Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation

By Derek Duncan, Contributor

Ocean Links at Amelia Island PlantationAMELIA ISLAND, FL - Ocean Links and Oak Marsh comprise the 36-hole complex of Amelia Links. Of these 36 holes, 27 are the original 1974 designs by Pete Dye, and the remaining nine that round out Ocean Links were added by Bobby Weed in 1998.

Hiring Pete Dye to design their golf courses in early ‘70’s was a brilliant decision by the braintrust at Amelia Island Plantation. At that point in his career, Pete Dye was not yet the architectural legend that he is now, so the ownership showed either great insight or luck in choosing him over the dozens of other architects of the period whose courses have not withstood the test of time. The resort also could have done worse than getting Weed to add its newest nine.

The Dye/Weed designed Ocean Links is the most intellectually satisfying of Amelia Island Plantation’s 54 holes, even at only 6,108 yards from the back tees. It is easily the most arousing of the three courses and features two of the best par fours to be found (three and sixteen).

Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation The course is a crafty blend of tight and strategic holes, and as a whole seems much longer than its brief yardage. Because of the use of bunkers and varying green shapes, sizes, and angles, there are few indifferent shots on the course.

Nine of Ocean Links’ 18 holes were formerly known as the Oceanside Course. Holes 1 through 8 and 17 were designed by Dye to when the resort opened, with 9 through 16 and the 18th done by Weed to complete the regulation course. Coincidentally, Weed worked for Pete Dye early in his career and also was employed by Amelia Island Plantation as part of its grounds crew in the 1970’s, so he was quite familiar with the original trio of nines. The work that he’s done to round out Ocean Links is difficult to differentiate from the old Oceanside holes.

Ocean Links at Amelia Island PlantationIn addition to building the new holes, Weed was also commissioned to renovate the rest of the course, as well as the tees and greens of Oak Marsh. Therefore, Amelia Links has a decidedly Weed flavor to it, but admittedly this style isn’t drastically (if at all) different than Dye’s original intent.

Ocean Links is not a difficult driving golf course. It’s short, there is ample room off the tee, only two holes require a significant carry (9 and 16—but what carries they are!), and there are six par threes. Most of the course’s intrigue is found in the size and orientation of the greens.

Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation They are some of the most fascinating greens in the area. Most of them are smallish and slightly crowned at the edges, reducing their size even more. Shots that flirt too seriously with tucked pins will roll off the surfaces into hazards or mown chipping areas. Furthermore, they are irregularly shaped—triangular, L-shaped, bean shaped, gourd shaped, etc.—as opposed to the more rectangular offerings at Long Point.

The contours in the Ocean Links greens tend to be unbridled and wave-formed. There is serious dip and swale in many of them, including the 3rd, 10th, 12th, and 16th. The more interesting complexes are perched at difficult, sometimes maddening angles. Getting at certain pins, even with short irons, can become a perplexing game. Finding the proper angle of approach is everything.

Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation The unique character of the course begins at the first tee, a tantalizing par four of less than 300 yards. It’s evident by the way it sets up, this is not an ordinary hole from: waste area right, a crowned fairway, bunkers surrounding the landing area, trees in play. The green is drivable if the hazards are avoided and the fronting pot bunker is missed, but this early in the round? The green falls away toward the back and sides to complicate short pitch shots.

The third, a Pete Dye hole, is the type of par four that few architects have the nerve to design anymore. At 397 yards it’s not lengthy, but drives must be played strongly down the right side to clear the trees on the inside left corner of this dogleg. The approach plays slightly uphill to a sliver of hidden green protected short and left by a deep bunker and to the right by a large mound that throws back anything coming up short, as does the green’s false front.

Hitting this saddle-shaped green is one of the stiffest tasks players will face during the round. It is angled right-to-left around the bunker and is only about twelve paces across at its center. The entire back portion falls away to an unkind chipping area that leaves almost no chance for an up and down. Basically, shots both slightly long and slightly short are dispelled. The author is still not certain on what part of the green to land the ball. The third at Ocean Links is one of the most tasking tests of the short game a player may come across. It is a classic example of how to protect a hole with only one bunker and pure ingenuity.

The third begins a stretch of truly memorable holes. The Atlantic Ocean suddenly appears through the trees when the hill is crested on the way to the fourth tee, and the next three holes play north along the dunes and beach. The fourth is another short, subtle par four of only 347 yards, and the fifth and sixth are back-to-back par threes which are the highlights of the round in most player’s eyes.

Not only are these short holes scenic, they are highly developed and make masterful use of angles and green shapes.

The fifth is only 152 yards and appears to play even shorter. A large dune behind the green provides a backboard that may deflect long approaches back onto the surface (or may not), and shots that come up short will find either the bunkers to the right (added by Weed in 1998) or will roll back down to the fairway. The green, canted front left to back right, some forty yards across and a mere ten paces deep, is another textbook example of how a hole can be defended through the use of angles. A back pin, over the bunkers and into the ocean crosswinds, can be absolutely frightening.

Six is 178 yards from an elevated tee down to an oddly configured green. It is angled from left-to-right with a narrow front lobe that juts toward a waste area that washes up against the green’s front right. The rear mass slopes back-to-front and the entire surface falls off on every side. Missing short means sand, shots left will deflect off a bank into another bunker, long is dead, and right is lost.

Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation When land was opened up for him in 1998, as if not to be outdone, Bobby Weed added two spectacular ocean holes of his own. His 15th and 16th are inspiring compliments to Dye’s classic holes and give Ocean Links five holes on the Atlantic Ocean (and the resort a total of seven including the 15th and 16th at Long Point). As a side note, this gives rise to a curious issue: when the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Hammock opened in Palm Coast last year, it was billed as the first course in Florida to be built on the Atlantic Ocean since the 1920’s. Can anyone explain why Amelia Island Plantation’s courses don’t count? It can’t be argued that Ocean Hammock’s holes are oceanside and these are not.

Weed created a wonderful par five ninth as a link between Dye’s par three eighth and the fairly undistinguished parcel of land that would contain the 10th through the 14th holes a good distance to the north. These are solid holes but serve primarily as a build-up to the electrifying return to the coast that takes place at the 15th. This 187-yard par three plays uphill, over scrub, and into the prevailing wind to a green nestled against the dunes left and long with the Atlantic shimmering on the horizon. The sight from both the tee and green is worth the price of admission.

Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation Even more exhilarating is the drive from the rear tees at the 16th. Every player should at least go back and take a look at the hole from here, where the drive must fly nearly 200 yards over beach and native, battle the crosswind, and find the fairway dug in between the high, flared dunes on either side. It’s a stunning golf shot; the drive alone is almost enough to rank this 430-yard par four amongst the state’s best, but the second shot is unique in its own right. Most will have to strike long irons into this wickedly undulating green that sits down below the level of the fairway. Considering the length, the uncontained roll of the fairway, the wind, and the green’s open front, the bump-and-run is certainly the preferred play.

Ocean Links will probably never receive its full due because of its short length and its sprawling routing. The distance between some of the holes is incredible since the course was built piecemeal over a period of 24 years on separate segments of land. As such, the course is quite spread out but everyone is made to take a cart and some of the rides are quite pretty. The stop-and-go nature of the layout does mean it’s unwalkable and makes holding important tournaments (at least most held by the USGA) on the course nearly impossible.

Ocean Links at Amelia Island Plantation The new 18th hole is a disappointing finish, a non-descript 135-yard par three with water left and long. Unfortunately there were no other options for a more suitable ending since so much of Amelia Island Plantation’s land is either built in or protected. This short hole is an unsatisfying conclusion tacked on to an otherwise great 17 holes, but those in generous moods can simply chalk it up to quirkiness.

The similarity of the Weed and Dye design styles serves Ocean Links well. This is an engaging test of golf highlighted by outstanding green complexes, and the five holes along the ocean don’t hurt either. Ocean Links is a tremendous little course and arguably the most desirable outing at Amelia Island Plantation.

Rates

Low-season rates (November through January, July through September) are $90. In the high season the charge is $130.

Walkability

Walking would be virtually impossible and not permitted on this course.

Derek DuncanDerek Duncan, Contributor

Derek Duncan's writing has appeared in TravelGolf.com, FloridaGolf.com, OrlandoGolf.com, GulfCoastGolf.com, LINKS Magazine and more. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Cynthia and is a graduate of the University of Colorado with interests in wine, literary fiction, and golf course architecture.


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