Dutchman Joost Luiten survives a turbulent final round to win the Wales Open ahead of Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry.
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Walking to the 18th tee in another sodden monthly medal I felt the familiar pang of desperation to book my next golfing getaway. It’s the topic of many a post-round chat, and trips to the likes of La Manga or Vilamoura are impressive enough, but golfing in the USA has a whole other ring to it.
In December 2013, two colleagues and I embarked on what can only be described as a marathon east coast USA golf tour. After flying in to Charlotte, NC we gradually made our way down the coast, stopping off at various 5* resorts (it would have been rude not to play a round or two – when in Rome and all that…). The weather hadn’t been too pleasant in the Carolinas, but upon entering the sunshine state of Florida low and behold the sun was beaming down on us. We were due to spend three days exploring the North East Coast and we couldn’t wait to get going: Home of the World Golf Hall of Fame, THE PLAYERS, and some of the world’s finest golf courses, Florida’s ‘First Coast of Golf’ ticks all the boxes.
First stop was Omni Amelia Island Plantation, located right at the North East tip of the state. This part of the overall tour was definitely one of our favourites. The spiel: Striking live oak trees with cascading Spanish moss dominate the inland scenery, whilst beautiful white sand beaches lay but a stone’s throw away. There are plenty of restaurant options, swimming pools and activities to keep you occupied on non-golfing days (is there such a thing?). Fernandina Beach is the local town, which has a few great bars if you’re looking to unwind in the evenings. Now back to the important stuff, there are two courses within the resort – Oak Marsh and Ocean Links. Each course offers a unique challenge – Oak Marsh is a parkland course weaving in and out of the marshland while Ocean Links is a tighter course played right next to the beach which requires a bit more strategy. Both courses are only open to residents of the hotel ensuring they will always be in superb condition.
The following day was the one that we were most excited about – down at breakfast at 7am and raring to go we set off for Sawgrass Marriot Golf Resort & Spa, home of THE PLAYERS Championship. Extremely eager to find out more about this renowned course we opted to get a tour from one of the resident ‘story-tellers’ – a guided tour may sound like a nightmare to some but this was a great way to scope out the course and the history in one. Our story teller was 70 years old and had been working at Sawgrass for over 40 years – he knew absolutely everything about the golf club and its past championships, which had the three of us silent in the back of the buggy – no easy feat! The famous 17th par-3 known simply as the ‘Island Green’ was a real highlight, measuring only 132 yards from tee to green but only consisting of a 78-foot green completely surrounded by water – a slight miss-hit is more than likely going to end up in the drink! Standing on the tee I could almost hear the crowd’s chants of “get in the hole!” and “mashed potato!” It’s perhaps best for us mere mortal players to simply stand and admire the design of this hole.
Our next stop; World Golf Village, is one for real golf enthusiasts, with the World Golf Hall of Fame on-site. There are sections devoted to the history of golf, heritage, organisations, course design, equipment, and attire. The Trophy Tower houses a selection of all the major tournament trophies and many of the displays are interactive giving you a ‘hands on’ experience. There was so much to see, it was a squeeze to fit in 9 holes before dark (we’re nothing if not committed to the job!) This resort comprises a Renaissance Hotel and numerous condos as well as two championship courses: The King & Bear, designed jointly by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and the Slammer & Squire, a collaboration between Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen – four absolute legends of the game…need I say more?
Our last port of call was Hammock Beach Resort, an excellent oceanfront resort with 9 swimming pools, 3 restaurants and over 300 bedrooms/condos situated in Palm Coast. After breakfast we toured the two superb on-site golf courses: Ocean Course played along the coastline and Conservatory Course; a classic Floridian parkland layout with vast lakes and bunkers guarding the fairways and greens.
Overall, North East Florida is a superb golfing destination and there are some real bargains to be had, especially in summer when the weather can be a bit warm for some. The best months to go weather-wise are March/April and September/October. As with any golfing trip we had a cracking time, but the sprawling greens, blue lakes, and golden sunshine are certainly the memories that I will take away with me (as well as fewer golf balls!) – until next time NE Florida…