Jacksonville, Amelia Island shine during PLAYERS Championship week


Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. -- The PLAYERS Championship is obviously a showcase for the world's best golfers on the world's best stadium golf course. Sunday, I got to see for myself, hanging out at a villa by the 16th fairway across from the island green 17th at The Players Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass.

But as I relaxed in the this villa, courtesy of Florida's First Coast of Golf, I had a chance to reflect on my weekend and all the things this area has to offer. It has everything I want -- beaches, golf, professional sports, the arts, lots of great restaurants and a whole lot of places where you can hang out.

I've spent my time here so far at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. It's in the midst of a renovation they're calling a 're-imagination,' making more than $70 million worth of improvements and additions. There will be many more rooms -- many with an ocean views -- more meeting space, more pools and a new lobby and bar with ocean views. It's not bad right now, but these improvements, due to be completed in the spring, will really make this place special.

And special is a good way to describe Amelia Island. I didn't know much about this place before, but its history goes back some 500 years. The town of Fernandina Beach, for example, has plenty of historic landmarks, including the oldest bar in Florida, the Palace Saloon, the final destination on a 'pub crawl' through town.

The courses here are pretty good, too. For example, yesterday, I played the Ocean Links Course here at the resort. It has five holes right on the beach, beautiful to be sure. Designed by Bobby Weed, this 6,100-yard par 70 is also very difficult, but pretty enjoyable. It's a little tight, but plenty fun; just be prepared to lose a few golf balls if you don't hit it straight. The resort also has two more courses, including the Pete Dye-designed Oak Marsh, which is being renovated, and the excellent Long Point Golf Club by Tom Fazio.

I'm also impressed by the city of Jacksonsville, which has tons of great eateries, clubs and a terrific sports complex. It has a bigger feel than you might expect, but isn't intimidating.

And of course, there's plenty of great golf in the Ponte Vedra Beach/St. Augustine area. It's where the PGA Tour is headquartered and also the location of World Golf Village and the World Golf Hall of Fame. This week, they inducted a new class that included Phil Mickelson, who made the cut at The PLAYERS and even thrilled us with a birdie on the par-5 16th with one of his patented flops.

We got to see Tiger Woods, too, with his usual huge gallery. He birdied both the 16th and 17th, but had a little trouble with the rest of the golf course.

In any event, it's been good fun here in the Jacksonville area, and it makes for a pretty good golf vacation any time of year -- with or without The PLAYERS Championship.