AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – Returning to the Omni Amelia Island Plantation in March was a special treat for Tonya McCall and Mary Narzisi.
The two ‘Big Break Florida’ participants grew attached to the spoils of the seaside resort off the Florida coast near Jacksonville while filming The Golf Channel reality series last year. The service and professionalism of the Omni staff – coupled with an $85 million ‘re-imagination’ of the facilities that debuted last year – has brought the resort up to par with some of the best vacation destinations in the Southeast.
"I work at The Wynn (Country Club in Las Vegas)," said McCall, who was visiting for a corporate 'watch' party staged at the resort's golf clubhouse. "I recognize when a staff is good at what they do. They are so friendly here. I haven’t met a person (on staff) I didn’t like. If you don’t have good service, then you are not going to make it."
Big Break Florida showcases the natural beauty of the 404-room, AAA Four-Diamond property. Its two golf courses play alongside the marshes of the Intracoastal and the beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Even the majestic Florida oaks, their twisting branches draped in Spanish moss, will impress.
"Growing up on a farm, when I see trees this cool, I just want to climb them," Narzisi said.
The ‘new’ Omni Amelia Island Plantation delivers a versatile venue for any vacationer. Families have an endless supply of activities, from lounging at the 10,000-square-foot pool and playing putt-putt at the new Heron’s Cove Adventure Golf to exploring the 1,350-acre resort by bike or better yet, a Segway. The Segway tours allow mom and dad the perfect opportunity to bond with their children. The guided adventures will satisfy the younger generation’s needs for electronics, yet keep them outside enjoying the fresh air. The Segways are easy to ride. Everybody practices driving in a parking lot before zipping through private neighborhoods surrounding the Omni to see the marshes and the golf courses.
Grownups who crave some down time can escape at the adult-only infinity-edge pool, the shops or the spa. The racquet park’s 23 courts and knowledgeable instructors provide a first-class home for tennis players. The saltwater marshlands are great for kayaking and standup paddle-boarding. Foodies will salivate over the talents of the culinary team. Several of the nine restaurants have split personalities by day or night. The Oceanside is a flip-flop friendly hangout by the pool when the sun shines. It transforms into fine dining by the ocean after dark.
The Sunrise Café serves a popular breakfast buffet in the mornings. For those special corporate events and family gatherings, it becomes the ‘Chef’s Table', a magical show starring food so beautiful you almost feel guilty eating it. The presentations during my eight-course meal were spectacular: Soup served in a coconut and sassafras ice cream still smoking from the liquid nitrogen used to create it. The newly renovated Verandah at the racquet park specializes in seafood pulled right from nearby waters.
Thirsty vacationers can hang out at the Falcon’s Nest, the aviation-themed bar, or splurge on a new tequila-and-rum tasting served on the lower pool deck. Just don’t drink too much if there’s an early tee time the next day.
The 9th & 18th hole at Oak Marsh.
Golfers face tough choices on where to play. Long Point, a 6,567-yard course by Tom Fazio, remains the best routing, but it’s owned by the members and only allows limited access to resort guests. The 6,607-yard Oak Marsh by Pete Dye might be longer than the 6,108-yard Ocean Links by Bobby Weed, but I’d choose the chance to interact with the Atlantic Ocean almost every time. Oak Marsh sits farther inland than Ocean Links. Its four best holes intermingle with the marsh - the par-5 ninth hole and the three finishing holes on the back nine. They’re certainly scenic and challenging, especially when the winds kick up.
Ocean Links does have its quirks. Are six chances at a hole-in-one on six par 3s really all that big of a design flaw? Few public courses in Florida snuggle up so close to the beach.
The fourth tee introduces the ocean views and breezes on a narrow 347-yard par 4. Tee shots on the back-to-back par-3s at no. 5 and 6 battle crosswinds and slanted greens tough to putt. The daunting 187-yard 15th hole climbs uphill straight into the teeth of the wind off the water to a massive green. The 16th tee hides deep into the dunes, requiring a semi-blind shot on the course’s no. 1 handicap hole.
Narzisi loves the experience of playing no. 15. "When you go up the hill – bam! The view hits you," she said. “It is just breathtaking."
Don’t take her word for it. Come see for yourself.