Major makeover restores Florida's beachfront Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island resort

By Travel ArticlesJanuary 31, 2012, 5:00 am

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- People love the beautiful beaches, dunes and marshland -- all set against the vast Atlantic Ocean -- on this small barrier island just 50 minutes northwest of the Jacksonville International Airport.

But life indoors at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island can be pretty stimulating, too. A continuous $65-million renovation since 2006 has revitalized this grand beachfront resort, refurbishing all 445 rooms and suites, building a new spa and rebranding the dining scene.

Jim Badenoch remembers how sleepy and secluded this section of Amelia Island was when he bought his home in the Summer Beach community in the late 1980s. The grand openings of the Golf Club of Amelia Island in 1987 and the Ritz in 1991 suddenly put this destination on the map.

'The Ritz was the place that brought notoriety to Amelia Island,' Badenoch recalled. 'Before that, nobody had heard of it.'

There are several other great hotels and resorts on Amelia Island, which extends two miles wide and 13 miles long, but it's the Ritz that sets the standard all others continue to chase.

'This has always been one of the more popular Ritz-Carltons,' noted Jim McManemon, the resort general manager.

A new and improved Ritz-Carlton resort

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island sits on 26 acres just a short boardwalk across the dunes from a breathtaking beach perfect for swimming or beachcombing for seashells and shark's teeth. This connection to the beach and ocean helps to keep the hotel feeling casual and comfortable.

You're just as likely to see someone in flip flops in the lobby as you are a black tie for a corporate function. There are plenty of places to relax inside and out, from the lobby lounge to the Adirondack chairs surrounding a fire pit outside.

The first phase of this renovation in 2006 really took the property to a whole new level. That's when the resort spiced things up a bit, no pun intended.

Executive Chef Thomas Tolxdorf dreamed up the name 'Salt' to replace the generic-named Ritz-Carlton Grille as the resort's signature dining experience. It was his way of paying tribute to the ocean (and its salt water) that so many guests love. Tolxdorf and his talented team use more than 50 types of salt in their creations, including Himalayan Salt, the purest form on earth. Servers will recommend various flavors to complement any entree. It's the guest's choice to add a little or a lot. The demand for these salts became so great the resort began selling them.

The resort's other menus have also undergone makeovers. The Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge, opened in 2010, serves up some mean sliders, heaping nacho plates and local brews. The menu at the Cafe 4750 recently moved away from its Italian roots and has gone coastal. Its farm-to-table initiative delivers more local seafood, such as Atlantic trigger fish, flounder, Mayport shrimp, scallops and grits, and jumbo lump crab cakes. Seasonal vegetables and fruits come from local farms as well as farm-raised, grass-fed beef and lamb. The choices on the breakfast buffet are superb. Just save room for the sticky buns.

Salt also plays a major role at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, built new in 2006. Every treatment starts with a salty foot scrub, a perfect primer to get into that relaxed state of mind. My surrender massage was just what the doctor ordered after golf. The signature treatment is 'heaven in a hammock,' a massage that gives off the feeling of floating. This 2,750-square-foot spa houses a separate steam room, sauna and whirlpool in the men's and women's locker rooms; three relaxation lounges; a private indoor and outdoor pool with Jacuzzi; and a fitness center.

The best part of the room renovations has to be the all-glass, storm-proof, sliding balcony doors. They let the sunshine in, and allow guests to gaze in wonder along the horizon of the beach. All the amenities of a five-star room -- marble bathrooms, threaded bed linens, multiple flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations –- are now in place.

The Golf Club of Amelia Island

Back before the days of bomb and gouge became the standard in professional golf, the Golf Club of Amelia Island was long enough (6,696 yards) and strong enough to host a major event, the 1998 Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf won by the then-PGA Senior Tour team of Charles Coody and Dale Douglass.

Today, this private club -- accessible only through the Ritz -- remains as playable and enjoyable as any resort course anywhere. The greens roll pure, but they’re tough to read.

A career day can be had from the short 6,156-yard blues if guests can stay out of the marshes of the back nine, starting at No. 14. The course, designed by Mark McCumber and Gene Littler, is so roomy and comfortable that losing a ball is more pilot error than architectural cruelty. It’s a joy to play.

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The resort's many programs pay homage to its coastal treasures.

Our group enjoyed s'mores and drinks on the beach after dinner in front of a roaring fire. This experience can be downsized into a romantic setting for two with hot chocolate, blankets, a stargazer's map and telescope. These winter fires are available Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

There are several clay tennis courts on property. Excursions to go deep-sea fishing, horseback riding on the beach, kayaking, sailing and surfing are available. There are new offerings in the Ritz Kids program. Or vacationers can sneak away to tour Cumberland Island, Fernandina Beach or the two state parks, Fort Clinch and Talbot Island.

Guests don't seem to stay away too long. The homey feel of this Ritz tends to pull them back in again.

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”