Amelia Island Plantation is true nature's paradise

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Green stop signs? Yep, only at Amelia Island Plantation would green stop signs most certainly belong.

The resort, a 1,350-acre playground for golfers and vacationers, has staked its reputation on maintaining nature's beauty, all the while growing over the last five years into perhaps the most glorious of all of Florida's resorts. And with that commitment to nature comes green signs that blend seamlessly with the canopy of trees and wildlife that call Amelia Island home.

During the resort's maturation process of the past five years -- it added the 249-room, oceanfront Amelia Inn in 1998 and another nine holes of golf to bring its total to 54 holes -- the resort hasn't forgotten its priorities.

Each new million-dollar home or condominium added to the property must maintain a shade of subtle earth tones -- browns and tans, not yellows and blues -- to blend into the forest of mossy oaks. Cutting down trees isn't taken lightly here. Some homes were even designed with trees growing on front porches or up through living rooms.

And, much to the delight of golfers everywhere, the best way to soak up all of these natural auras might be playing golf.

"I think the best way to see everything the property has to offer is to play golf," director of golf Ed Tucker said.

Several additions within the last two years have really transformed Amelia Island Plantation from a great golf resort and beautiful nature retreat into a one-stop vacation paradise. Here's a look at what's new since Travel Golf Media's last visit in 2000:

The Spa

The 13,200-square-foot spa, completed in 2001, couldn't have been a better fit for the resort. Its architectural design captured the essence of Amelia Island with a meditation garden and natural lighting. Look down and you might see real fossils in the tile, shipped in from China.

"What we have done is try to bring nature in," said Meghan McClatchey, a spa sales coordinator. "A lot of spas don't have that."

The signature treatment is Watsu. In a separate building from the main spa, a specialist bends and twists your aches away while you float in a soothing pool. McClatchey says it's almost like a therapeutic water dance.

"She moves you and sways you. It's amazing. It straightens and relaxes your spine more than any massage could," she said.

The Shops

Right outside the spa, the shopping village, also finished in 2001, gives non-golfers a day's worth of fun without having to leave the resort. Set in an "Old Florida" village style, it is just a short walk, or even shorter tram ride, from the Inn. After a morning relaxing at the spa, stay healthy with lunch at Marche Burette, a snazzy deli with healthy sandwiches and tempting gourmet pizzas. To indulge, hit Coopers Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts later.

For serious shoppers, The Yuletide Attic is a Christmas reminder year-round. The North Beach Gallery and Morton Jacobs Fine Jewelry & Gifts are trendy, but the favorites have to be Resort to Home, a household collection to make rival any Pottery Barn, and Chico's, a well-recognized name in women's fashion. From Thanksgiving on, thousands of Christmas lights take the shopping experience to a whole new high.

A brand-new restaurant, P.L.A.E. (People Laughing and Eating) is another great dinner choice, but it's hard to pass up the main dinning room at the Amelia Inn (go for the scallops) or the Verandah at the Racquet Club (the surf and turf is scrumptious).

The Falcon's Nest

Just like the spa, a golf resort isn't complete without some attempt at nightlife. Last October, Amelia Island filled that gaping hole in its armor by building the Falcon's Nest, a restaurant known for its cheeseburgers by day and a rip-roarin' bar by night. Amelia Island Plantation president and CEO Jack Healan tapped into his love of flying by incorporating an aviation theme, from the pictures on the walls to the waitresses dressed in airplane jumpsuits. The bar's slogan? Great takeoffs and safe landings!

"When our old bar closed, this was the biggest thing we really needed," said Laura Healan Coggin, public relations manager for the resort. "It's pretty fun. It changes (personality) completely from eight to 10 at night."

The Golf

Perhaps no other golf resort in the country has three courses with such distinct personalities as Amelia Island's Long Point, Ocean Links and Oak Marsh.

And one just got even better. The 6,775-yard Long Point, the most traditional Florida layout of the three, has always the best-conditioned course on property since opening in 1987. Thanks to the addition of Tiff Eagle grass on the greens during a recent renovation in 2003, the putting surfaces are by far superior as well. Mix in Tom Fazio's fabulous routing and unique ability to shape flat land into flamboyant fairways and you've got a great test. The only down side is resort guests can only book tee times one day in advance.

What's ironic about the resort's most celebrated course, the Ocean Links, is locals tend to ignore the Bobby Tweed/Pete Dye design because it's quirky at times and ferociously difficult on windy days despite its docile appearance on the scorecard (the tips are just 6,108 yards). But resort guests and tourists flock to the course for its five, picturesque ocean holes.

The 6,580-yard Oak Marsh, a Dye creation, is just as scenic as the ocean course along the back nine. There's nothing more serene than teeing off in the middle of salt marshland, watching birds swoop about and the sun slowly dip over the horizon.

The Beach

The three miles of beach outside the Inn are what separate Amelia Island from most Florida resorts. But as natural as the beach and the stunning sand dunes are, even they need a little tender loving care from mankind once and awhile. Natural erosion steals away precious beach every year.

Ten years ago, the resort and residents taxed themselves to pay for a beach refurbishment, where sand is dredged up seven miles off shore and returned inland. A little over a year ago, the Florida government stepped in and helped Amelia Island replenish its beaches again. Today, there's plenty of white stuff to wriggle between your toes.

This and That

Here are some other things you might not know about Amelia Island but probably should.... The resort features one of the most affordable "all-you-can-play" golf packages. To help promote junior golf, children under the age of 15 play free with their parents. "It's our way of giving back to the game," Tucker said.... Also, next year, the recreation department is starting Toddler Time, a program to entertain children ages 0-3 while you're on the course or at the spa.... Let's not forget Amelia Island's fabulous 23 clay-court tennis center, which has hosted a professional women's event for 23 years running each spring (the last 21 as the Bausch & Lomb Championships).

For those interested in an island wedding, the chapel on property (although not affiliated with the resort) is set to undergo a renovation in the next year to expand to seating 350 people or more.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Weddings

    Wedding Planner wrote on: Jun 26, 2007

    Know that this hotel will only refer one sitting service for guest wishing to hire a caregiver who is bonded and insured, ATS Healthcare Services who charges a minimum of $20/hr for up to 2 children.