Fabulous First Coast of Florida

Like first explorers, delight in the treasures of Amelia Island where renovations at the Ritz Carlton have birthed a new paradise for the salt of the earth.  Literally, salt is the theme, inspired by the sandcoast1 dunes gracing the boardwalk to the ocean. The only rock we eat, familiar table salt is void of minerals that the Ritz has fixed with over 50 natural salts, infused with flavor and paired with cuisine by the “Salt Sommelier.” Flavor permeates the resort, from the towering oaks laced with Spanish moss, a welcoming staff attending to every need, storing golf clubs, retrieved at a moment’s notice for a round on the McCumber and Littler designed course. Fun, challenging and beautiful with ocean breeze and sounds, it begs for replay.

Wake to the sun rising over the sea. Grab coffee and comb the beach or explore the quaint island where the shrimp industry began 100 years ago. Spanish history and Victorian architecture in Fernandina lead to the marina. Shop, eat, banter with locals or take a boat tour, returning home to the Ritz where everybody knows your name. First class but laid back like the island, every pool and Jacuzzi pulses with a soothing waterfall. Therapists at the spa customize service with a passion, bringing the salt theme back to foot exfoliation and Moroccan oils for hair hydration. 42 chefs and cooks raise the delectable bar. Farm fresh to the table, every dish is more exquisite than the last. Even sports bar sliders are gourmet. Recipes are shared, but techniques and technology can’t be duplicated. You just have to go to taste the best cuisine worldwide. Dance in the evening or say good night after a beach fire pit with s’ mores, fine cigars and libation along crashing ocean waves (blankie provided if needed).

Just south, the backdrop to PGA headquarters is TPC Sawgrass, designed by Pete Dye and host to The Players Championship. The infamous 17th island green has swallowed the best golfers’ spheres, but the 16th and closing 18th are equally testy with watery graves along fairways. Professional caddies share course strategy and entertaining stories. Guest names are engraved on deluxe bag tags for proof after the round while shoes are shined. Famous courses may seem nice but not as expected. TPC Sawgrass is everything and more! Happy hour on the veranda offers gourmet appetizers for $5 and ½ off drinks -scallops, brisket with caramelized onions, and chorizo filled calamari. Thrifty pricing in contrast to the green fees is a bonus if you play but if you can’t afford 18 holes, still go for the 19th. You might catch pros like Jim Furyk hanging out. Or pretend to play the replica 17th at the World Golf Hall of Fame. It is a quick stop or long study. The Bob Hope memorial room is inspiring with wife Delores in ‘66 singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve to soldiers in Vietnam. Tour the locker rooms, trophy tower, take your photo on a swilcan bridge, play with old balls, putters, greens and sign Nancy Lopez’ book.

The beachside Ponte Vedra Inn Resort and Golf Club has also conjured memories for over 50 years. Walk, surf, kayak, spa, relax or golf. The Ocean Course links the inter-coastal waterway with a fun run of fairways. On number 9, one of the first island greens, guests watch the ensuing folly from waterside restaurants. But for the ocean breeze, the name is a bit of a tease, so dine at Oceanside after the round for the view.

In Palm Coast at Hammock Beach, the dramatic drive lined with tall palms presents a palatial welcome. Secluded in nature with architectural style it claims two of the top courses in Florida. Jack Nicklaus’ designed Ocean Course meanders around typically Floridian flora and water until the striking close of seaside holes, aptly named the Bear Claw. The Conservatory, a traditional links course by Tom Watson, originally private and the longest course in Florida, appeals to players with upmost discretion of design and difficulty. Don’t worry about rushing to the beach as there are plenty of bunkers. But when you go, the awesome nature where turtles hatch and star fish sparkle between rocks is astounding. Purchase or rent this Salamander resort luxury experience. Common along the first coast are balcony sunrises and virgin style beaches. Our first time at first coast will not be our last. See http://www.florida-golf.org for one stop vacation planning.

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