Plantation loses a course,” said Jon Walker, Golf Marketing Director at The Golf Club of Amelia Island at Summer Beach, an 18-hole beauty a few miles around the corner from Amelia Island Plantation. “From the outside looking in, anything negative that happens concerning any golf course on the island is a negative thing for all of us.”

The good news at Amelia Island Plantation is that the facility found a way to help it stay financially viable.  The Plantation has signed with Red Maple Investors, LLC, to keep the resort up and running.

'All of us in RMI want to protect this little paradise we have come to love,” said investor Robert C. Smith, at a news conference announcing the agreement. “And, we are willing to put up our own money to assure its success far into the future.'

Red Maple Investors is made up of 22 homeowners on the island. The agreement allows the Plantation to restructure its debt and liabilities, and continue to operate. Good news, perhaps, but it still leaves plenty of questions about where Amelia Island golf will stand after the dust settles at the Plantation.

Amid the uncertainty, there are a couple of sure things nearby that make Amelia Island a dynamic place for a golfer to visit, regardless of what happens at Amelia Island Plantation.

The Golf Club of Amelia Island
at Summer Beach and its next-door neighbor, Fernandina Beach Golf Club, are both worth playing, for very different reasons. The former is a private resort course, and the latter is one of the best public facilities in the Jacksonville area. There are other courses in the area, but — other than the Plantation — Fernandina Beach and The Golf Club of Amelia Island are the region’s leaders in golf.

The Golf Club at Amelia Island, which can be played by guests of the adjacent Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and residents of Summer Beach golf community, is the more discerning of the two. It’s a resort course that is playable for the mid-handicapper, but from the back tees it can be a viable round even for the scratch golfer.

“It’s a forgiving course, which makes it perfect for many of our guests,” said Keith Gibson, head PGA professional at The Golf Club at Amelia Island. “And, it has some very nice golf holes.”

The two nines at Amelia Island are distinct in personality, which offers variety for golfers of all skill level. There’s the front, with tree-lined fairways and several hidden, man-made water features. Then comes the back, a much more natural setting with native grasses, protected wetlands and several breathtaking spots.

The most memorable stretch comes at Nos. 14-16, where it’s tough to choose which is more prominent: challenge or beauty.

The terrific trio comprises a par-5, a par-4 and a par-3. and each requires a carry over the aforementioned wetlands.

“It’s a great stretch and it’s a treat to play,” said Jon Walker, Golf Marketing Director at The Golf Club at Amelia Island. “They are the most talked-about holes on the course, that’s for sure.”

You don’t have to travel far to find another island treat. A touch more than a mile away lays Fernandina Beach Golf Club. The 27-hole facility is purely public, and is one of the most popular municipal facilities in Florida. But don’t let the word “municipal” fool you; Fernandina Beach is a great place to play.

There have been initial discussions about a public/private partnership to operate the course in the future, but Fernandina Beach Golf Club will remain open, regardless of the operating arrangement. The first meeting on the matter was held in January, and no one knows for sure if any change will be made. Regardless, the 27 holes are open, and will continue to welcome all comers.

Not as tough as the Plantation, yet more challenging than the Golf Club of Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach has carved itself a solid niche for island golfers to explore.

The North nine was built in 1957 and stood alone for several years. It’s the least challenging of the three layouts, so more skilled players might want to opt for a West/South combination.

The North features open fairways, and is a short test at 3,094 yards. To add what teeth it can muster to its challenge, it relies on small greens to force accuracy on the approach.

The West course, built a few years later, is similar in design and style to the North, but its length stands in stunning contrast to the original nine. At 3,683 yards, it is fairly long for a typical nine-hole track, and it seems particularly lengthy when stacked up against its neighbor to the north.

A 607-yard par 5 at No. 2 West lets you know early in the round that you’ve stepped onto a completely different layout. Length makes the second hole a challenge, not the presence of narrow fairways. Both the North and the West feature the open fairways that welcome most public golfers.

The fairways grow much tighter when players venture over to the South. There is some real estate around the South nine, but it is not disturbing. The homes actually benefit the course in that they result in smaller fairways and larger challenge.

Fernandina Beach Golf Course is a prime example of quality golf within striking distance of the famed Amelia Island Plantation. The course, like its neighbors, presents a stabilizing influence on the community’s golf economy.

Questions on Amelia Island? Certainly.

Top-notch places to play? Just as sure.